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Snarky Guide to the Playoffs: The Eastern Conference

New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Rangers

There is a plenty to like about the Rangers this year. They can score in many ways, and have a very deep defensive corps despite being sold on Keith Yandle. It’s a good thing that the Rangers do have this depth; no one accrues bizarre injuries like the Rangers. So it’s good that they’re deep. I fully expect Dan Girardi to have an injury worthy of the Clint Barmes deer meat incident.

Henrik Lundqvist is back, so the Rangers will have good goaltending depth should Cam Talbot falter.

Against skilled teams, the Rangers can play the physical game. Against the more physical teams, the Rangers have enough skill to get it done. There’s nothing truly wrong with this team, so expect some incredibly angry fans should they get ousted before the finals. To give you an idea how confident Ranger fans are- only one fanbase was happier when the Kings were eliminated from the playoffs: The Blues.

The Penguins

For starters, they have the unluckiest training staff in the league. Their three best players all are prone to odd and taxing injuries. But then again, some of it is on the training staff. Either they knowingly sent players who were in contact with the mumps to the children’s hospital or they were in denial that Sidney Crosby had the mumps. Either one is bad. However, they’ll straight up tell you that Kris Letang has a concussion and is out for a while.

Crosby and Evgeni Malkin together on the same team should’ve been an instant dynasty. Instead, here we are explaining how most experts expect them to be pummeled by a team that’s built up a great roster by slick trades and excellent scouting and drafting. The Penguins haven’t been great at either. And then they hired Jim Rutherford.

Pittsburgh’s best hope is that the Rangers go back to relying on Lundqvist to do everything, and hope Paul Martin becomes the defenseman that Pittsburgh fans want to trade for Shea Weber, straight up.

The Matchup

The Penguins were very, very close to missing the dance this year. And their inclusion comes at the expense of the Boston Bruins, who might’ve been a tougher matchup for New York this year. Pittsburgh will try to hold onto the puck, draw a penalty, and do what they do best. The Penguins will try to lure New York into a fencing duel. Boston would have broken a beer bottle over someone’s head, and attempt to maul people with their newly formed knife.

Frankly, I’m jealous. I enjoy watching teams like the Bruins and Kings mercilessly pound teams I really hate into the cold Midwestern/Canadian soil.

The Rangers are happy to play Pittsburgh instead.

The Outlook

The Rangers have played excellent hockey all season. And for a team based in NYC, it’s stunning the lack of attention they’ve received. It’s hard to see the Rangers having trouble with many of the skilled possession teams in the playoffs since they can push teams around and have a great goaltender… and Henrik Lundqvist.

The Penguins have coasted into the 8th seed, and have not looked great since the season began. Kris Letang being out of the lineup is incredibly worrisome, and we hope he makes a good recovery and a good decision regarding the rest of his career.

We haven’t even addressed the awesomeness that is Marc-Andre Fleury during the playoffs. It would be the ultimate troll move for him to out-duel Lundqvist, no? And even if he did, Pittsburgh would pretty much send a trauma ward through the handshake line. But don’t worry, I’m sure the Rangers don’t have the mumps.

New York Islanders vs. Washington Capitals

The Islanders

Oh yes, the feel good story of the year. The redemption of Garth Snow, the return of Jaroslav Halak, and the kids are growing up on Long Island; it’s been a fun year in Nassau County. Hopefully, it won’t be the last. I truly don’t see a hockey team in Hipsterland getting over. Even Cal Clutterbuck finger mustache night might not fill that building.

In terms of being watchable, the Islanders are one of my favorite teams to watch this year. Islanders fans have made most every game a treat to watch. And frankly, their success is long overdue. I can’t imagine a franchise being thrown into jeopardy due to a purchase by a scumbag businessman and years of instability and questionable contracts. That just sounds terrible.

The Islanders’ resurgence is in large part to a pair of defensemen acquired via trade from cup contenders. Again, Garth Freaking Snow did this. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk have been just what this team needed. And this is a team that didn’t hire one of those high profile analytic bloggers, so either Craig MacTavish is that ignorant or someone is advising the Oilers with all kinds of bad ideas. I’m betting the former.

The Capitals

The Caps are back in the playoffs, thanks to some high-priced defensemen, a swell coaching hire, and lots and lots of Alexander Ovechkin goals. People worried whether or not Ovi would be a good fit under Barry Trotz. The truth is that Barry Trotz is a good fit for Ovechkin. His goals allow for Barry Trotz to use Barry Trotz hockey with a roster containing 2.5 lines full of Barry Trotz-type players.

Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik moving from Pittsburgh to DC is a real treat for Caps fans. Sure, Orpik has been rotten for much of the year and can’t hold on to the puck to save his life in some games. But if paying his ridiculous salary means pain and anguish for the Pens and their 5 defensemen, they won’t complain.

Caps fans will have to endure some heavy narrative this postseason. They’re going into the playoffs against everyone’s favorite team, with a coach that’s never been past round 2, and they’re the Capitals. The day Alex raises the cup will be a very happy one, especially when he looks around have waives at Alex Semin sobbing in the crowd.

