Sports fans and analysts knew before the season started the Eastern division seemed the most difficult deciding who would make the playoffs. Questions about all three New York and both Pennsylvania teams arose. Analysts questioned if Washington would look anything close to their championship run three years ago especially on defense.
Those questions are answered. In fact, the east became the first division to have all four teams clinch specific seeds before May 11th. Pittsburgh has home ice advantage and a chance to take out a team they’ve had success against, while Washington and Boston have gone opposite directions in scoring depth since the trade deadline.
This is a unique season where the top four teams of each division play each other until one team remains. The remaining four teams play each other in the conference finals. Without further delay, here’s the playoff predictions for the 2021 eastern division.
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins v. #4 New York Islanders
Pittsburgh is the most consistent team in this division all year, so it makes sense they’re the number one seed as playoffs begin. Coach Mike Sullivan gave both goaltenders Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith time off, and Evgeni Malkin should return in the first game against New York, a team they beat six times.
New York has dipped since the trade deadline. The additions of Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac haven’t played to the offense’s strengths as hoped, and the Islanders don’t have time to figure it out. The defense has been stellar, but the Penguins have given coach Barry Trotz headaches during the regular season. Unless the offense starts scoring consistently, they’ll be an easy out.
Prediction: Pittsburgh wins series 4-0
#2 Washington Capitals v. #3 Boston Bruins
Before the trade deadline, the Capitals’ scoring depth was the teams strength. Washington almost cemented first place in the East. Boston struggled to find a depth scorer outside of Nick Ritchie. Since the trade deadline, the Bruins have been white hot while Washington is trying to find scoring past their second line.
It couldn’t be more polar. Boston’s acquisitions of Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar solidified the second and third lines, relying more on depth than just the flawless first. Lost in the offensive improvement is the rise of goaltender Jeremy Swayman, who stepped up when both Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask were out with lower body injuries.
The Capitals will always find ways to score with Alex Ovechkin’s first line, but Ovechkin himself has to come back healthy for the Capitals to counter one of the best defensive lines in hockey. The Tom Wilson debacle, injuries, and the shaky play of Vitek Vanecek has contributed in why the Capitals slipped to second place. Carlson and Backstrom’s return matters just as much because they create better chemistry and scoring chances.
Despite the issues on offense, the series comes down to goaltending. It would be better if 40 year old veteran Craig Anderson started in net. Ilya Samsonov isn’t ready to start the series and Vanecek isn’t a solid number one option. The goaltending issues will prove the difference in this series.
Prediction: Boston wins series 4-2
Regular Season Playoff Picks: 3-1