Eastern Conference Preview

Corey Abbott
Rotoworld
Matt Murray gets the support Pittsburgh couldn't provide Marc-Andre Fleury in the first three games

Penguins' Offense Wakes Up

Matt Murray gets the support Pittsburgh couldn't provide Marc-Andre Fleury in the first three games

The 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs will begin with five games on Wednesday night.  Three of those contests will feature Eastern Conference matchups.  

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WASHINGTON CAPITALS VS. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Washington captured the Presidents’ Trophy for a second straight year after posting a 55-19-8 record. The Capitals were knocked out in the second round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs after they placed first overall and they were eliminated in Round 1 of the 2010 postseason after finishing with the best record in the league. The Capitals have not advanced past the second round since making the Stanley Cup Final in 1998. The team has made the playoffs 11 years during that span, which includes six exits in the opening round.

Nicklas Backstrom surpassed the 80-point mark for the first time since he generated 101 points in 2009-10. He led the Capitals with 86 points in 82 games in 2016-17. Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie tied for the club lead with 33 goals apiece. Marcus Johansson posted personal bests with 24 goals and 58 points.

Washington had three blueliners surpass the 30 points, with Matt Niskanen (39) and John Carlson (37) getting close to the 40-point plateau. Dmitry Orlov had a career-high 33 points and plus-30 rating in 81 appearances.

Braden Holtby, who won the Vezina Trophy last year, turned in another spectacular season between the pipes with a 42-12-6 record, a 2.07 goals-against average (second in the league), a .925 save percentage (fourth in the league) and nine shutouts (first in the NHL).

Toronto clinched a playoff spot in the second-to-last game of the regular season thanks to a late goal from rookie Connor Brown. Toronto’s first-year players were great all year long and they played key roles in the Leafs’ surprising turnaround after they were the worst team in the league in 2015-16.

2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews netted 40 goals and generated 69 points to pace Toronto in both categories. Fellow rookies William Nylander and Mitch Marner as well as Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk also topped the 60-point plateau to give Toronto a well-balanced attack.

Jake Gardiner produced a career-high 43 points in 82 games, while Nikita Zaitsev notched 36 points during his first NHL campaign.

Frederik Andersen had his share of ups and downs in 2016-17, but he logged heavy minutes while seeing a career-high 66 starts. He faced the second-most shots (2,052) in the league and he posted a .918 save percentage.

This is a colossal mismatch on paper even though Toronto was 1-1-1 versus Washington this season. The Capitals have a deeper lineup at every position and they know what to expect in the playoffs. The inexperienced Leafs have had their struggles defensively and Washington won’t give them much room to utilize their speed. Toronto’s chance for an upset will probably hinge on a brilliant performance by Andersen and a hot power play, but it’s hard to see them hanging around long in this series. Capitals in five games.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS


Please note that all lineups are just projections and subject to change as teams make adjustment on a game-by-game and sometimes even shift-by-shift basis. In some cases the lineups also reflect judgment calls being made on players sidelined with day-to-day injuries that are thought to be likely to return during the series, but might still prove to be unavailable.


 Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky

Daniel Winnik - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner - John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik - Kevin Shattenkirk

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

WHO’S HOT

Backstrom has amassed 23 points in 20 games heading into the postseason. Johansson has registered 12 points, including 10 assists, in the past 10 matches. Justin Williams’ three-game point streak (two goals, three assists) came to an end in the regular-season finale. He generated 10 points in the last 12 matches of the year.

WHO’S NOT

Oshie went scoreless in four straight games to finish the regular season. He had a four-game point before that. Evgeny Kuznetsov has failed to hit the scoresheet in nine of the last 13 outings. Still, he did manage to produce three goals and three helpers during that span.

NOTES

John Carlson missed three straight games at the end of the season because of a lower-body injury, but coach Barry Trotz is “very confident” that he will be ready to play in Game 1.

Brett Connolly sat out two games with an illness. He will probably be available to play when the playoffs begin too.

