Play-Off Predictions: East

The puck drops on the 2015 Stanley Cup play-offs this Wednesday, with Eastern Conference teams looking to bring the Cup home after three years in the West.

A strong case for success can be made for several clubs, but many contenders have fallen at the first hurdle before.

‘As is tradition’, here are the 1PS picks for the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals:

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New York Rangers (1) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (8)

Alain Vigneault’s Rangers side finished the season with 53 wins and 113-points, securing their first President’s Trophy since 1994. The Penguins, on the other hand, stumbled in to the post season.

Ravaged by injuries this year, Pittsburgh flirted with disaster when poor form and an upstart Senators side left them needing victory over Buffalo on the last day of the regular season to make the cut.

A Brandon Sutter brace secured victory over the 30th played Sabres, relegating Boston to the golf course in the process, but it was a shockingly lack lustre effort under the circumstances – leaving many wondering whether the Pens have the ‘metal’ to top the Rangers.

With cap restrictions removed, Pittsburgh can at least ice a full bench – having skated with just five D men in five of their last seven games – but there seems to be a feeling around the club that is particularly subdued given the puck hasn’t even dropped in Game 1 of the series.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi delivered a scathing look at the 2009 Cup winners decline; and the loss of Kris Letang to a concussion is significant.

With Rick Nash back to his best, Henrik Lundqvist afforded some rest (albeit injury induced) and a roster comprised of largely the same group that took the Rangers to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, it’s hard to imagine the dazzling lights of Broadway won’t be seen in the second round – as hard as an in-form Marc Andre Fleury and Sidney Crosby might try.

Prediction: Rangers in 6

Montreal Canadiens (2) vs Ottawa Senators (7)

The Sens Cinderella story continues.

Having been 14 points adrift in February; an amazing run carried Ottawa in to the post season and set up a show down with the Canadiens – pitting cult hero Andrew Hammond against the world’s best goaltender Carey Price.

The Team Canada #1 led the league in wins, save percentage and goals against average, is a lock for the Vezina and may win the Hart Trophy; while Hammond’s 20-1-2 streak seemed to defy all logic, as the 27-year old propelled the Senators in to the play-offs.

Now the real test comes, as the White Rock native comes under the spotlight and the Sens vibrant offence comes up against the NHL’s stingiest defence.

We’ve seen teams mount late charges before – being forced in to ‘play-off hockey’ mode down the stretch simply to make the cut. Having already done it for two months, do Ottawa have enough left in the tank? Or will momentum carry them further than any Senators fan dared dream on opening night?

Against a Montreal team that has a knack for finding an extra gear in the post season, it’s a big ask for Dave Cameron’s side – one it’s hard to envisage them overcoming.

Prediction: Canadiens in 5

Tampa Bay Lightning (3) vs Detroit (6)

There’s an element of ‘teacher vs pupil’ to this series, with Bolts GM Steve Yzerman drawing on his experiences in Detroit to turn the Lightning in to an Eastern Conference powerhouse in recent years.

With Victor Hedman back in the line up, Ben Bishop healthy and a surprising amount of depth, Tampa has the tools to go a long way this season. Add in that Jon Cooper is one of the few coaches with the tactical nous to go toe-to-toe with Mike Babcock, and the reasons for Lightning fans to be hopeful are numerous.

While the Red Wings may still be the Red Wings in many ways; an ageing core that will line up without Erik Cole, Johan Franzen – or a clear ‘go to’ between the pipes – it’s hard to see this storied franchise resisting this quick fire Lightning side.

Prediction: Lightning in 5

Washington Capitals (4) vs New York Islanders (5)

After a brief adjustment period under new Head Coach Barry Trotz, the Capitals were back to their swashbuckling best this season.

Superstar Alexander Ovechkin broke the 50 goal marker for an incredible sixth time, with line mate Nicklas Backstrom blossoming and Curtis Glencross added to a line up which looks to have a beautiful blend of speed, skill and brawn.

A resurgent Braden Holtby also provides a significant boost to the Capitals Cup hopes, but Jaroslav Halak has been their undoing before.

If the Slovak stopper can find form, and the Islanders can finally figure out their line combinations, it could be the most entertaining match up of the first round – but Washington looked like a serious contender down the stretch, while the Islanders still feel like an ‘up and comer’ whose time is a year or two away.

Prediction: Capitals in 6

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on April 13, 2015, in 2015 Stanley Cup Play-Offs, Detroit Red Wings, Hockey, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, NHL, Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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