The Matchup

Goals. Lotsa goals. If you said that “Someday, that Michael Neuvirth might cost the Capitals a series” back in 2010 you might be a prophet, depending on how this month goes.

The Outlook
The trouble Barry Trotz might have is that how he likes to match and shuffle lines. The Nicklas Backstrom line vs. the John Tavares line might happen only a few times this series, but could be the Caps best chance to win. The media as a whole does not really gives Backstrom the credit that’s warranted for being one of the best centers in the league. And if the Caps win this series on the back of that matchup, he’ll get it. The trouble is that like other Trotz teams, the goals will need to come from the top line or it will be a short exit.

Unless Jay Beagle or Tom Wilson become that top line winger that Barry believes they can be.

Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators

The Canadiens

Carey Price should be day-to-day for carrying this team on his back most all of the season. As good as the Habs sound on paper, I’m not sure who all in the east fears them in a series. They’re a team built to play a skilled game, trade chances, and win by playing some dazzling hockey featuring the best goalie in the league this season. So yes, we might actually say that the division champion might use their goalie to steal a round.

Max Pacioretty will not be starting the series for the Habs. That’s bad news for a team that’s going to have to win games by scoring goals.

We will soon be living in a world where the Montreal Canadiens will be the more physical team in the first round of their series. I’m not sure how to react. For the record, I pulled Brandon Prust as the first player who will be suspended in this year’s playoffs.

The Senators

Years from now, we’ll look back and remember the run that Andrew Hammond got on just to get the Sens into the playoffs. We’ll tell our kids about people throwing hamburgers on the ice. And then we’ll have to explain to the kids how a McDonalds secondary mascot was still relevant 15+ years after his last known appearance.

Yes, the Sens have a good team. Many, including myself, picked them to be in no-man’s land of “not quite playoff caliber” and “not bad enough to compete with the Sabres“. Instead, we talk about how Ottawa plans on keeping the Francophones away from the arena and away from puking in the cow pasture next to the arena.

Erik Karlsson and Kyle Turris have been nothing short of clutch down the stretch, same with Mark Stone. In fact, their recent run of form is only comparable to a fun, non-drowsy, children’s version of the Minnesota Wild.

The Matchup

Ottawa is Daniel from the Karate Kid. Montreal are the Permian Panthers from Friday Night Lights. Daniel came in as an underdog, and they’ll have to go through some real Cobra-Kai teams in order to reach their goal. The Panthers were good, were supposed to be good, and while they didn’t win the title, they should at least grab some Oscar consideration. So just imagine Ken Dryden being driven around in Carey Price’s 1986 Caprice while Dryden kicks out the back window shoving his title ring into Price’s face.

The Outlook

Ottawa likely wishes that the series would start tomorrow. Montreal will be the one with all the pressure, and with all the expectations. The Sens have plenty of momentum in this matchup, and the Habs fans are likely let down that they won’t be able to daydrink in Boston this week before the games and still have time to make it to Kanata.

The Sens are one of these teams we’ll look back and love. We have no real explanation why this all came together when it did, and how it can be replicated. We’ll just have to enjoy the ride, and watch with glee as Sens fans thank their lucky stars, assuming they can actually see them through the smoke of burning police cars.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings

The Lightning

I picked the Bolts to be the eventual cup winners, and I’m not backing down. Tampa Bay is one of the best possession teams in the league. Yes, they played against Buffalo and Toronto a combined 12 times this year… but so did the rest of that division. And if you look at their period by period stats, it’s like those teams recognized that they were supposed to tank beginning with the second period of each game.

Tampa Bay does most everything well, except keeping defensemen healthy. So an eventual matchup with the Rangers/Penguins series winner should be mandatory.

Also, like both the Rangers and Penguins, the best goalie for their teams are all starting the playoffs on the bench.

The Red Wings

These guys are part of the furniture of the playoffs. And judging by how this team looks going into this tournament, they were part of some estate sale advertised on Craigslist.

Detroit still has some crafty guys like Pavel Datsyuk, who when healthy is still among the best in the league. And knowing how much the kids on that roster are learning from him, he’s already qualified to become the next coach of Sweden whenever Par Marts retires.

The trouble that faces the Wings lies in the crease. Jimmy Howard was Corey Crawford before Corey Crawford was cool. And he was actually a better than average goaltender at one point. Reports are suggesting that Peter Mrazek will have the honor of watching Nikita Kucherov’s shot fly past his mask multiple times.

The Matchup

While this series might not be close on the scoreboard, it could be the most gorgeous hockey you will ever see. Expect open ice, crafty passing, and Brian Boyle.

The Outlook
Detroit is going into this series with an aging defense, aging centers, and questionable goaltending. Tampa Bay is rolling in with young scoring, depth scoring, solid goaltending, and a badassed pipe organ. And the only question I have is which one of the 5 games is Detroit going to win.

Talking Points