Washington ranked first in the league with 2.16 goals against per game. They also permitted the fourth-fewest shots against per game at 27.8.

The Capitals finished in a tie for third in power-play efficiency with a 23.1 percentage in 2016-17. They scored 57 goals, which included 17 from Ovechkin. Backstrom topped the team with 35 points on the man advantage.

Washington played shorthanded 272 times, which was the fifth-highest total in the league. However, the penalty kill stood tall with an 83.8 percent success rate, which placed them seventh overall.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner

Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - Connor Brown

Matt Martin - Brian Boyle - Kasperi Kapanen

Morgan Rielly - Connor Carrick

Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev

Matt Hunwick - Roman Polak

Frederik Andersen

Curtis McElhinney

WHO’S HOT

Matthews has notched nine goals and five helpers in the last 13 games. Van Riemsdyk has registered 15 points in the past 20 matches. That includes six goals and one assist in seven contests to end the regular season. Nylander has collected 17 points, including 12 assists, in 20 games.

WHO’S NOT

Brown’s goal on Saturday is the only point he has earned in the last six games. Zach Hyman has gone seven consecutive matches without a point and he has just four points in 20 appearances.

NOTES

Frederik Andersen is expected to play in Game 1 after he was injured against Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Nikita Soshnikov hasn’t played since Mar. 20 because of an undisclosed injury and Josh Leivo has been out with his mystery ailment since Mar. 23. If they were to get into the lineup then it would likely be in the place of Kasperi Kapanen on the fourth line.

The Leafs lost Zaitsev to an upper-body injury and Roman Polak to a lower-body ailment in the final game of the regular season. However, they both could be fine to play in Game 1 against Washington.

Toronto’s power play ranked second in the league with a 23.8 percent success rate. They finished third overall with 58 power-play markers. Kadri led the club with 12 goals on the man advantage, while Nylander topped the team with 26 power-play points.

The penalty kill placed 10th in the NHL with an 82.5 success rate, while allowing 44 goals despite being shortanded 251 times.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

The Penguins finished second in the Metropolitan Division for a second straight season, while finishing with the second-best record in the league at 50-21-11. The defending Stanley Cup champions will open the playoffs at home versus Columbus.

Columbus limped down the final stretch with a mark of 1-5-1, but 2016-17 was a tremendous success. The Blue Jackets had the fourth-best record in the league after they placed 27th overall in 2015-16. This will be Columbus’ third postseason appearance in the last nine years and so far they have two victories in 10 contests.

Sidney Crosby powered the Penguins with an NHL-high 44 goals. He also finished second overall in points with 89 despite appearing in 75 games. Evgeni Malkin was also out of the lineup for large chunks of the season, including the last 13 matches, but he accumulated 72 points, including 33 goals, in 62 appearances. Phil Kessel was close behind with 70 points, but he skated in 82 contests. He was integral in Pittsburgh’s run to a Stanley Cup championship last year. He has tallied 23 goals and 43 points in 46 career playoff matches.

The Penguins received great contributions from Conor Sheary, who skated in a career-high 61 games, and Jake Guentzel, who made his NHL debut in late November. Sheary generated 53 points and Guentzel compiled 33 points in 40 NHL outings. The duo was placed on a line with Crosby down the stretch and they enjoyed plenty of success.

On the back end, Justin Schultz enjoyed a breakout campaign with 51 points. He will quarterback Pittsburgh’s power play in the absence of Kris Letang, who won’t play in the postseason following surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck.

Columbus has some injury concerns on the back end as well. Rookie Zach Werenski, who burst onto the scene with 47 points in 78 games, and Ryan Murray may not be available for the start of the opening round.

Cam Atkinson struggled late in the year, but he led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 35 goals and 62 points in 82 games. Alexander Wennberg played a key role in the team’s offensive attack as well with 46 helpers and 59 points. Columbus also received superb bounce-back seasons from Nick Foligno (51 points) and Sam Gagner (50 points). Brandon Saad, who was third on the team with 53 points, has been involved in some lengthy playoff runs in the past with Chicago and that experience could prove to be beneficial.

