Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins – 50-20-12 (112 pts) vs Toronto Maple Leafs – 49-26-7 (105 pts)

Season Series – Toronto won the series 3-1

Forwards

Advantage Leafs

The top line of Boston is great. Like really great. It’s going to be hard to top the line of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pasta. All of them have 30+ goals on the season and both Pasta and Marchand have put up 80+ points. That’s a tall task that most likely will fall on the shoulders of the Nazem Kadri to try and shut down. That is no easy task as they have been out attempting and outscoring opponents all season long. However, after the Marchand line, the offense falls off quite a bit. Not to say that they’re not good after the Rats line, they just aren’t Leafs good. Bring on the offense of Toronto and it’s easy to use the term young guns. With a lineup of Matthews, Nylander Marner, Kadri, and Van Riemsdyk spread across their top 9 it’s easy to see why they have a 30 goal scorer on each of their first 3 lines. Not to mention grizzled veteran Patrick Marleau with a 27 goal campaign and you start to get a grasp of how potent and balanced this attack it. They create chances and come at you in waves. The pure speed, skill and balance of attack could be too much for the Bruins to handle.

Defense

Advantage Boston

One of the biggest knocks on this high flying offensive juggernaut of a team is that they lack so much on the blueline. You always hear pundits say that the Leaf’s are one or two good defensemen away from being the real deal… that might be true. Sure Morgan Rielly has really come into his own and actually performing quite well along with Jake Gardiner, the real issue lies after them. On the other hand, the Bruins are much better defensively than the Leafs. Led by two young and outstanding defenseman in Krug and McAvoy. Krug, in particular, has been an offensive machine, potting 59 points. Meanwhile, McAvoy has been a rock defensively while working on the top unit with Chara who is still a very serviceable defender in his own right. In what used to be called a slow and old d-core, Bostons blue line is alive and well thanks to the injected youth in their top 4.

Goaltending

Advantage Toronto… but it’s close

Rask has had a few down seasons and it for sure looked like he was set to have yet another one this year as he got off to a horrible start losing 10 of his first 13 starts. Yet he was able to turn the season around along with the Bruins and finish out his campaign with a stellar 31-6-3 record and a .923 sv% in those 40 games. Then you have to look over at the goalie who has been seeing the most rubber all season long in Freddie Andersen. He might just be the reason the Leaf’s are where they are honestly. He has faced the most shots in the NHL this season at a whopping 2,211 shots. That’s 136 more than the Vasilevskiy who is second on the list. The Leafs have relied heavily on Freddie. Just look at last seasons playoffs when he nearly stole the series from the Caps. Freddie’s numbers might look worse than Tukka’s but really that’s because of the number of pucks he see’s. Freddie is the man in Toronto.

X- Factor

Special Teams are going to really play a role in this one. Toronto is absolutely torching teams on the PP right now at an alarming rate. Ranking second in the NHL this season. If they can take advantage there it will really boost their chances of stealing this series. On the other side of things, the Bruns aren’t too shabby themselves on the PP, slotting in at 4th this season. The real difference maker here is going to be the superb Boston PK, which sits 3rd in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Leaf’s are middling at best in 12th. Watch and see who wins the special team war and you may find the winner of the series there.

Prediction – Toronto’s offense will outpace the Bruins in this one. JUST BARELY. Leafs in 7.

Pittsburgh Penguins – 47-29-6 (100 pts) Philadelphia Flyers 42-26-14 (98 pts)

Season Series – Pens swept it 4-0.

Forwards

Advantage Penguins

Sure the Flyers have gotten a career year out of Claude Giroux and have guys like Voracek and Couturier who have turned in great seasons as well. Problem is you don’t have depth after them. When you look at this Pittsburgh team after you scroll past Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, EACH on their own lines. You have depth filled throughout the forward group with guys like Derick Brassard, Patric Hornqvist and Jake Guentzel who can light the lamp as well. This is just the depth that the Flyers do not have. Wayne Simmonds and Travis Konecny are really good players, they just aren’t going to match up against the depth of Pittsburgh very well. The Flyers offense is in the bottom third in the NHL 5v5 along with a middling PP and abysmal PK this team is primed to let a high flying offense run them down. This Pittsburgh team that is a 5v5 possession monster has generated goals at a top league rank down the stretch and still has the NHL’s best PP is more than formidable.

Defense

Advantage Flyers – slight advantage

This is the one area where it feels like the Flyers have a slight advantage over the Pens. The Ghostbear is having a really good season and being paired with Provorov really has solidified them as a top pair in the NHL They are have been controlling the Corsi game in their own zone and Gostisbehere was able to put up a massive 65 points from the blueline. Let’s not forget about Provorov either as he led all NHL defensemen in goals with 17. Sure the Pens have Letang and he is still one of the top defenders in the NHL on both sides of the puck putting up a not so shabby 51 pts. It’s after Letang where you start to see the drop off defensively. Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin just aren’t defenders you can rely upon as top 4 guys.

