What To Look For As The Eastern Playoffs Kick Off Tonight


After a very entertaining first night of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs out west, the east gets their crack at it tonight.

Toronto at Boston-7PM-CNBC

The first story line that comes about is an obvious one. Phil Kessel leads the Leafs back into the playoffs after a long hiatus, and long behold it’s against the team that he requested to be traded from four years ago. The Leafs gave up two first round draft picks in exchange for Kessel. Those picks turned out to be star center Tyler Seguin and rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton, both players play key roles for the Bruins.

Apr 20 2013; Ottawa, ON, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) during warm up prior to game against the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

This however isn’t the same old Leafs. Kessel isn’t relied on to do all the scoring. An off season trade landed New Jersey native, James VanRiemsdyk who had a break out year north of the border. The long awaited emergence of Nazem Kadri and Joffery Lupul has given the Leafs two very deep scoring lines that cause problems for Boston.

Boston has flown under the radar all season, due to Montreal’s play in the northeast division. As always, the Bruins have a very tough blue line anchored by captain Zedeno Chara. Along with Hamilton, Boston also has a very steady Dennis Seidenberg giving the B’s one of the best top 3 defensive units in the NHL. While the defense is there, net-minder Tukka Rask will back stop them and can make a highlight save or two each game.

While the black and gold are built on their back end, don’t sleep on their forward group led by Seguin, Milian Lucic, Patice Bergeron, Jaromir Jagr, and David Kreci. With the skill and grit those guys have with Brad Marchand, you have a team built for deep playoff runs.

With the Boston Celtics all but done in the NBA playoffs, the city will lean on their Bruins for support after the tragic Boston marathon bombings. I look for Boston to win tonight then take the series in six games.

NY Islanders at Pittsburgh- 7:30- NBCSN

In probably the biggest surprise of the 2013 NHL season, the New York Islanders, yes those New York Islanders, are in the playoffs. Led by hart trophy candidate John Taveres, the boys from Long Island are playing fun, hard-nosed hockey. Along side of Taveres, the Isles have a veteran presence in Brad Boyes and and underrated Matt Moulson. Add that in with Mark Striet and Lubnior Visnosky on the points, you have a very scary power play unit.

While the isles have scoring power up front that can give the Marc-Andre Fleury and the D problems, the major problem when playing the Pens is stopping their juggernaut offense. I’m not too sure if the young Islanders defense can handle that yet. Evgeni Nabokov is hit or miss and it could be a short series if he is not on his game.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without superstar Sidney Crosby for game one, but they need not fret as Evgeni Malkin and James Neal are healthy and in a groove. Pascal Dupris has had a very good year also to give Pittsburgh another scoring threat.

March 30, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) and New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic (3) look for the puck after a save by Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov (lower left) during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s not forget the deadline trade to pick up Jerome Iginla who gives the Pens a hungry vet for a chance at glory.

The Penguin defense that has been much maligned throughout the past couple of years, has rebounded nicely from last year’s playoff series against the Flyers. Paul Martin took a big stride forward to look like he did when he played with the Devils. If they can stop the Islanders youth up front and Fleury doesn’t implode, this will be a very short series with the scoring the Pens have.

I think Pittsburgh wins in a landslide tonight. My prediction for the series goes like this; my heart says Isles in seven, but my brain says Pens in five.

San Jose at Vancouver-10:30-NBCSN

At the start of the year, the Sharks came out of the gate like gang busters. Over the middle of the season they fell off a bit, but finished up strong. The sharks are no strangers to the playoffs, however, they just can’t seem to finish it up. The window is closing on this team led by big Joe Thronton, Partick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and young Logan Couture.

With an abundance of capable veteran D-men, the Sharks can surprise some people. Keep in mind goalie Antti Niemi won a cup as a rookie with the Blackhawks. He knows what it takes, and like back then he is not looked to carry the load.

The big news coming out of Vancouver today is Roberto Luongo, not Cory Schneider will get the nod in game one. The goalies all year have fought for the number one spot. Luongo will get the first crack at keeping that spot in the playoffs. The Canucks led by the Sedin twins who can always cause for a tough match-up against any team, are always looked on as a favorite for a deep run.

The inconsistency of them scares me a bit. I like Luongo to shut it down tonight, but I like the Sharks to upset in 7.