Pittsburgh and Columbus both have great goaltending. Matt Murray shined during his rookie season after he helped guide the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2016. Sergei Bobrovsky hasn’t had any playoff success in 13 career appearances (2-6 with a 3.50 goals-against average and an .890 save percentage), but he was tremendous during the 2016-17 campaign. He posted 41 wins (second in the league) with a 2.06 GAA (first in the league) and a .931 save percentage (first in the league).

Pittsburgh defeated Columbus in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs in a six-game series. The Penguins have a wealth of playoff experience and more than enough game-breakers on offense to advance to the second round even without Letang. Pittsburgh in six.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Conor Sheary

Bryan Rust - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel

Scott Wilson - Nick Bonino - Patric Hornqvist

Tom Kuhnhackl - Matt Cullen - Carter Rowney

Brian Dumoulin - Olli Maatta

Ron Hainsey - Justin Schultz

Ian Cole - Trevor Daley

Matt Murray

Marc-Andre Fleury

WHO’S HOT

Crosby has compiled 22 points in 20 matches, which includes two goals and five helpers in his past five contests. Kessel snapped a 10-game goalless drought on Saturday and now he has five points in the last six games. Sheary has amassed 18 points in 19 outings since returning from an upper-body injury. Guentzel has potted a goal in each of his last five games and he has added three helpers during that span. He has accounted for 18 points in 16 matches.

WHO’S NOT

Patric Hornqvist has tallied three goals and two helpers in the last 10 games. However, he was more productive in his last four appearances with three points.

NOTES

Evgeni Malkin looks like he will be in the lineup when the playoffs begin.

The status of Chris Kunitz and Carl Hagelin is uncertain, but they don’t appear to be close to returning. Kunitz missed the final five games of the season with a lower-body injury, while Hagelin has been out of action since Mar. 10 due a lower-body ailment.

The Penguins were first in the league in goals for per game (3.39) and shots for per match (33.5).

Pittsburgh had a potent power play and finished third overall with a 23.1 percent efficiency rating. They scored 60 goals with the man advantage, which was only two fewer than the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. Kessel led the team with 30 power-play points and Crosby had 25, including a team-high 14 goals.

The Penguins had the 20th penalty kill in the league. They surrendered 52 power-play goals against. Only six teams allowed more and none of them qualified for the playoffs

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Nick Foligno - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson

Brandon Saad - Alexander Wennberg - Sam Gagner

Scott Hartnell - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand

Matt Calvert - William Karlsson - Josh Anderson

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones

Jack Johnson - David Savard

Scott Harrington - Kyle Quincey

Sergei Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo

WHO’S HOT

Boone Jenner has two goals and two assists over a three-game point streak.

WHO’S NOT

Atkinson didn’t post a point for six straight games before he scored a shorthanded goal on Sunday. He has potted two goals and no assists in the last 12 matches. Foligno has accounted for two goals and four points over the past 14 outings. Sam Gagner has gone goalless 14 consecutive games. He has contributed six helpers during that time. Brandon Dubinsky has one point (a goal) in nine contests.

NOTES

Werenski is expected to be ready for the playoff opener, but Murray’s return doesn’t appear to be imminent.

Columbus scored 42 goals on the man advantage and finished 12th overall on the power play in 2016-17. Wennberg had the most power-play points on the team with 23, but Atkinson, Foligno and Werenski weren’t far behind with 21 apiece.

Columbus had the ninth-best penalty kill in the league (82.5 percent). They allowed just 39 power-play goals against.

