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This year’s playoffs are upon us, and the HabsWorld writers gave their predictions on the first-round series. This is the first part covering all games starting April 20th.

Eastern Conference

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Boston Bruins

Brian La Rose predicts: Maple Leafs in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Maple Leafs in 6 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Bruins in 5 games
Oren Weizman predicts: Bruins in 6 games

(Brian) Toronto exorcised a big demon last year by getting through the opening round which actually might take some pressure off them this time around.  I think a lack of top-end firepower will hurt Boston in the playoffs which offsets their strong back end and goaltending tandem, one that no one knows how they’re going to juggle.  If Ilya Samsonov reverts to his early-season form, this pick won’t even be close but I don’t think that will happen and he’ll be good enough to help the Leafs move on.

(Kevin) On paper, I think this is the year that Toronto is properly built to beat the Bruins. Boston has been more permissive defensively which is good news for the league’s top-scoring offence. The Bruins are more of a “score by committee” team outside of David Pastrnak which might be good news for the revamped blue line in Toronto. The goaltending is the only question mark that remains. That, and their own psychological demons against the Bruins. As is usually the case in this matchup, the Leafs have to get this over before the seventh game where they just can’t mentally handle the Bruins. So long as they can avoid Game 7 and beating themselves psychologically, I prefer the high-scoring team here.

(Norm) Auston Matthews was the NHL’s most proficient goal-scorer, coming up one goal short of a 70-goal season. Linemate William Nylander contributed 40 goals and 98 points. The Leafs squad boasts a deadly offensive group, with defenceman Morgan Rielly leading the backend. Former Hab Joel Edmundson was traded to Toronto to give some playoff experience and depth on the blueline.

Although Toronto boasts the league’s purest goal-scorer, I don’t have any confidence this team has a chance of escaping the first round. The Bruins employ a deadly sniper in Pastrnak, one who has a better record in the playoffs. Up front, Toronto has a better set of forwards offensively, but Boston’s group can play a better two-way game. On defence and in goal, it’s no contest that the Bruins are superior in both categories. Behind the bench, Jim Montgomery is a far superior head coach than Sheldon Keefe. There’s an old saying that ‘history tends to repeat itself’, and it’s easy for me to say Boston’s dominance against Toronto in playoff series over the past decade will also repeat itself.

(Oren) What has changed in 2024 to instill real belief in the Leafs’ ability to overcome the formidable Boston Bruins? Is it because Matthews no longer has to contend with perennial Selke Trophy stalwart Patrice Bergeron obstructing his view? Will the Leafs’ defence finally muster the strength to halt Pavel Zacha, an aging Brad Marchand, or Pastrnak? Or will it be their ability to counter the goaltending heroics of Jeremy Swayman or Linus Ullmark? No… What the Leafs need more than offence, defence, or goaltending is a ‘cause.’ While we know the Bruins will be fighting for each other, it’s unclear if the Leafs can make the mental pivot needed to secure their place in the playoffs. Coupled with an emotionally chaotic fan base and a media horde quick to point fingers—Simpsons Nelson style—the Leafs might just find themselves mapping out an early ‘spring,’ potentially spending their ‘field’ time on a golf course.

Carolina Hurricanes vs New York Islanders

Brian La Rose predicts: Hurricanes in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Hurricanes in 5 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Hurricanes in 6 games
Oren Weizman predicts: Hurricanes in 6 games

(Brian) On paper, this shouldn’t be particularly close.  However, the Islanders have a tendency to punch about their weight class in the playoffs which is why Lou Lamoriello stubbornly keeps his core group intact at all costs.  It wasn’t easy for Carolina to get through them last year and while they’re a better team this time around, I still think it won’t be easy so New York should get a couple of games before being ousted.

(Kevin) It’s hard to imagine the Islanders offer much of a series to the team that leads the league in goal differential. The Canes come into the series with a far better offence and a far better defence, simply a far superior hockey team. If the Islanders have any chance whatsoever, it lies between the pipes where both Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov have the potential to steal some games if not the entire series. The Islanders have completed some fun upsets in recent years, can they do it again? That’s it. That’s the only thing I can come up with in favour of the winner of the battle of mediocrity that happened at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

(Norm) Carolina had the third-best overall record in the league and were only three points behind the NHL leader New York Rangers. Team scoring leader Sebastian Aho continues to be the heartbeat of this team. Youngster Seth Jarvis had a career season in points. Trade deadline Jake Guentzel was dropped into this lineup and produced 25 points in 17 games. He gives this team one of the best postseason scorers in recent history, which is a facet of their game that has not been consistent the past few years.

The Islanders have responded well to replacement head coach Patrick Roy. Around the halfway point of their mediocre season with the team just outside the playoff picture, Roy took over for coach Lane Lambert. It took the players a little time to respond to his style, but they came around and improved both defensively and offensively. To me, the Islanders will give the Hurricanes some trouble in this series, but Carolina will move on.

(Oren) Is Patrick Roy’s pure energy and visceral candor enough to instill a burst of confidence in his players, enough to carry the Islanders through a seven-game playoff battle against the balanced and well-oiled Canes? Doubtful. For the Canes, it all depends on their ability to stay healthy and effective. Although they can dominate teams when firing on all cylinders, injuries to key players could challenge their depth. It’s rumoured that their top six are entering the playoffs nursing various injuries!