Goaltending

Advantage Pittsburgh

Both of these teams should be worried about their netminders. Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, and Petr Mrazek have all been awful for the Flyers. On the Pens side, Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry have also been absolutely terrible this season. But with a guy like Matt Murray who’s been there done that and has two Cups to show for it, I just can’t count this guy out despite just a regular season he will want to forget.

X- Factor

It seems as though the Pens can get away with a subpar defense on the backs of star power. Unfortunately for them, the Flyers have plenty of their own. This is where you could see a guy like Matt Murray who has had just an awful year really surprise and come alive. If the Flyers are going to make this a fight and someone come out of this with a win they’re going to need depth scoring to help them out. Nolan Patrick hasn’t gotten a lot of attention around the NHL due to guys like Boeser and Barzal but that doesn’t mean he can’t make some noise for the Flyers and come up some timely goals.

Prediction – It been a nice story for Giroux this season but he’s only going to get 6 extra games out of it.  Penguins are too much and will take this in 6.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS- 49-26-7(105 pts) vs COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS- 45-30-7(97 pts)

Season series -WSH 3-1-0; CBJ 1-3-0

Forwards

Advantage WSH

With super old and declining Ovi-won-konbi masterfully using the force to puppet his naysayers into diehard fans this seasons it’s hard to swing the pendulum in Ohio’s favor going into these playoffs. Washington ranks 9th in total offense while Columbus ranks in the bottom half of the league. Ovi was 1st in goals (at 32y yrs young), 2nd in 5 on 5 goals and missed exactly 0 games this season…not even for the Olympics!!! Add Oshie, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and defensemen Carlson that’s 5 players with 68 pts or more. The Breadman in Ohio has 82…next is DEFENSEMAN Seth Jones with 58. The offense is flying for the Nation’s Capitals while Columbus’ will be grounded in the aviation capital.

Defense

Advantage Columbus

Seth Jones has been a force for the jackets at generating offense which in today’s NHL is a must. Add young stud Zach Werenski with a Sprinkle of hungry Jack Johnson to the mix and you get the leagues 10th best defense. It will be tough for them to contain the most lethal goal scorer of this generation but with the speed and high hockey IQ they posses you have to give them the edge.

Goaltending

Advantage Washington

As a goalie myself I can see all the greatness in those I try to emulate. That being said, I feel that Bobrovsky has had a good (but not great) season. Combine that with last years very average/below average playoff performance it creates uncertainty and uncertainty is cancer to a goalie. On the DC side of the uncertainty equation, Holtbeast has not been his Vezina winning self either. But where the teams differ is that Columbus will live and die behind Bobby while Grubauer will start game one of the series with a sparkling 2.35 GAA, .923sv% and 3 SHO which is better than Holtz or Bob (SHO: Bob= 5 in 65gms, Grubs= 3 in 35 gms).

X-factor

Bob and weave: this series will only go Columbus’s way if Bobrovsky can be otherworldly against the league’s best sniper. Ovi will be the focus of coach John Tortorella’s club, however, almost everyone has focused on Alexander the Great since he entered the league over a decade ago and he’s now a 600 goal scorer. Easier said than done.

Flawless prediction: Washington in 6

Tampa bay lightning –54-23-5 (113 pts) vs New Jersey Devils –44-29-9 (97 pts)

Season series- TB 0-2-1; NJ 3-0

Forwards

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Stevie Wonder could see the difference between these two offenses. No slight against my (Jason’s) vote for MVP in Taylor Hall but….think about it…Florida’s shiny undercarriage has the best offense in the entire league, led by the one guy (Kucherov) who has scored as many nonshot goals as stormtroopers have missed their intended targets (ask Holtby). New Jersey’s Savior in the regular season (Hall) was a nice, fuzzy feeling but the awesomeness of Tampa’s offense will be the difference in this series.

Defense

Advantage: Tampa Bay

These teams are separated by just 6 goals defensively. So it’s tough to declare a supreme winner. But when I look at Jersey’s fist-pumping defensive core I see: Lovejoy, Vatanen, and Butcher. Then when I see Amuricas undercarriage backstop I get to see names like Hedman, Stralman, Sergachev, McDonagh. which tilts me more towards the humidity side and not the mafia, trump casino side.

Goaltending

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Vasilevskiy is the next crop of young, athletic and technical goalies. Along with Murray, Hellebuyck and Gibson these are the goalies of the future. Vasy has struggled (along with top scores) down the stretch but the magic saves aka pull a rabbit out of you hat saves can change a series. Unfortunately for New Jersey fans I can’t see Kinkaid stealing a full series away from this team. And the question in the locker room of who will be the starter may weigh thin on a team that has only one game changer in Taylor Hall.

X-Factor

It comes down to goaltending. NJ is riding a hot goalie in Kinkaid and even if he falters there’s a superb “back up” in Cory Schneider. Vaseline has slipped up in the last month and has gone from a shoe-in as the Vezina trophy winner at midseason, to the participation award winner heading into the playoffs.

Flawless prediction: Tampa Bay in 6