HWB Eastern Conference Playoff Spot Predictions

Nearing three quarters of the season played so far, here is a list of predictions for Eastern Conference teams to either make or not make the playoffs.

Atlantic Division

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Skimming right from the top, four of the five Atlantic division teams, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and the New Jersey Devils will make the playoffs. The only team among the list that could be shaky is the Pittsburgh Penguins; yet with the return of star Sidney Crosby that some are guessing to be sooner than later, this will solidify their playoff spot.

The Rangers are a lock as they are currently and will lead the Eastern Conference at the end of the season. Marian Gaborik leads the charge while net minder Henrik Lundqvist continues to play solid in net. The only concern come playoff is the John Tortorella curse if they face the Washington Capitals.

Flyers have been struggling but the team has enough depth and grit to right the ship. Goalie woes continue to pile up but with a slight cushion of 7 points between them and 8th spot, the Flyers have some breathing room to work out the kinks. Jaromir Jagr has been a pleasant surprise in the beginning of the season; let’s hope he has enough juice come playoffs.

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The Devils of new have transitioned form a defense first team to an offensive minded mentality. Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias are the top 3 point getters for the team, all of which are around the 50 point mark and should end up with at least 70 points per player. Veteran goalie Martin Brodeur is getting some rest, whether he likes it or not, that will aid in the team’s playoff chances of going far.

The Penguins on paper and on ice are one of the best teams in the league, which is of course if they are healthy. Star and Captain Sidney Crosby has gone through a whirlwind of media attention with his concussion filled season. Sources are expecting Crosby to return sooner than later; the return will ignite a fire under the team that could see them locking out 4th spot with ease.

Northeast Division

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It is tough to rival the Atlantic Division, but early on the Northeast definitely put up a fight. Today however, the division is led by defending Stanley Cup Champions the Boston Bruins and followed up by a mash up of Canadian teams who string wins together as often as they string a bunch of losses. Then there is the Buffalo Sabres, who under new management promised the moon and the stars; one spot out of the last place in the Eastern Conference was as close as that promise has come.

Bruins in with only one more team from the Northeast to make it… the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Defending Champs Boston Bruins have showed they are not suffering from the Stanley Cup hangover. Having the best goals for a game average with 3.36 as well as fourth best goals against average with 2.24, the team is once again, a well balanced team. Playoff spot is without a doubt, and many would have them repeating last year’s success.

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It was a toss-up between the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both teams have had impressive seasons to date, both having good runs earlier in the season. The Senators however are beginning to show signs of fatigue, going 2-6-2 in their last ten; the decline is expected to continue. This is due largely in part by riding one goaltender, Craig Anderson, who to date has started 50 games. Sure, playoffs you need only 1 solid goalie, but you need to make the playoffs.

Toronto has surprised everyone, except those that are firm believers in General Manager Brian Burke. Burke is a God, never you forget that. While General Manager for the Vancouver Canucks, Burke drafted and signed Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, all contributing to the successful team that they are today. He moved to the Anaheim Ducks and in his second season as General Manager, Burke won a Stanley Cup. Today he is working his magic on the Toronto Maple Leafs, a club who has not seen the light at the end of tunnel for some time; today that light is near. Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuff and two goalies competing hard for the number one spot, Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer; the Leafs have a very talented team.

What is there to say about the Montreal Canadiens that has not already been said? The team from the top down needs a makeover. It is understood that your organization values a Head Coach that can speak French-Canadian, but have we forgotten that the goal of every team in the NHL is to win? If I had an option to have a coach that appeals to the fans or a coach that wins me games, I’m choosing the latter. The team is small, overpriced and lacks heart. Maybe once they stop looking into pressing legal charges against players and start focusing more on building a good team, maybe then they will be a competitor again. Save the argument of most Stanley Cup wins by a team, we live in today, and today they are currently a disgrace to an Original Six team.

Southeast Division

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Two spots left and not a lot of talent to choose form. The Southeast is the dumping grounds of the Eastern Conference this year. Regardless, one team has to make it, Florida Panthers who are currently leading the division and will be at the end of the year, and the second will be the Washington Capitals.

The Florida Panthers have surprised many fans this year in not only having a winning record but leading a division with two powerhouse teams; the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They will make the playoffs but probably won’t go far as their goals for a game is lower than their goals against a game. How does that work with a 27-17-11 record?

Did you seriously think the “new” Winnipeg Jets would make the playoffs? The fact remains they still have the make-up of the Atlanta Thrashers without Ilya Kovalchuk. Moving to Canada does not turn you into a winning team; regardless of how much the fans want them to be. I’m happy for Jets fans to have a team again, but they are a few years out before making the playoffs.

In part the Tampa Bay Lightning deserves their own paragraph for merely being the Tampa Bay Lightning, but today they will share with the Carolina Hurricanes. Both teams have so much more potential than what they are putting forth. Steven Stamkos is leading all goal scorers with 37 this season and is on pace for 50 goals, one of the few if not the only one. But newer General Manager did not address the needs of a net minder and rode one trick pony Dwayne Roloson who needs to retire. Unfortunately Matthieu Garon has not filled the shoes of a number one goalie either. Speaking of goalies, Carolina Hurricanes have a solid one in Cam Ward, but lack the offense needed to help him out. Only 147 goals for a game this season is pretty bad. You could argue 175 goals against, but let’s be honest, if you’re facing a bunch of shots and your team cannot put any in, it’s tough to stay focused and keep everything out of the net. Eric Staal and teen heartthrob Jeff Skinner we expect more out of you.

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So I picked the Washington Capitals to make it, yep, I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. The Capitals fired their Head Coach to be replaced by former player Dale Hunter. Hunter deserves it, but it really was not Bruce Boudreau’s fault. May we have a moment of swearing in his honor? The team has a real work ethic problem, superstaritis. Hunter seems to be working on that right now, benching the wrong players, but he is working on it. Going 3-4-3 in their last 10 will not help my cause of them making it, still, I have faith. If they make it they will most likely face the New York Rangers and hopefully knock them out of the playoffs who have done so the last two Ranger’s playoff appearances.

There you have it, my picks for the playoffs as well as a little bit of dissing on some Eastern Conference teams. Agree, disagree, and let me hear it. Minnesota Wild fans can save their comments for the second installment coming in a few days. Oh yeah, Minnesota will be a target of scrutiny.

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