MONTREAL CANADIENS VS. NEW YORK RANGERS

Montreal’s season fell apart in 2015-16 after Carey Price spent most of the season on the sidelines. It was a different story this campaign, as a healthy Price helped lead the Canadiens to the Atlantic Division title. Montreal posted a 47-26-9 record and will host the Rangers in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

New York stumbled a bit down the stretch, but they had the first Wild Card spot secured long before that. The Rangers posted a 47-28-6 record en route to a 100-point campaign. They had the best road record in the league at 27-12-2. New York was eliminated on Round 1 in 2016 after getting to the Eastern Conference Final in 2015.

Max Pacioretty led the offensive attack with 35 goals and 67 points in 81 games. Alexander Radulov made a triumphant return to the NHL with a team-leading 36 assists and 54 points in 76 outings. Alex Galchenyuk started strong, but injuries and inconsistencies resulted in a 44-point campaign over 61 appearances.

Veteran blueliners Shea Weber and Andrei Markov will be leaned on heavily in all situations. Weber provided 17 goals and 42 points in 78 games. He sat out the last four games of the regular season with a lower-body injury, but he is expected to ready for Game 1 of the postseason. Markov registered 36 points in 62 matches.

Carey Price ended the year with a pair of losses, but he won 10 of his last 14 starts and benefited from Montreal’s tighter defensive schemes under coach Claude Julien. The 29-year-old netminder posted a 2.23 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in 62 appearances. He has faced the Rangers once before the playoffs, but was knocked out of their 2014 Eastern Conference Final series in Game 1 after Chris Kreider barrelled into him following a missed scoring chance. New York went on to win that series in six games.

Henrik Lundqvist had an up-and-down 2016-17 campaign. There were stretches when he looked like the all-world puck stopper that he has been for most of his career, but there were also times when he struggled mightily. Lundqvist also appeared to lose a step down the stretch after he came back from a hip injury.

Up front the Rangers were led by Kreider’s 28 goals and Mats Zuccarello’s 59 points. J.T. Miller also broke out with 22 goals and 56 points in 81 games. Michael Grabner was a surprise success with 27 goals.

Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei dealt with injuries late in the season, but they both returned to action prior to the start of the playoffs. McDonagh led the team’s defense corp in scoring with 42 points in 77 contests, while Skjei was right behind him with 39 points in 76 matches during his rookie campaign.

Lundqvist has had trouble with the Canadiens. During the 2016-17 season, he posted a 0-2-1 record with a 4.04 GAA and an .871 save percentage versus Montreal. Obviously that could change in the playoffs because it’s a different playing field. Still, this should be a close series and Montreal appears to have the edge when it comes to goaltending. That has the potential to make the difference, especially if Price’s mastery over the Rangers’ shooters continues. Montreal in six.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Max Pacioretty - Phillip Danault - Alexander Radulov

Paul Byron - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher

Dwight King - Andrew Shaw - Artturi Lehkonen

Alex Galchenyuk - Steve Ott - Andreas Martinsen

Andrei Markov - Shea Weber

Jordie Benn - Jeff Petry

Nathan Beaulieu - Nikita Nesterov

Carey Price

Al Montoya

WHO’S HOT

Radulov has racked up three goals and three assists in his last six contests. His five-game point streak was snapped on Friday against Tampa Bay. Artturi Lehkonen has produced six markers and 10 points in the past 10 matches.

WHO’S NOT

Pacioretty has registered seven points in the last seven games, but he has tallied just two goals over 12 outings. He hasn’t been particularly cold, but will need to be better than that as the top sniper on the team. Galchenyuk halted a seven-game goalless drought on Saturday. He has accounted for four points in the past 12 contests.

NOTES

Weber (lower body) and Benn (upper body) should be ready for the playoff opener.

Alexei Emelin (lower body) will not play in Game 1 and after that he will be re-evaluated.

Montreal averaged 2.72 goals for per game during the regular season, but they finished fourth overall with 2.41 goal against per contest.

Price has a career record of 15-5-1 versus the Rangers with a .940 save percentage and a 1.82 goals-against average.

The Canadiens ranked 13th on the power play, but moved up from 22nd overall under Julien. They received 229 power-play opportunities, which was better than just four teams in the league, and scored 45 times. Weber topped the club with 12 goals and 22 points on the man advantage.

