Some thoughts and predictions on the first full all-Toronto playoff round.
(1) Flyers vs (8) Canadiens
Here are two teams that are feeling pretty good about themselves—a Montreal squad, which went .500 in the regular season and put away a much better Penguins team in four games in the qualifier, meets the Flyers, who went undefeated in the round robin and only gave up one goal in each game. Carey Price had a .947 save percentage in the qualifying series against Pittsburgh, and Carter Hart has been peak Carter Hart.
The magic has to run out for Montreal at some point as they regress to the mean of their very mediocre season, but if they keep up their momentum and defensive success they might be able to pull out a win against the top seeded Flyers.
(2) Lightning vs (7) Blue Jackets
This is the series where I really want an upset. Columbus in the last few years has had a rough playoff draw, having been eliminated by the eventual Eastern Conference champion the last three seasons, and Tampa is the only team they’ve ever beaten in a playoff series. Though they looked uneven at times against the Leafs—most notably in their catastrophically bad Game 4 in which they blew a three-goal lead in the last four minutes—they had some flashes of brilliance, including Pierre-Luc Dubois’s hat trick in Game 3. The deciding factor as to whether Columbus can put up a serious challenge to Tampa is likely goaltending. Joonas Korpisalo was pulled in the third game against Toronto, but he notched two shutouts in games 1 and 5; if he can rise to the occasion and outperform the at-least-for-this-season overrated Andrei Vasilevsky, the Jackets might have a shot against the league’s best offense.
My heart says Jackets in seven.
(3) Capitals vs (6) Islanders
New York beat the Panthers in the qualifying round, holding the league’s eighth-highest scoring team to only three even-strength goals in four games. If Barry Trotz and the Isles want to stand a chance against his former team they’ll need to keep up the tight defense against the number-two scoring team in the Caps. Matt Barzal and Anthony Beauviller are no Alex Ovechkin, but they’ve risen to the occasion offensively as well so far in these playoffs. Washington’s the better team on paper, but there’s nothing the Capitals love more than losing in the early rounds of the playoffs, and the season series is tied at 2-2, so there’s some hope for New York.
The Caps should win it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one go into a sixth game.
(4) Bruins vs (5) Hurricanes
Hoo boy. If you told me in February that the Bruins were going to meet the Canes again in the playoffs, I would’ve felt pretty confident that the result would resemble last year’s sweep. But Carolina is coming off a dominant qualifier round over the Rangers (granted, it was the Rangers), with strong goaltending from both James Reiner and Petr Mrazek, and the Bruins have scored only four goals in their three round robin games. The Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has combined for just one point since the restart, and Chris Wagner can’t keep picking up the slack forever. The league’s best power play in the regular season, the Bs have not scored a power play goal in their first nine opportunities in Toronto.
The President’s Trophy winners are still favorites, but I wouldn’t be surprised to be biting my nails into a Game 6 or 7.