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NHL Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference

Back again to give you all a glimpse into the NHL future! After looking at the Western Conference, it’s time to move ahead 3 (sometimes 2) hours and examine the Eastern Conference stories. Just like last time, this is more of a look into the overall scene of the playoffs, so if you’re looking for a really in depth statistical analysis, that’s not here.


Can Washington Breakthrough?

What a year it’s been for the Washington Capitals. Being the strongest team in the league from day one, the Caps ran away with the President’s trophy this year, and appeared to take the final couple weeks of the season easy. Honestly, who can blame them? They were so far ahead of everyone else in the league, the only goal to really strive for beyond that was Ove hitting 50 goals (happened) and Holtby beating Martin Brodeur’s win record (tied it). That said, the last few weeks may have fooled some people, in that Washington took a bit of a dive statistically. Have no doubt, this team is coming into the playoffs with a massive chip on their shoulders. They’ve been cursed with second round exits at most for the past few playoffs, but this years team is by far the best they’ve had. If the Caps have a chance with the Ove core, it has to be this year.

Even though Washington won the conference, and should have the easiest opponent in round one, they get no such luck. The Philadelphia Flyers, the 8th seed, certainly over performed this year, but have been on fire in the last couple months. With the emergence of rookie defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and wonderful seasons from guys like Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, the Flyers are a force to be reckoned with. Also, the Flyers have had the Caps number a few times this year, and whether that was due to the Caps being more laid back remains to be seen. Only to make it worse for the Caps, the Flyers will be “playing for Ed” as their owner and legend Ed Snider tragically passed away earlier this week. Even with all that in mind, the Caps should handle the Flyers; but it’s going to be one hell of a series.

Beyond that, the Caps will probably (I think) have to take on the Penguins, who have been electric since the coaching change to Mike Sullivan. It’s clear the NHL wants this battle, the famous “Ovechkin vs Crosby” debate will run wild, and Holtby vs Fleury is money. But the x-factors of this series will be the other guys. Namely, can Kuznetsov continue his strong play for the Caps, or will that entire offense be shut down by sneaky Norris contender Kris Letang. It’s going to be a fascinating round, if it happens, and God help us all if we have to sit through another Cap/Rangers series.

The last round could be a variety of teams, so I don’t want to speculate on that, but I really expect the Caps to either be there, or get overpowered by Pittsburgh. This team, much like Chicago in the West, have almost no weaknesses; short of an injury to a defenseman. That being said, anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs


Will Pittsburgh Success Translate?

As I previously mentioned, Pittsburgh has emerged as a potential top 3 team ending off the season, having a slew of 5+ goal games. What’s even more surprising, this is being done without one of their elite guys in Evgeni Malkin, who will most likely be back in the playoffs. Honestly, I might be more afraid of Pitt than any other Eastern Conference team, even after that gushing over the Caps.

There’s no scenario for me that gives the Rangers the edge in that first round. They are older, all around slower, and the one advantage they could have in their goalie Henrik Lundqvist is almost cancelled out by the Penguins having Fleury in the opposite net. As I mentioned before, the big showdown for this team will be in round 2, probably against the Caps, where the winner will more than likely having the steam and just overall form to push their way to the finals. In a division that seemed to be finished in November, this quarter of the bracket has become one of the most exciting.

Here are the big questions to look at for this Pittsburgh team. Firstly, will the return of Malkin alter the good team chemistry the team already has? With the addition of Phil Kessel this year, we moved from “great winger to pair with Crosby” which failed, to “great winger to pair with Malkin” which kind of worked, to “dominant winger paired with Nick Bonino, so he gets the puck” being a massive success. On paper, Malkin and Kessel should be better than Bonino and Kessel, but the winger has a tendency to crave the puck, and not perform as well off of it. That said, Malkin is a Hall of Famer, and Bonino is a third line centermen whose overperforming recently; Kessel and Malkin should figure it out, and lord help us when they do. Additionally, it will be interesting to see if the defense holds up. While Letang is a monster, the rest of the D isn’t the best, and the team overall tends to rush out of the defensive zone early to start a counterattack. This is where a team like Washington can really expose them, and those Western Conference teams will eat them alive.


Florida is the League’s Feel Good Story (That isn’t the John Scott All-Star Performance)

I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it’s incredibly difficult to dislike the Florida Panthers. Sure, Jaromir Jagr playing into his mid 40s and the Kevin Spacey in Space story are fun, but this team is just likable. A fun mix of fresh young talent with exciting vets, it’s really the perfect storm for any franchise, but especially one in a tough market like Florida.

Let’s look at the team a little closer. The first two lines are, as I seem to be saying a few times, some of the best in the league. The notable aspect, for me, is how young a lot of these players are, and how high a level they’ve been playing at. They have 3 centers in Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov, and Nick Bjugstad who all play like first liners, and work well with some of the vets in Jagr and Jussi Jokinen. While not necessarily household names, these young centers, vets, and young wingers like Jonathan Huberdeau play with a chemistry not matched by many other teams. The defense is also sneakily steller; the quartet of Aaron Ekblad, Brian Campbell, Erik Gudbranson, and Dmitry Kulikov scare the bejesus out of me. As I said about the offense, they play with a chemistry that can beat any team on any given night, and with, I’m declaring it now, future Norris winner Aaron Ekblad coming into form, it’ll be tough for everyone.

There’s also the idea of winning one for Luongo, who came extremely close to pulling one off during his time in Vancouver. No one embodies this team like Luongo; painfully likeable. You just want him to succeed every night. He, and Jagr, are not only building a team that can win now, but they are building a locker room to be good for a long time coming. As a fan of this franchise, you can’t ask for much else. Even the front office, making some key additions at the trade deadline in Jiri Hudler for one, is on board to win now and simultaneously build a team for the future. In the 2015-16 season, no organization has been a better example of just getting it right.

Honestly, it’s hard to tell what the fate of this team will be in the playoffs. My gut says eastern conference finals, but with Tampa being Tampa and Detroit trying to win it for Datsyuk’s last season, anything can happen. That said, with Tampa’s injuries, Florida appears to be the best built team for a run.


Get ready folks, in just a few hours, the playoffs will start, and my life will be over for about a month. This season has been stellar, and if you have a pulse, you’ll want to watch these playoffs. There’s nothing else like it.

About Brett I (152 Articles)
Born in Philadelphia and currently residing in Portland OR, Brett has been reading and collecting comics in some capacity since 2008 and is now fully immersed. Also, Brett is an avid follower of Professional Wrestling since the crumbling of The Alliance. Philadelphia/Chicago Sports consumed here.
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