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While the Western Conference may appear to be the more intriguing side of the postseason bracket as they possess one of the most exciting success stories in the Vegas Golden Knights, there are actually a multitude of compelling Eastern Conference teams that could make exhilarating runs towards a Stanley Cup Title.
Between the surprising success of the Philadelphia Flyers and the up and coming Toronto Maple Leafs, the Eastern Conference is not devoid of notable teams that could feasibly go far in the postseason this year. Although the Pittsburgh Penguins have been the eventual victors in the playoffs the last two seasons, their reign of dominance may come to an end as there are several elite teams that will be tough to overcome this year.
Regardless of which team you are pulling for this year, rest assured that even if your favorite team fails to win it all that there will still be plenty of underdogs and perennial competitors to keep you coming back for more in what should be one of the most exciting and unpredictable NHL playoff seasons in some time.
Statistically speaking, the Flyers have been one of the more underwhelming teams in the NHL this season. Neither dominant on offense or defense this season, the Flyers have been reliant on the individual successes of Claude Giroux (102 points), Jakub Voracek (85 points) and Sean Couturier (76 points) to win tight games throughout this season. In order for the Flyers to be successful in the playoffs, they will need to be far better at defending the power play, an area where they struggled to be even average at during the regular season (75.8% penalty kill, 29th in the NHL).
While the defense of the Penguins has been noticeably average this season, their offense has been relentless and deadly at finding the back of the net, especially in power play situations (26.2% on the power play, 1st in the NHL). While it's hardly surprising how well Sidney Crosby has played yet again this year (89 points), it has been the elevated competitiveness of Phil Kessel (92 points) and Evgeni Malkin (98 points) that has allowed this team to have sustained success as a prolific scoring team.
Given how deep this rivalry runs, it would shocking to see this series be a blowout on either side. However, given the goaltending issues of the Flyers and the exceptional shooters of the Penguins, this riveting series will ultimately go to the proven winners in Pittsburgh. Penguins in 7.
At one time, the Devils were one of the best teams in the Metropolitan division as their persistent offense was seemingly unstoppable early on in the regular season. While the Devils have since regressed to being relatively average from a scoring perspective, they are still fairly adept at passing the puck as they have eight players with at least 15 assists or more. More importantly than their scrappy offense will be their burgeoning power play defense (81.8% killing the power play, 8th in NHL), which will be crucial in holding off the sensational scorers of Tampa Bay.
Scoring 3.5 goals per game, the Eastern Conference winning Lightning were able to effectively cover up the blemishes of their porous defense by finding ways to constantly be the attackers against their given opponent. With 11 players that have scored at least 10 goals or more, the Lightning can score quickly and often with a variety of shooters that are difficult to contain consistently.
While the Devils will be able to steal a game because of how inconsistent Tampa Bay is at defending their zone, the Lighting are so dominant offensively that the Devils will have a difficult time garnering the requisite scoring opportunities needed to keep up and defeat their opponent in a seven game series. Lightning in 5.
Struggling mightily on offense this season, the Jackets were able to clinch a spot in the playoffs thanks largely in part to their scrappy defense that did more than its fair share to stifle their opponents down the stretch of the season. Even though they are highly inconsistent when it comes to scoring the puck, the Blue Jackets have been adept at passing the puck to their open shooters as 11 of their players have at least 15 assists or more. Against the Capitals, the Blue Jackets will need to control the time of possession and take high percentage shots lest they give Washington too many opportunities to pull away with their versatile offense.
While the Capitals have not been as dominant on either offense or defenses as they have been in years past, the distribution of their scoring output has been impressively well-balanced as 16 of their players have scored 16 points or more this season. Although their goaltending has not been great this year, the dynamic abilities of defensemen John Carlson and Dimitry Orlov have been vital in providing relief for their inconsistent goaltenders.
Although the Blue Jackets underrated defense may be strong enough to hold off the Capitals initially, they will be unable to keep up with the scoring capabilities of a Capitals team that has been getting production from all of their lines this season. Capitals in 6.
One of the more well-balanced teams coming into the playoffs, the Maple Leafs were able to win consistently thanks to their vicious scorers that were effectively complimented by an above average defense. With an offense that is built intelligently to keep an opposing defense moving erratically to find an open lane to score through, the Maple Leafs regularly frustrated their opposition as they were especially difficult to stifle consistently throughout a given contest.
As well-balanced as the Maple Leafs were this season, the Bruins were even better in this regard as they were ranked 6th or better in goals per game, goals allowed, power play scoring percentage and penalty kill percentage. With 13 players that have scored 22 points or more this season, the Bruins were one of the most unselfish scoring units in the NHL and were especially potent at scoring off of turnovers. Combined with their immense size, the Bruins bullied their opponents and, as result, almost always won the turnover battle during the majority of their regular season affairs.
While the Maple Leafs may be able to keep up with the Bruins from a scoring perspective, their defense lacks the physicality and killer instinct needed to consistently intimidate and wear down the tough-minded playmakers of Boston. Bruins in 7.