In the toughest and most competitive division to play in this season, Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston and the New York Islanders go at it to see who comes out of the division as the representative from the East division.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will face off against the New York Islanders for the sixth time in history, with the Islanders having a 4-1 advantage to date with their last meeting ending in a sweep for New York. The Penguins have been on fire since starting the season horribly, especially on the back end. They have been riddled with injuries this season and have fought through to secure first in the division to the surprise of many. But now that Evgeni Malkin is back and they have a healthy team, it looks like they’ll be even more dangerous come playoff time.
The Islanders have been struggling down the stretch and could’ve even lost their final playoff spot to the New York Rangers if they had played better late. On brand with how the Islanders play, they have had a hard time scoring goals and finished 20th in goals for, tied with Nashville for the least amount for a playoff team. While the Penguins finished first in goal scored and 15th in goals against. This season the Pittsburgh Penguins have the advantage in their season series taking it 6-2 with 24 goals for and 19 against. So this match-up may shape up to be a low scoring and very tight series if it is anything like how the regular season played out.
For a team that lost their captain in Anders Lee midway through the season, this seems like an even tougher task to score as shown by them down the stretch. Kyle Palmieri has not contributed to replace the scoring of Lee as much as they had hoped so far, but he is the type of player that is built for the playoffs, so we will see if he makes an impact. For the Pens, with Malkin back it makes Pittsburgh very deep at centre since it moves Jared McCann down to 3C and he has been a force this season. I predict this series going in favour of Pittsburgh in five games after seeing how these teams matched up in the regular season and how they have both played recently.
The first-round battle between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins looks like it could be the most exciting match-up when playoffs start, with each team taking four games in their season series. Washington took the last game against the Bruins in the last regular season game of the season on a bad angle shot at the very end of the game. This will be the fourth playoff series between the two franchises and first in almost a decade. They will lead off the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs with their series starting today. These teams matched up almost identical in goal scoring with Boston outscoring Washington 26-24 in their eight games.
This match-up will most definitely shape up to be physical and aggressive with Brad Marchand and Tom Wilson playing for the two teams, and will probably give everyone something to talk about by series end. The top line for the Bruins is widely considered the best line in hockey with the name ‘The Perfection Line’ and now the team looks much deeper than recent years with the addition of Taylor Hall at the deadline and Craig Smith playing much better. Hopefully both teams can stay healthy because both have had their injuries this season, most notably Alex Ovechkin for a handful of games before returning in their final regular season game.
Ilya Samsonov is on COVID-protocol so the decision seems easy for coach Peter Laviolette on who to start in net for Washington. Vitek Vanacek had a solid rookie season but comes into the series with zero playoff experience, while on the other side Tuukka Rask is a very good veteran who has been to the post-season many times in his career and helped his team to the finals in 2013 and 2019. Rask is still a very good goalie behind two of the best defensive forwards in the game in Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Washington has a very good defensive forward in his own right in Nicklas Backstrom, who also comes in leading the Capitals in points in games versus the Bruins this year with nine. Both teams have a ton of playoff experience and this series could really go either way, but I give the advantage in this series to Boston to win it in seven games.