The Regular season is over and only sixteen teams remain in the hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Welcome everyone I am your hockey know it all Johnny Violence, and this is what you have all been waiting for. The NHL playoffs kick of Wednesday night and with the drop of the puck begins a grueling two month process to determine who gets their names engraved on the fabled cup.

Today we will break down the matchups in the east. Tomorrow we will do the same for the west. And Wednesday before a puck has ever hit the ice. I will have my prediction on who I believe will make the conference finals and who will be hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The east this year has two teams that are a cut above the rest. Tampa Bay and Boston. Both these teams have dominated the regular season and had it not been for a spell of injuries one would imagine Boston would be right next to Tampa in points. However if the playoffs have taught us anything it is that the Regular Season is irrelevant. So here is how I see the matchups breaking down.

Tampa_Colombus

To say this has been Columbus’s best season to date would be accurate. For most of the year they were in a commanding playoff position, and it wasn’t till the trade deadline that things changed. Anytime a team adds that many new faces that close to the end of the season you’re bound to have some shifting. Hopefully John Tortorella has it all figured out and can steer Lumbus (not a spelling mistake) to their first playoff series victory.

 

Which I really think would have been possible, except they are facing the best team of the past twenty years. Steve Yzerman may no longer hold the title of GM, but make no mistake this is his team. A team that rivals only that of his legendary Red Wings. If Tampa wins sixteen games strait and never even comes close to losing I would not be surprised. Their goal differential is plus 100. They outscored their opponents by 100 goals. They only had a handful of games when they scored less than four. That Co Co Bananas and it’s the reason they will win this series.

 

Lumbus loaded up on offense at the deadline. Their D are serviceable at best, and Bobrovsky has been a wreck in the postseason. If Tampa win the first game ten to nothing I wouldn’t be shocked. Tampa in 5.

CAPS_vs_canes

A bunch of jerks vs the hockey world. Tho the Cane’s won’t be doing the storm surge in the playoffs the spirit is still there. In fact the team deciding to conform may even further insinuate the storm that has been brewing all season long. Every year there is a team like Carolina. A plucky group of ragtag guy just having fun. They aren’t the best, they aren’t the worst. They are just there to have fun. And that is what makes them dangerous. That carefree nothing to lose attitude propelled the Vegas Golden Knights to the cup last year. I don’t think they have the horses to go quite that far, but I could easily see them take Washington by surprise and stealing their series in 6.

BRUINS_VS_LEAFS

We have known this would be the match up from the beginning of the regular season. Boston have been physical all season. They have a loaded backend and are finding depth scoring at the right time of the year. The best part is if they lose that depth scoring all they have to do is move Pastrnak up to play with Marchand and Bergeron to re-unite the second best line in hockey. Scary to think about. Plus the ace in their back pocket is that both Halak and Rask have a history of going on epic run in the postseason. Boston is a scary team to match up with in the first round.

 

However if there was one team to do it, the Toronto Maple Leafs are as good as any. The high powered offense of the Leaf’s is second to only Tampa. They can score from anywhere. They have three guys who can take over games and win them single handedly. John Tavares has really been heating up in the last month of the regular season. If they can keep the puck out of their net you have to take them seriously.

 

This one is tough. This series is going to be one that we remember for a long time. My gut say Bruins in 7.

Islanders_vs_Pens

To quote Jillian Fisher, “have you heard the Islander’s are first in the Metro?” The Islander have defined odds all season. A team that’s whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They play a team game. They stick together. They have one of the best coaches of all time, and two goalies that can win hockey games. They are very similar to the Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson combo for the Minnesota Wild in to 2000’s. They could win this. Hell they could easily be in the conference finals.

 

The Penguins are an attack first ask questions later kind of team. They will try to outscore everyone. It won them back to back cups. Lately Matt Murray has returned to form and is showing shades of his 2016 cup run. Their top stars are all getting healthy at the right time. If we watch Sid lift the cup for the third time in four years I don’t think it would shock anyone.

 

The thing that keeps me from immediately going with the Penguins is history. Since 1993 the Islanders have tortured the Penguins in the playoffs. They just seem to have their number. More importantly those Islander teams were “underdogs” in those series. The high powered
Penguins falling short to a good team game is an old trope but it’s true between these two.

 

Also Mike Sullivan has only ever lost one playoff series in his career. The coach who undoubtedly outsmarted him was Barry Trotz. Does Trotz have the secret formula to beat the Penguins? Can he perform the same magic this year? I hate to say it but I think so. Islanders in 7.

 

There you have it my first round predictions for the east. It is going to be a hell of a year for the playoffs. A lot of these first round matchups have me salivating with an anticipation. Wednesday can not get here soon enough.

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Written by Johnny Violence

The lead NHL/Hockey writer for Thoughts From The Bench.

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