We all know that on paper the Pittsburgh Penguins are the class of the Eastern Conference.
Even with Sidney Crosby sidelined, the Penguins’ lineup is loaded with firepower led by Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Jarome Iginla. And the Pens could get Crosby back during their first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders.
While I doubt the Isles have any chance at pulling the upset, I do foresee a chance for two lower-seeded teams — including the Isles’ hated rivals from Manhattan — to pull an upset in the three Eastern series that don’t include the Bruins.
Here are my East predictions, minus the Bruins-Toronto series. I’ll have a longer breakdown of the Bruins’ series and a prediction later on this site.
Pittsburgh over NY Islanders in 4
Maybe down the road the Pens will run into a hot goaltender or a team playing way over its head. But right now, the Isles are just a warm-up act for the Penguins in their pursuit of the Cup. There’s not one area where the Isles have an edge on Pittsburgh.
Ottawa over Montreal in 7
The return of Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen to the Senators’ back end gives them the type of depth and skill on defense to shut down Montreal’s mostly underachieving would-be scorers. Although I don’t think Carey Price will struggle, I still like Craig Anderson to outduel the Habs netminder.
NY Rangers over Washington in 6
Sure, the Rangers had their ups and downs in the regular season. But this team was built for the postseason and Rick Nash, Brad Richard & Co., should be able to provide Henrik Lundqvist enough offense to do what Tim Thomas couldn’t do last season — outduel Capitals netminder Braden Holtby. Although I expect Alexander Ovechkin will get his points, the Rangers’ tight team defense and solid top-four on the back end will be able to stop him from running roughshod over this series.