Montreal’s penalty kill surrendered 47 goals when they were shorthanded 249 total times in 2016-17. That placed the team in 14th place with an 81.1 efficiency percentage.

NEW YORK RANGERS

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello

Rick Nash - Mika Zibanejad - Pavel Buchnevich

J.T. Miller - Kevin Hayes - Michael Grabner

Tanner Glass - Oscar Lindberg - Jimmy Vesey

Marc Staal - Kevin Klein

Brendan Smith - Dan Girardi

Nick Holden - Brady Skjei

Henrik Lundqvist

Antti Raanta

WHO’ S HOT

Zuccarello has compiled 13 points in his last 12 appearances. Derek Stepan has produced four goals and three helpers in eight games.

WHO’S NOT

Miller has been credited with two goals and two assists in the past 10 matches. He has been held off the scoresheet in eight of those outings. Kevin Hayes hasn’t scored a goal since Mar. 12 and he has chipped in three assists during that 12-game goalless slump.

NOTES

Ryan McDonagh got back in the lineup in Sunday’s regular-season finale and he produced two points after missing four games with an injury.

Backup goalie Antti Raanta is slated to be OK for Game 1 after he missed Sunday’s game with a minor knee injury.

Jesper Fast hasn’t played since Apr. 2, but could be ready for the start of the postseason. If he plays then Tanner Glass may become the odd-man out.

The Rangers’ power play placed 11th in the league with a 20.2 percent success rate. They registered 47 goals on 233 opportunities. Stepan led the team with 18 points, while Kreider and Rick Nash co-led the club in goals with six each.

New York ranked 19th on the penalty kill with a 79.8 percent efficiency rating.  They surrendered 45 goals against and were shorthanded 223 times.

OTTAWA SENATORS VS. BOSTON BRUINS

The Senators had to battle through some adversity on their road to claiming the second seed in the Atlantic Division. There were late-season injuries and an absent number one goaltender, but Ottawa still earned a 44-28-10 record after missing out on the postseason in 2015-16.

Craig Anderson and Mike Condon split time in the crease in 2016-17. Anderson left the team for portions of the season to be with his wife Nicholle, during her battle with throat cancer. He has been outstanding this season despite the emotional weight that has been on him. Anderson has recorded a .926 save percentage and a 2.28 goals-against average in 40 starts this year. Condon filled in admirably during Anderson’s absence.

Erik Karlsson tallied a team-leading 71 points in 77 games. Without him the Senators probably wouldn't have made the playoffs even though they clinched a spot in a game that he was out of the lineup.

Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone led the offensive attack up front. Hoffman potted 26 goals and was second on the team with 61 points. Turris and Stone were the only other players on the Senators who were able to top the 50-point mark. They both also surpassed the 20-goal plateau and Turris led the team with 27 markers.

After narrowly missing the playoffs for two years in a row, Boston punched their postseason ticket in the 80th game of the campaign. Boston was 26-23-6 before coach Claude Julien was fired. Interim bench boss Bruce Cassidy helped the Bruins finish with a mark of 44-31-7 and a loss by Toronto on the last game of the regular season gave them the third position in the Atlantic Division.

Brad Marchand enjoyed an MVP caliber season , while topping the team with 39 goals and 85 points in 80 games. He sat out the last two matches of the year because of a suspension, but he will back in the lineup for Game 1 versus Ottawa. Boston also got a substantial lift from a breakout performance by David Pastrnak, who exploded for 34 markers and 70 points in 75 contests. Top-two centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci got back on track from sluggish starts, as they both concluded the campaign just over the 20-goal and 50-point plateaus.

Torey Krug, who is unlikely to play in the first round, led Boston’s defence group with 51 points. Zdeno Chara finished a distant second with 29 points. Krug’s absence could put more pressure on Tuukka Rask, who was excellent in 2016-17. The Bruins netminder posted 37 wins with a 2.23 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.

