The weather is getting warmer… blah, blah, blah, Stanley Cup Playoffs, blah, blah, blah. It's the East’s turn.
The Eastern Conference has been nothing but high drama going into the post season. It took the last game of the season to decide who was in and who was out. No pressure there, huh? The Islanders slipped into the 8 spot over Toronto with a shootout win in New Jersey. The face of playoff teams has drastically changed in the East with Pittsburgh, Atlanta and the New York Islanders joining the post season festivities. Missing are Cup defenders Carolina, Montreal and Philadelphia who are on the outside looking in after making the cut a season ago.
With out further ado, let’s do this thing and get to my fearless predictions for the Eastern Conference and your Conference winner:
New York Islanders at Buffalo Sabres – If the Sabres aren’t careful, they could be sitting on the corner of disappointment and misery if they don't take the Islanders seriously. Buffalo has not needed a “must-win” game after taking the Conference by storm with a 113 points and proving that they were the team to beat in the east. That could prove costly facing an Islander team that has been doing nothing but fighting to get in the playoffs tooth and nail. Can Buffalo survive the battle hardened Isles? Maybe if Chris Simon hadn’t decked Ryan Hollweg, the first round would be more favorable for the Long Island squad.
Buffalo wins in 6 games
Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils – Tampa Bay has a way of getting into the playoffs in a non-dominating way. But in the playoffs, they are a sleeper team and if they wake, they can make a lot of noise. If Vincent Lecavalier decides to turn on his offense in the post season and his partner in crime Martin St. Louis joins in, it’s not going to matter if Marty Brodeur is in net or not. Meanwhile the Devils’ heads are still spinning after their coach was fired and Lou Lamoriello jumped back behind the bench. It was a shocker for sure, but will it pay off for the Devils or be more of a distraction?
Tampa Bay wins in 7 games
New York Rangers at Atlanta Thrashers – Two teams that are hard to predict what they will do. Atlanta is in unfamiliar territory, the Rangers are only as good as Jaromir Jagr wants to be. The Rangers will need the “Brendan Shanahan effect” to do its magic if they want to best their last year’s mark. Atlanta needs some consistency from its star players, mainly Ilya Kovalchuck, and good goaltending. Atlanta doesn’t back down from a fight and the Rangers may not be tough enough to hang.
Atlanta wins in 5 games
Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators – The Senators are not the team from a year ago. No Dominik Hasek, no Zdeno Chara, no Brian Potheir. That means their offense is their only defense. Good thing they matched up with the Penguins whose defense is just as blah. This series should be a high shooting affair, lots of goals and some really bad defense. It will be goaltending that is the key to whomever wins this series. Marc-Andre Fluery must be consistent for Pittsburgh or they are not going anywhere, new stadium deal or not. Sid "the Kid" Crosby will not be much of a factor, mostly here to learn than to dominate. Although, I do see a couple highlight reel goals for the Kid in this series. If nothing else this should be the most entertaining series of the playoffs, too bad we can't see these two duke it out in the Conference Finals.
Ottawa wins in 7 games
Tampa Bay at Buffalo – Tampa Bay has a good team, but not that good. Buffalo may have had a scare against the Islanders but you can expect for them to shake that and make easy work of the Lightning. Tampa Bay just doesn’t have the firepower the Sabres have. Sad but true. And if it comes down to goaltending, I favor Ryan Miller.
Buffalo wins in 5 games
Atlanta at Ottawa – The Southeast Division certainly didn’t rack up the points this season. The Senators will gain the upper hand on the Thrashers after they reseed in the second round and Ottawa will gain home ice advantage. Good thing too, because Ottawa will need it. Atlanta will have to trust their goaltending and be the bruisers against the Senators. If they can’t out hit Ottawa, then it’s an early bow out of the playoffs. The Senators, however, are weak on defense and will have a hard time shutting down Atlanta’s talent.
Atlanta wins in 6 games
Eastern Conference Final
Atlanta at Buffalo – This is some familiar territory, the Sabres versus a Southeast Division foe. No question, it’s the Sabres year. It is their turn to take the east, and Atlanta will do little to stop them. If it were Carolina again, or Tampa Bay, or even Florida, Buffalo may have their hands full. The Thrashers goaltending from Kari Lehtonen has to be spectacular for them to have a chance against Buffalo. The Sabres’ speed will be too much. Atlanta could play them tough, but you can’t hit what you can’t catch up to. As far as goaltending goes, Miller should be pretty solid in net. It’s not even going to be close.
Buffalo goes on to the Stanley Cup Finals to face Vancouver in a quick 5 games
Stanley Cup Finals
Vancouver at Buffalo
My Finals prediction is just based on gut reaction to looking at these two matched up for a seven game series. Vancouver does have a good team, and Roberto Luongo will have given the Canucks something they never had before, a chance. But Luongo’s record against the Sabres isn’t a glowing one. That may be Buffalo’s edge. Buffalo fans will cheer, because I am predicting a Stanley Cup win favorable to the Sabres.
Buffalo wins the Cup in 7 games
If this is anything like last year, my Eastern Conference predictions will be closer to being correct than the Western Conference. After each round I like to assess how I did, then make new predictions based on what happened. Buffalo is my favorite out of the East, but I do think Anaheim could prove me wrong and that will screw my entire Western Conference predictions. Edmonton didn’t do me any favors last year, so why should any other team in the West.
I do believe there will be some upsets, but I don’t believe any 8 seeds will find themselves in the Finals like last year. The Islanders are just ready to make that kind of run, and Calgary has their own issues. For the most part, many of the top seeds learned their lessons from last season.
So enough talk already! Bring on the Stanley Cup!