2015 NHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round Preview, Key Players And Predictions

Pittsburgh went into last night’s game against Buffalo with a one point lead over the Boston Bruins for the second and final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Penguins secured their spot with an 2-0 win over a lifeless Sabres team while the Bruins picked up just a point in their 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday. Boston won the President’s Trophy last year — the President’s Trophy is given to the team with the best record in the NHL.

Also on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens locked up the No.2 seed in the conference and the Atlantic Division crown with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens came into the night needing at least a single point as Tampa Bay was just two points behind Montreal at the start of the day.

The New York Rangers, who won the President’s Trophy, are the No. 1 seed in the conference and will open up against the Penguins. The Canadiens will matchup against Ottawa while the Lightning gets the Detroit Red Wings, the No. 3 seed out of the Atlantic Division. The Metropolitan Division No. 2 seed Washington Capitals will battle the New York Islanders, the No. 3 seed from the Metropolitan Division.

Here is a look at the first round matchups which will begin on April 15.

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New York Rangers (53-22-7, 113 points) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (43-27-12)
Schedule: At New York: April 16, April 18, April 24 (if necessary), April 28 (if necessary)
Pittsburgh: April 20, April 22, April 26 (if necessary)

TV schedule: April 16: CBC, NBCSN, TVA Sports: April 18: CBC, NBC, TVA Sports April 20: CBC, NBCSN, TVA Sports April 22: NBCSN, TV Sports, SN360.

Root Sports Pittsburgh will carry Game 1, 3 and 4 according to the Penguins twitter account.

New York has been one of the hottest teams down the stretch according to Kevin Allen of USA Today Sports. The Rangers are 15-5-1 in their last 21 games, including 7-3-0 in the last 10.

New York was No. 3 in the NHL in scoring (3.0 goals per game ) and No. 3 in scoring defense (2.3). The Rangers were also No. 6 in penalty killing (84.3 percent).

Pittsburgh has been dealing with a plethora of injuries lately and is 4-9-2 in its last 15 games. Defensemen Kris Letang (concussion) and Olli Maata along with forward Pascal Dupuis (blood clots) are expected to miss the entire playoffs. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff could be back sometime, however.

Key players:
New York: Defensemen –Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Keith Yandle, Kevin Klein and Dan Boyle — and goalttender Henrik Lundqvist (30-13-3, 2.25 goals-against average,.922 save percentage).

Pittsburgh: Centers Sidney Crosby (28 goals,84 points),Evgeni Malkin (28 goals,70 points) and goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury (34-20-9, 2.32,.920). Fleury was the Penguins’ MVP.

Prediction: New York in five games. Got a feeling that the Penguins will steal one game. Rangers, who came back from a 3-1 playoff deficit last year to advance, won the season series 3-0-1 this regular season.

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Montreal Canadiens (50-22-10, 110) vs. Ottawa Senators (43-26-13, 99)
Schedule: At Montreal: April 15, April 17, April 24 (if necessary), April 28 (if necessary)
At Ottawa: April 19, April 22, April 26 (if necessary)
TV: April 15: CBC, NHLN, TVA Sports April 17:CBC, CNBC, TVA Sports April 19: CBC,NBCSN, TVA Sports: April 22: CBC,USA, TVA Sports

Montreal comes into the series with the league’s top-scoring defense, surrendering 2.2 goals a game. This is thanks in large part to goaltender Carey Price and Norris Trophy candidate P.K. Subban. The Habs were also No. 7 in the league in penalty killing (83.7 percent).

Price set a Montreal record with 44 wins and led the league in goals against average (1.96) and save percentage (.933) according ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun. However, he had a 3.03 GAA and.887 save percentage in two games against Ottawa this season. Subban had 15 goals for 60 points and a +/- of plus-21 to go along with 74 penalty minutes.

Montreal finished the regular season ranked No. 20 in the league in scoring (2.6) and No. 23 overall in shot attempt percentage (48.5). The Canadiens, who maybe without their leading scorer Max Pacioretty (injured), also ranked No. 23 in power play (16.5 percent).

Ottawa is the hottest team in hockey, finishing the season 21-3-3 in its last 27 games. The Senators ended up No. 9 in goals per game at 2.83 and were No. 13 in scoring defense (2.54). Ottawa ranked No. 22 in the power play at (16.8 percent) and was No. 11 in penalty kill (82.9 percent).

