Pittsburgh (1) vs. New York Islanders (8)
The top team in the east against a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in since 2006 doesn’t sound like the makings of a barn-burner and it shouldn’t be one.
The Penguins have a recovering Sidney Crosby cleared for practice to go along with Evegni Malkin, James Neal and a supporting cast that’s the envy of most, featuring former Captains Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow. Pittsburgh won three of four against NYI his season, including the last three by a combined 12-3.
On top of being well-stocked with personnel, and well-coached, Pittsburgh should be motivated by a sloppy first-round exit against the Flyers last season and a blown 3-1 series lead against Tampa the year before.
Islander leader John Tavares is an elite talent who will look forward to his first turn on the playoff stage but that inexperience is a common issue for the Long Islanders who have a host of Stanley Cup Playoff first-timers including ‘Tobas Travis Hamonic.
Best guess: Penguins in 5
Montreal (2) vs. Ottawa (7)
The Senators beat the Bruins in the final game of the regular season to set this one up. Now it’s regional rivals going head-to-head ensuring intensity will be sky-high.
Montreal has had a terrific bounce-back season under a new regime that’s got things headed in the right direction. The Canadiens have a nice mix of experience and youth as well as quality up-front and on defence.
In goal, Carey Price is an all-star when on his game, and he looked very comfortable in a win in Winnipeg in his last start.
Ottawa has quality in goal too with Craig Anderson healthy and hoping to find that form that got him off to a sizzling start this season.
Comebacks from Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen and Milan Michalek are also a big reason why Ottawa has to feel pretty good about its chances.
These teams split their season series, and this one should be a nail-biter too.
Best guess: Ottawa in 6
Washington (3) vs. New York Rangers (6)
The Capitals pushed the Rangers to the limit last year and may be ready to skate past them this time around.
Adam Oates got Alex Ovechkin to buy-in, and the team followed to the tune of a very impressive reversal of fortune. How good? Washington lost just four times in regulation in its last 20 on its way to sliding past the Jets and into first in the Southeast Division.
Oh and how good was Ovi? Rocket Richard good, thanks to popping ‘em at a goal/game pace over the last 23 games.
Factor in Mike Green’s strong finish after getting healthy and the solid play of Braden Holtby in goal and the Caps are a handful.
The Rangers boast the likes of Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Derek Stepan up front and are well led by the energy of captain Ryan Callahan.
On defense, there’s Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and some good experience beyond too but no Mark Staal due to injury.
In goal, it’s the King Henrik Lundqvist who will be tested after a strong finish to the regular season.
Best guess: Washington in 6
Boston (4) vs. Toronto (5)
The Bruins slipped into this match-up by losing to the Sens in the regular season finale and are hoping their stumbling finish won’t carry over against the Leafs. Boston won only 4-of-12 to close out the 48 game-schedule.
Meanwhile, Toronto is alive with the Leafs in the post-season for the first time since ’04.
Jets’ legend Randy Carlyle is leading the way from behind the bench with his aggressive brand of hockey, and there are plenty of storylines between the teams.
From the whole Phil Kessel from the Bruins (with the B’s ending up with Tyler Sequin and Dougie Hamilton) to the Leafs struggles against the Bruins in recent years (eight straight losses).
Morweena’s James Reimer of the Maple Leafs squares off against Tuuka Rask between the pipes, and his regular season numbers match up very well with his Boston counterparts’.
Reimer will show management they don’t need anyone else with a strong showing and could be an instant legend if the Leafs win the series — not sure that’ll happen.
Best guess: Boston in 7