The NHL Eastern Conference Semifinal round will begin tonight as the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Ottawa Senators in Game 1. With their Game 7 wins last night, the New York Rangers will face the Boston Bruins in the other semifinal matchup. Here are my predictions for the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #7 Ottawa Senators
The Pittsburgh Penguins struggled to defeat the #8 seeded New York Islanders in the first round while the Ottawa Senators dominated the #2 seeded Montreal Canadians. If the Penguins want to advance to the Eastern Conference Final, they must find a way to beat Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson. He finished the first round with an impressive .95% save percentage. Pittsburgh’s goaltending situation is not as clear as Marc-Andre Fleury started the first four games of their first round series but was replaced by Tomas Vokoun for Games 5 and 6 which were both wins for the Penguins. Vokoun will start Game 1 but if he struggles, how quickly will Fleury be put back in? Evgeni Malkin led the Penguins forwards with 11 points (2 G, 9 A) in the first round while Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson tied for the Senators lead with 6 points. This series will be a classic matchup of a talented offensive team (Penguins) against a good defensive team (Senators) with one of the top goalies in the playoffs. As good as Anderson has been, the Penguins offensive depth and skill will be too much to overcome and the first round struggle against the Islanders will only make the Penguins stronger and more focused.
Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins in 6
#4 Boston Bruins #6 New York Rangers
After an epic comeback in the third period of Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins advanced to the semifinal round against another Original Six team, the New York Rangers. The Rangers rallied from a 2-0 series deficit to defeat the Washington Capitals in seven games. Henrik Lundqvist leads all goaltenders with 2 shutouts this postseason. His shutouts came with the Rangers facing elimination in Games 6 and 7. The Bruins David Krejci leads all playoff scorers with 13 points (5G, 8A) but they will need Jaromir Jagr and Brad Marchand to step up and contribute offensively against the Rangers. The Rangers offense broke out in Game 7 but struggled to put points on the board in the previous six games against the Capitals. The Bruins physical play and deeper blue line will be a stark contrast to the style of play that the Rangers saw in the first round. Look for the Bruins to put their big forwards in front of the net and utilize screens, deflections, and rebounds to put the puck past Lundqvist. This is my pick for the best series of the Semifinal round.
Prediction: Boston Bruins in 7