NHL Playoffs Eastern Conference Preview

Adam Boothe

Thursday, April 4, 2019 8:21 AM UTC

Thursday, Apr. 4, 2019 8:21 AM UTC

One team looms large in the East, the path to the Stanley Cup undoubtedly goes through Tampa Bay this year!

<p>On the back of an historical year the Lightning are clear favourites to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. This article will be an overview of the field and which teams, if any, have a legitimate shot to topple the Bolts.</p><p>[/]{"component": "embedHTML", "code": "&lt;blockquote class=\"twitter-tweet\" data-lang=\"en\"&gt;&lt;p lang=\"en\" dir=\"ltr\"&gt;Win. Win, win, win, win. πŸ”₯&lt;a href=\"https://twitter.com/hashtag/ColdHardFact?src=hash&amp;amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw\"&gt;#ColdHardFact&lt;/a&gt; | &lt;a href=\"https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoBolts?src=hash&amp;amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw\"&gt;#GoBolts&lt;/a&gt; &lt;a href=\"https://t.co/gZ9bN5nO1y\"&gt;pic.twitter.com/gZ9bN5nO1y&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/p&gt;β€” p - Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) &lt;a href=\"https://twitter.com/TBLightning/status/1113154134113386497?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw\"&gt;April 2, 2019&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/blockquote&gt;\n&lt;script async src=\"https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js\" charset=\"utf-8\"&gt;&lt;/script&gt;\n"}[/]</p><h2>The Favourite</h2><p>Let's begin with one popular hockey superstition; the Presidents' Trophy, awarded to the team who accumulates the most points through wins or overtime losses during the regular season. Other than granting home-ice advantage for the duration of their playoff run, the winners of the Presidents' Trophy find it rather uninspiring. Every hockey player will say one thing; this isn't the trophy we came to lift. It is merely a means to an end. However all too frequently that 'end' has been a rather quick exit. Going back to the 2005 lockout, when the salary cap was introduced, only 3 winners of this trophy have made it to the Cup finals. Let's assume each team in the respective conferences holds an equal 12.5% probability to represent their side of the bracket in the finals. Well in the era of equilibrium 3/14 Presidents' Trophy winners reaching the final is not too bad. However, this comes with an asterisk. During the same time period four PT winners were toppled in the opening round. To be dramatic you could say a PT winner is more likely to be eliminated in the opening round than to reach the Cup finals [in the salary cap era]! Additionally, not one of these regular season champs has reached the final since the Hawks lifted the Cup in 2013.</p><p>Now don't get too carried away here with these trends. Do I think Tampa will best either the Jackets, Canes or Canadiens in a seven-game series the majority of the time? Certainly, but I also expect there be little to no value on their moneyline for either the series or individual games. There have been many articles cropping up in 2019 with a common theme; the Bolts are the most balanced team in the modern era. One writer posed that they are the 'best team ever assembled' - quite the assertion! However, we are not here to compare rosters or regular season stature. All teams start their true conquest now; 16 playoff wins.</p><h2>The Bruins v Leafs Rivalry</h2><p>Many hockey fans, including myself, are not pleased with the current division-focused playoff format. However, in some select situations it is of course still exciting. For the second season in a row, and third in six seasons, Boston and Toronto will face each other in the opening round. Both of those meetings have gone all seven games with Boston coming out on top. Six years ago, the Leafs had one of their organizations most historic collapses in the ace game [if you haven't seen it, definitely worth looking up the highlights]. Last year saw Boston almost return the favour letting a 3-1 series lead slip away into a 4-3 deficit heading to the third period of Game 7. So, the stage is certainly set for fireworks this time around!</p><p>Last year a major story-line was that young sniper Auston Matthews was almost non-existent against the Bruins. Holding a ppg (point per game) career stats he was held to two points in that series and a -4 +/-. Now this is not the same Leafs team as last year, on paper, but their numbers were not that different during the regular season from last year's squad except on the powerplay. Frederik Andersen was still a workhorse for the Leafs in TOI and wins. This series will not be a battle of goaltenders. It will be determined by whether the defence of the Leafs can step up consistently enough, can their penalty kill contain the Bergeron line. While I think Tavares is a welcomed addition on every roster in the league, he is going to need to be as good a two-way forward as Bergeron while also contributing offensively. Once again, Boston will hold the home-ice advantage as they did in the previous two best-of-sevens. Toronto needs some players like Nylander and Kadri to have a huge series and Morgan Reilly needs to be the best defenceman on the ice.</p><p><em><strong>A fair price in my opinion will be 1.66 – 1.71 for the Boston Bruins to take the series. </strong></em>Reminder though, the Leafs projected total at the books was above the Tampa Bay Lightning this season. With the high expectations of Toronto fans, I would not be surprised to see the line closer to a pick'em. One thing to consider is a high likelihood that if this series goes seven, the Bolts will be licking their lips as these two beat each other up!</p><h2>Former Champs</h2><p>Due to the high-flying Bolts and hype around this being an optimal Leafs year, two former (very recent) Stanley Cup champion rosters have been a bit under the radar, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. The Pens will be facing the Cinderella regular season team of the New York Islanders, while the Cap's opponent is still not known at the time of writing but am very excited to start breaking those series. Playoff lines will be out this weekend along with my actual initial series wagers!</p>
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