Rookie goalie Andrew Hammond has been outstanding lately. Hammond went 20-1-2 with a.941 save percentage and 1.79 GAA down the stretch. Karlsson had 21 goals and 66 points to go along with a +/- of plus seven.

Key players:

Montreal: goaltender Carey Price, D P.K. Subban, D Jeff Petry

Ottawa: goaltender Andrew Hammond, D Erik Karlsson, C Mika Zibanejad

Prediction: Ottawa in seven. The Senators are scolding hot and are 3-1-0 against the Habs this year.

Tampa Bay Ligtning (50-24-8, 108) vs. Detroit Red Wings (43-15-14, 100)
Schedule: At Tampa Bay: April 16, April 18, April 25 (if nec.), April 29 (if nec.)
At Detroit: April 21, April 23, April 27 (if. nec.)
TV: April 16: TVA Sports CNBC, SN April 18:TVA Sports, CBC,NBC April 21: TVA Sports, NBCSN, SN April 23: TV Sports, CBC,NBCSN

Tampa Bay and Detroit will square off in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in their respective histories according to Andrew Astleford of Fox Sports Florida. The Lightning won the season series 3-1. Tampa Bay outscored Detroit 12-9 in the series but was shutout 4-0 in the final game of the series.

“They’re really good,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Babs (Red Wings coach Mike Babcock) speaks for himself. He’s a helluva coach. The last time we played them, they owned us. We had a little success with them early on, but primarily, the games have been really tight…. They’ve got young guys, they’ve got veterans, they’ve got guys who have won Cups. This will be a battle.”

Tampa Bay was the highest scoring team in the league with 3.2 goals a game. The Lightning are the second best team in the playoffs at even strength at handling the puck. Tampa Bay surrenders 2.5 goals a game.

Detroit, the best team in playoffs at handling the puck at even strength, averages 2.8 goals a contest. The Wings were also the second best team in the NHL with a man advantage as they are successful on the power play 23.8 percent of the time. Detroit gave up 2.6 goals a contest.

Key players
Tampa Bay: C Steve Stamkos (43 goals, 72 points), C Tyler Johnson, wings Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. The line of Johnson Palat and Kucherov combine for 73 goals and 199 points.
Detroit: Henrik Zetterberg (17 goals, 66 points), Pavel Datsyuk (26 goals, 65 points), Detroit goalies (Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek).

Prediction: Tampa Bay in seven. There are huge concerns about Detroit’s goaltending.

Washington Capitals (45-26-11, 101) vs. New York Islanders (47-28-7, 101)
Schedule: At Washington: April 15, April 17, April 23 (if nec.), April 27 (if nec.)
At New York: April 19, April 21, April 25 (if nec.)

TV: April 15: USA, Sportsnet, TVA Sp USA, SN 360. April 17: NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports, April 19: NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports. April 21: USA, SN 360, TVA Sports

New York blew a chance at having home ice advantage with its 5-4 shootout loss to Columbus on Saturday. The teams split their four regular season matchups (2-2).

“They’re [Washington] a big, heavy team,” Islanders forward Kyle Okposo said. “They play a hard game; they finish their checks. It’s gonna be a physical series. We’re going to have to use our legs, use what got us here, and that’s our speed. It’s going to be a hell of a series.”

Wahington was the sixth best team in putting the puck in the net with 2.9 goals a game. However, the Capitals were even better on the power play as they ranked No. 1 in the league, scoring on 25.3 percent of their opportunities. Washington was No. 7 in the league in scoring defense (2.4) and No. 14 in penalty kill at 81.2 percent.

New York averaged 3.0 goals during the regular season but gave up 2.7 goals. The Islanders have surrendered a goal in the final 10 seconds of a period in their last three games. New York ranked No.26 in penalty kill (78.0 percent). The Islanders produce nearly 34 shots per game, and give up 28.3.

Key players:
Washington: LW Alex Ovechkin, G Brandon Holtby (41-20-10, 2.22,.921), C Nicklas Backstrom
Ovechkin had an NHL leading 53 goals, including 25 goals on the power play, and totaled 81 points.

New York: C John Taveres (38 goals, 86 points), G Jaroslav Halak (38-17-4, 2.43,.917).

Prediction: Washington in six. There is question about the health of Islanders’ defenseman Travis Hamonic and center Mikhail Grabovski.

[Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images]