NHL 2017 Playoffs First Round Predictions: Eastern Conference

The 2017 NHL Playoffs will kick off on Wednesday night and it is sure to be a party for the next couple of months. The first round of the NHL playoffs may be the most exciting display of competition in all the four major North American sports. Here are my predictions for the first round.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS vs TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Verdict: Capitals in five.
Player of the series: T.J. Oshie

Apr 4, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) checks Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson (43) at the Air Canada Centre. Washington defeated Toronto 4-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals are the team to beat this year in the playoffs, and they should have no troubles putting up the W’s against a young Maple Leafs team. The Leafs won’t go down without a fight, but they won’t be able to handle the Capitals’ offensive tank. Alex Ovechkin will be motivated to finally hoist the holy grail that is Lord Stanley’s Cup and he has a decent supporting cast.

Look for the Caps to get a productive series from T.J. Oshie. Oshie is not only playing for a chance to win the Stanley Cup, but he is playing for his next contract. A 10-goal playoff performance should allow him to cash in on a long-term contract worth upwards of $6.5 million.

The Caps are just going to be too much for the Leafs to handle. The Caps will take this series quickly, but don’t expect the games to be blowouts. Both teams can score, but Braden Holtby will outduel Frederik Andersen.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS vs COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Verdict: Blue Jackets in six.
Player of the series: Sergei Bobrovsky

Apr 4, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Conor Sheary (43) prepares to shoot against Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) after a pass from Pens center Sidney Crosby (87) during the third period at the PPG PAINTS Arena. The Penguins won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This series will have a lot of eyes on it. The Jackets and Penguins had one of the most spirited series in recent memory when they met three years ago in the first round. Sidney Crosby and Brandon Dubinsky went at it, and the Jackets gave the Penguins all they could handle. The Pens came out on top that time around, but the Jackets made themselves known as a hard-checking group.

The defending Stanley Cup champs will be dubbed the favorite mainly because of the presence of Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Evgeni Malkin. The Pens will be without top d-man Kris Letang and their entire blueline is filled with fillers and tweeners due to injuries.

In the end, it will come down to goaltending and even though the Penguins boast two goaltenders that have won a Stanley Cup, Sergei Bobrovsky is the best goalie in this series.

MONTREAL CANADIENS vs NEW YORK RANGERS

Verdict: Habs in six.
Player of the series: Carey Price

Feb 21, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) stops a shot by New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) during a shoot-out at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

This was the most difficult series to select a winner. The Habs and Rangers finished only one point apart from one another, making this series the most even based on Regular Season play.

One storyline to follow will be how the Canadiens handle Chris Kreider. Of course, the Rangers’ winger injured goaltender Carey Price during a playoff matchup a few years back. Habs GM Marc Bergevin added a lot of toughness at the deadline in Andreas Martinsen, Steve Ott, Jordie Benn and Dwight King. Expect Kreider to be playing with a bit of worry in his eyes.

This series will go down to the goaltenders. Carey Price is still the best in the game, and Henrik Lundqvist is simply not what he used to be. Watch for Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Plekanec, and Andrew Shaw to bring their games to a new level en route to a first-round victory.

OTTAWA SENATORS vs BOSTON BRUINS

Verdict: Bruins in 6
Player of the Series: Brad Marchand

Apr 6, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson (41) stops Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) during the shootout in the Ottawa Senators 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Both of these teams could have fallen down to the final wild-card spot, but they bested the Toronto Maple Leafs and earned the right to face one another. This series has the least amount of buzz around it, but it will still be a solid series.

The Bruins have been one of the hottest teams down the stretch and while they are also banged up a bit, the Sens are the more hampered club. The Bruins will be without Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo while the Senators will be without Marc Methot and Cody Ceci. Fortunately for the Bruins, 2016 1st round pick Charlie McAvoy signed his ELC and will be available during the playoffs.

Senators coach Guy Boucher is a strict defensive stalwart and that may be the only chance the Sens have to contain the Brad Marchand line. I don’t believe it will be enough as Brad Marchand has proven to be an effective threat in big games.

There’s a chance that Craig Anderson can outplay Tuukka Rask and if Anderson plays like we know he can, this series could go to the Senators.

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