The Senators won all four meetings between the two clubs during the regular season and allowed just six goals against. If the Bruins are missing Krug and Carlo then moving the puck up the ice will be an even more difficult task versus a tight-checking Ottawa team. Senators in seven.

OTTAWA SENATORS

Zack Smith - Kyle Turris - Mark Stone

Bobby Ryan - Derick Brassard - Alex Burrows

Mike Hoffman - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Tom Pyatt

Clarke MacArthur - Chris Kelly - Tommy Wingels

Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson

Dion Phaneuf - Cody Ceci

Chris Wideman - Mark Borowiecki

Craig Anderson

Mike Condon

WHO’S HOT

Karlsson has generated 16 points in his last 16 games, which includes three goals and one assist in three matches before another foot injury forced him out of the lineup. Hoffman has amassed 20 points in the past 20 contests. He wrapped up April’s regular-season schedule with three goals and two helpers in five outings.

WHO’S NOT

Stone hasn’t found the back of the net since Feb. 19 and he has contributed seven assists during his 15-game goalless drought. Derick Brassard has posted a mere six points in his past 20 appearances. That includes one goal and one helper in his last 11 matches.

NOTES

Zack Smith and Erik Karlsson finished the season on the sidelines, but they are both expected to be in the lineup for Ottawa’s playoff opener on Wednesday.

There’s a good chance that Marc Methot will be ready for the start of the postseason as well after his finger was badly lacerated back on Mar. 23. If he can’t play in Game 1 then Frederik Claesson will take his place on the back end.

The Senators finished third in the league with 1,352 blocked shots. Karlsson led all skaters on the team and finished second overall with 201 stops on the season.

Ottawa’s power play placed 23rd in the league with a 17.0 percent success rate. Karlsson topped the club with 27 points on the man advantage. Mike Hoffman was right behind him with 26, which includes a team-leading 13 goals.

The penalty kill ranked 22nd in the NHL. The Senators allowed 50 goals during their 246 times short.

BOSTON BRUINS

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Backes

Drew Stafford - David Krejci - David Pastrnak

Frank Vatrano - Ryan Spooner - Matt Beleskey

Dominic Moore - Riley Nash -Tim Schaller

Zdeno Chara - Adam McQuaid

Colin Miller - Kevan Miller

John-Michael Liles - Charlie McAvoy

Tuukka Rask

Anton Khudobin

WHO’S HOT

Brad Marchand was a scoring machine for most of the season. He finished the campaign with 19 points in 17 matches, including two goals and three assists in his last five appearances. Zdeno Chara wasn’t involved in the offense much this year, but he has contributed 11 of his 29 points in the last 19 matches.

WHO’S NOT

David Backes has notched one goal and two helpers in the past 10 outings. Pastrnak has slowed down in the goal department, with three in the last 11 matches, but he has collected seven points during that stretch.

NOTES

Krug will probably miss Round 1 of the postseason due to a lower-body injury he sustained last Thursday. The Bruins suffered another blow to their blueline in Sunday’s regular-season finale when Brandon Carlo left with an upper-body injury. He isn’t expected to be ready for Game 1, but could be back for Game 2.

The Bruins signed prospect Charlie McAvoy to an entry-level contract Monday and it looks like his NHL debut could come in Game 1 of the playoffs on Wednesday night.

Noel Accirari will be out for at least the playoff opener because of an upper-body injury.

The Bruins allowed just 26.8 shots against per contest. Only the Los Angeles Kings permitted less shots per game (25.9) in 2016-17.

Boston’s power play was seventh in the league with a 21.7 percent efficiency rating. Krug was first on the team with 25 points followed by Marchand and Pastrnak, who had 24 apiece. Pastrnak led the club with 10 goals on the man advantage.

The Bruins had the best penalty kill in the NHL in 2016-17 at 85.7 percent. They permitted just 38 power-play goals against and scored 10 times while shorthanded.

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