NHL 2014 Eastern Conference Playoff Picks
SDR contributor Jeremy Crowhurst predicts that Carey Price and the Habs will advance in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens – Montreal in seven.
This series is basically pick ’em. Both teams have a core of good, young players, and both should be very good teams for years to come. Tampa Bay enters the playoffs on a four-game winning streak, albeit against uninspiring competition. In fact, Tampa hasn’t been challenged much since returning from the Olympic break. Of their 24 games, five have been against contending teams, five against other playoff teams, and fourteen against non-playoff teams. Montreal, on the other hand, has faced nine contenders, five other playoff teams, and only nine non-playoff teams in the same period. The main difference between the two teams lies at the top and bottom of their stat sheet. Tampa Bay has superstar Steven Stamkos, who is a two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner for most goals scored (and two-time runner up), and more potential rather than production after that. Montreal has the “potential rather than production” on their roster, but no “that”. At the bottom of the sheet are the goalies. Ben Bishop has had a good year for Tampa, ranking seventh overall in both save percentage and goals-against average. However, this is his first season as “the guy”, having never played more than 22 games in his six years as a pro, and he has no playoff or high-level international experience. Carey Price has had a pretty good year. He led Team Canada to the gold medal in the Sochi Olympics, and hit career bests in save percentage and goals-against average. This is his sixth trip to the playoffs in seven seasons as his team’s #1 goaltender. All in all, better goaltending will “Carey” the day. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets – Pittsburgh in five.
The Penguins had the look of a dynasty five years ago, but injuries and erratic goaltending have limited them to one Cup win (and another appearance in the finals.). Injuries have again been a problem this year, and they will likely need Evgeni Malkin to return fully healthy to win it all this season. But standout defencemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin both are back after spending February and March in the trainer’s room. Columbus has the makings of a good but not great team, and 21 year-old Ryan Johansen is poised to join the league’s elite as he enters his prime years. But they too have been bitten by the injury bug, so it’s difficult to conceive of a credible narrative that ends with “…and that’s how Columbus beat the Penguins!” They’ll do well to win one game.
Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings – Boston in six.
A Detroit victory would not be as big of a surprise as one might think. The Red Wings have been plagued by injuries all season long (only two players have appeared in all 82 games, and only one of their top six forwards has played more than 70 games), and are now mostly healthy. On a per-game basis, Detroit’s top six forwards have been almost as productive as Boston’s. Also, Detroit is the more playoff-ready of the two teams: over the last month, eleven of their last sixteen games were against playoff teams, compared to eight of Boston’s. Finally, there is the regular-season head-to-head record, which Detroit won 3-1. All that said, the one injury that hasn’t yet healed is the one that will sink Detroit: Henrik Zederberg, their only point-per-game player. He will be out for the first round, and without him, it will likely be their last round. Boston features the second-best defense in the league, headed by likely Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask, and future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara, who is still a force on the blueline at age 36.
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers – Philadelphia in seven.
Neither team is particularly inspiring. New York appears to have lost the trade of captains they made with Tampa Bay at the deadline. They gave up 28 year-old Ryan Callahan for 38 year-old Martin St. Louis. Callahan has six goals with his new team, while St. Louis has just one with the Rangers. New York is a team with not much offensively, but a strong defense, 4th best in the league. The Flyers lean the other way; their 236 goals scored (and 235 goals allowed) puts them in the top ten offensively, bottom ten defensively. The real difference between these two teams in their performance is, again, the level of competition they’ve faced since the Olympic break. Philadelphia has gone 12-7-4 against a strong field that included eleven games against contending teams (San Jose, Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Boston, and Tampa Bay), where they finished a very respectable 5-4-2. The Rangers on the other hand are 13-7-3 in the same time period, but played only four contenders, and only one of those was in the last four weeks. Goaltending usually prevails in the playoffs, and the Rangers win that battle. But the Flyers are in better shape for a long battle.
Photo by Kristina Servant