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The Eastern Conference 1st-round of the NHL Playoffs offers me the opportunity to provide a quick-and-dirty review, preview, and prediction.  While a painfully long NHL regular season rolls into a painfully long NHL post-season, make no mistake about one thing – I’m a huge fan of all things hockey.  I can make it through a lot of hockey en route to the NHL Playoffs and then I’m hard pressed to miss a whole lot of it.

The Eastern Conference

#1 Seed Washington Capitals hosting the #8 Seed New York Rangers

The New York Rangers have enough fire power to hang with the Washington Capitals.  Don’t let the difference in seeding fool anyone here.  In terms of statistical comparisons, call it a draw.  The Rangers scored more goals during the regular season and the difference between them in goals against was exactly one.  Defense and goaltending rule the playoffs and these two teams have a near identical showing in each category.  Throw the seeds out the window in this contest because they simply confuse the issue.  These two teams are about as evenly matched as they get and a Rangers win would be the furthest thing from an “upset” as I will have witnessed in recent years.

Hot Spots: For the Rangers it has to be the 11-shutout goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist.  For the Capitals, it’s no surprise that it’s Alex Ovechkin that led the Caps to a sizzling close to the regular season as the Flyers fell back to the field.

I don’t see the Capitals choking two seasons in a row and pick them to win this series.

#2 Seed Philadelphia Flyers hosting the #7 Seed Buffalo Sabres

As a rabid Philadelphia Flyers fan, it’s important for you to know that I will pick them to win the Stanley Cup, even if they don’t make the playoffs.  That said, here is my truthful assessment of this series.

The Philadelphia Flyers have played pedestrian hockey at best down the stretch.  I watched and waited for them to pull out of a tailspin and it never happened.  Over the course of 2-months, what looked like a runaway in the Eastern Conference and a lock for the President’s Trophy turned into the lamest #2 seeding in recent memory.

The Buffalo Sabres meandered around the regular season and finished with the fewest wins for an Eastern Conference playoff qualifier.  Of those teams in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, they were the 2nd worst in goals against (Tampa Bay is the worst).

Hot Spots: Philadelphia’s offense depth (but will it re-appear?) For the Buffalo Sabres it’s hope, I guess.

Both my heart and my head go with the Philadelphia Flyers in round one over the Buffalo Sabres.

#3 Boston Bruins hosting the #6 Montreal Canadiens

There isn’t a hardcore hockey fan around who isn’t going to refer to the deep history of these two teams when it comes to a post-season run to the Stanley Cup.  The lone “original six” matchup in the post-season, it promises to add to the lore.  Both teams present with top-notch goaltending.  The season had it’s share of hostility between the two teams – nothing unusual there.  I also think that this matchup will be a shade more exciting a series than the Capitals-Rangers series.

Hot Spots: For the Boston Bruins it’s the aggressive physical game (and goaltending).  For the Montreal Canadiens it’s quickness and speed (and goaltending).

I choose the Boston Bruins to take this series in a long one.

#4 Seed Pittsburgh Penguins hosting the #5 Seed Tampa Bay Lightning

I’m trying to muster up some excitement about this series and I can point to the Pittsburgh Penguins staying steadfast in their push to the post-season without several of the league’s top players including Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.  A good bit of credit goes to Marc-Andre Fluery who is another netminder who had an excellent season.

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, it has to be Steve Stamkos (again).  Last year, he finished tied at the top of the goal scoring race with 51 goals.  And while he follows that up with a 45-goal effort this year, he was ice cold down the stretch, scoring only 8 goals over the course of the last trimester of the season.

Hot Spots: For the Penguins, it’ll be the play of Jordan Stall and Mark Andre-Fluery.  For the Lightning, it will be whether or not Stamkos can get hot under the pressure of his first post-season appearance.  (I don’t think so.)

I go with the Pittsburgh Penguins to wrap this round up in 6 and it will only take that long because of the Penguins penchant for taking too many penalties.

There you have it… my picks coming out of the Eastern Conference NHL Playoffs Round 1:  Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins.