The second part of this playoff prediction article focuses on the Eastern Conference series which begins Sunday evening. The HabsWorld writers provide their thoughts on who will succeed and who will fail to advance.
Boston Bruins vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Lightning in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Lightning in 6 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Lightning in 7 games
Allan Katz predicts: Bruins in 6 games
(Norm) This seems like it should have been the Eastern Conference Final matchup. The Bruins surprised me by dispatching the Carolina Hurricanes in five games, without their starting goaltender (Tuukka Rask) for most of the series. Their top sniper (David Pastrnak) also missed the middle three games of that series. Former Hab Jaroslav Halak played well enough to help his team but was not otherworldly like he was for Montreal during their 2010 playoff run. Perhaps due to Boston’s defence, he doesn’t need to be. The Lightning gained vengeance against Columbus for their upset loss to them in the 2019 playoffs. Even without captain Steven Stamkos, who is not known when he will return for the playoffs, Tampa still has outstanding offence up front, led by superstars Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, the latter scoring two overtime game-winning goals in the last round. This is probably the toughest series to predict so far since both are exceptional teams. I can easily see this series going the distance and a controversial situation deciding it.
(Kevin) Under normal circumstances, I would grumpily analyze my way to a Boston pick but Boston needed to pull off some crazy periods to get by the Hurricanes. They’ve been wildly inconsistent per period, are playing their backup netminder, and are facing a team that had to be crazy regular and intense to get through the pesky Blue Jackets. I understand that the Lightning are also missing big pieces like Stamkos, but I think their win in the first round sets them up to get on a bit of a roll here and they eliminate Boston.
(Brian) – I don’t trust Tampa Bay after what happened a year ago and Boston deserves full marks for beating Carolina as quickly as they did. But their goaltending situation scares me. Halak is good in a shorter stint but there’s a reason he’s not an every-game starter anymore. Over a longer series, that could hurt them. The compressed schedule, one that features potentially two back-to-backs, is going to hurt as well. This will be the tightest series of them all but asking Halak to win that seventh game in a back-to-back is going to be too much and that will be the difference.
(Allan) This should be an awesome series. For Hab fans, we have Halak in net for the Bruins and Sergachev on defence for the Lightning. Gotta cheer for Halak though. The Bruins need Pastrnak to open up. They also have the better power play and if Pastrnak finds the missing vowel in his last name he could destroy Tampa. While Chara (which means Devil in some dead language) is a villain, he is the only player still playing who lived through the Spanish Flu in 1918. So he deserves some credit for that. Tampa has an awesome goalie in Vasilevskiy, but let’s be honest here he has too many vowels in his last name and if Pastrnak can just grab that “i” in skiy this series could be over in four. OMG, Tampa also has former Hab Ryan McDonagh … I feel ill. So if Halak continues to be Halakonian the Bruins will win, otherwise, Tampa, which should move to Quebec or Hamilton, could pull off a small upset.
Philadelphia Flyers vs New York Islanders
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Islanders in 4 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Islanders in 6 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Flyers in 6 games
Allan Katz predicts: Flyers in 6 games
(Norm) My feelings about the Flyers can be summed up with the title of Shania Twain’s song, “That Don’t Impress Me Much”. I felt the Habs outplayed the Flyers in four of the six games in that series and dominated them in two of those games. Philadelphia’s best players did not play like their best players, except for Carter Hart. I don’t see Philadelphia’s luck continuing in this round. The Islanders play such a strong two-way team-oriented game and used that to their advantage to shutdown a superior Washington forward corps. Head coach Barry Trotz must feel vindicated for that victory over Washington, the team he helped lead to their 2018 Stanley Cup win. Goalie Semyon Varlamov has played exceptionally well for his team, starting with their qualifier round versus Florida, then continued that against the Capitals. I really like the overall depth of this team, and will not be surprised if they sweep the Flyers.
(Kevin) This series likely won’t be one for the ages but the Flyers versus the Islanders features two defensive juggernauts so it’s difficult to identify a distinct advantage. Between the pipes, Carter Hart holds the edge over Semyon Varlamov, but Hart will need to deliver regularly unlike what was seen against the Habs otherwise the Flyers could be done quickly. The Flyers’ blue line is more spectacular with the likes of Provorov, Sanheim, and Myers, but I prefer the depth of the Islanders blue line. That same depth is present in both forward groups so that’s a wash. On paper, I’d choose the Flyers top-end players over the Islanders, but the likes of Barzal and Eberle have been regularly clutch so in a series that likely gets decided on clutch moments and special teams, I’ll take the team that has their stars rolling as opposed to those searching for answers.
(Brian) Did Philadelphia play their best against the Habs? No, although I don’t think they were as bad as some are stating either. In those first three losses, the Flyers played some very strong defence; it wasn’t just Montreal’s lack of firepower that did them in. I can’t see their top players firing blanks for another entire series even with the Islanders being another low-scoring team. Actually, I think the way the Montreal series played out works to Philadephia’s advantage. They’re battle-tested while New York probably had what was the easiest round of anybody. That’ll let the Flyers get the jump and give them the edge to win this series.
(Allan) There are many ways to prognosticate and all of them have weaknesses and some make a little sense. Flipping coins is one way, studying the facts is another way, but in America, where this Canuck lives, there is a third way: Alternate Facts. The rules of Alternate Facts are very specific: 1) There are no rules, 2) Emotion is the same as a fact, 3) Stats are cherry-picked and used in any way you want, 4) Sounding like an idiot is okey-doke. So here’s my case – Any team that beat Montreal, in this case, Philly, takes Montreal with it as it goes for the Cup. If Philly wins Montreal moves up in prestige. I have tested this with a double-blind experiment and after opening my eyes twice everything I thought was confirmed. If this makes no sense you now know what it feels like to live in the States. Both teams are defensively equal but Philly has the scoring, so I pick them in six and if you find my reasoning idiotic… okey-doke.