Check out the Ryan Dadoun's Western Conference Preview as well.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS VS. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
The Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy with a 56-18-8 record. Washington ran away with the Eastern Conference title, finishing 16 points ahead of second-place Pittsburgh. Braden Holtby was spectacular between the pipes, while leading all netminders with 48 victories. He tied Martin Brodeur's single-season win record in a Vezina-caliber year. Holtby also posted a .920 save percentage and a 2.20 goals-against average.
Washington also had a potent offense led by Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and the emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov led the team in scoring with 77 points, while Ovechkin topped the league in goals with 50. Backstrom reached 70 points in 75 games, while newcomers Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie hit the 50-point mark in 2015-16. The playoff heroics of Williams have been well documented. He has earned the nickname of "Mr. Game 7" and he captured the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014. His experience could be a real difference maker for the Capitals this time around.
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Philadelphia moved up the standings to claim a playoff spot after they were 12th in the Eastern Conference on New Year's Day. However, they didn't make it easy on themselves with three straight losses prior to Saturday's playoff clinching win over Pittsburgh. Steve Mason stepped up for the Flyers after Michal Neuvirth was injured. He posted eight wins and a .933 save percentage in 12 games in March to help put Philadelphia in a position to claim a playoff spot.
Claude Giroux led the Flyers with 67 points, while Wayne Simmonds reached the 60-point mark for the second time in his career. Brayden Schenn enjoyed a career year with 59 points and rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere amassed 17 goals and 46 points in 64 contests.
The Capitals and Flyers haven't met in the playoffs since 2008 when Philadelphia won a seven-game series. The two teams split the 2015-16 season series with two wins apiece. The Flyers won't be an easy first-round opponent. They can battle in the trenches and they have more weapons than their 24th-ranked offense indicates. Philadelphia will also have an emotional chip on their shoulder after team owner Ed Snider lost his battle with bladder cancer on Monday. Still, it's very difficult to see the Capitals losing here. They are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders and I'll take Washington to win this series in six games or less.
Please note that the projected lines should be taken with a grain of salt. They can change on a game-by-game or even shift-by-shift basis. These lines also include some players who may or may not be active in Game 1.
Alex Ovechkin netted seven goals in his last six games to claim his fourth consecutive Rocket Richard Trophy. Nicklas Backstrom has notched two goals and five helpers in his past seven contests thanks to three multi-point performances.
Evgeny Kuznetsov didn't score a goal in the last 20 games of the season. He chipped in four assists in the final seven outings. Justin Williams has produced just one assist in the past six matches and he has one goal over his last 13 games.
The Capitals finished the year with six 20-goal scorers. Oshie was the closest to Ovechkin with his 26 markers. Williams had 22 while Kuznetsov, Backstrom and Jason Chimera had 20.
Jay Beagle is the only injury on the roster and he is expected to be ready to play in Game 1 on Thursday night.
The Capitals placed fifth in the league in power-play proficiency at 21.9 percent. They scored 55 goals on 251 opportunities. Ovechkin led the NHL with 19 goals on the man advantage, while Backstrom tied for second in power-play points with 30.
Washington also had the second-best penalty kill in the NHL at 85.2 percent.
Wayne Simmonds amassed seven goals and three assists over nine games to end the regular season. Brayden Schenn generated six goals and seven points in five contests in the last five games of the year. He had 17 points in 19 games to finish the 2015-16 campaign. Shayne Gostisbehere has one goal and six helpers in the past 10 games.
Michael Raffl picked up one goal and two assists in the Flyers' regular-season finale, but he posted just two assists in 12 games prior to that.
Michael Del Zotto underwent wrist surgery in late February and his timetable was set at three-to-four months.
Philadelphia's power play scored on 53 of their 280 chances to finish 11th in the NHL with a percentage of 18.9. Giroux led the team in man-advantage points with 27.
The penalty kill ranked 20th in the league at 80.5 percent.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING VS. DETROIT RED WINGS
Tampa Bay finished second in the Atlantic Division for a third straight season. The Lightning will see Detroit in the first round of the playoffs for a second straight year. Tampa Bay defeated Detroit in seven games in the opening round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Red Wings qualified for the playoffs for a 25th consecutive year despite losing their last two games of the season. The Ottawa Senators blasted Boston by a score of 6-1 on Saturday afternoon to get the Wings into the postseason.
Tampa Bay had their own problems down the stretch, but their issues related to a couple of key injuries. Steven Stamkos was diagnosed with a blood clot in his arm earlier this month. He had successful vascular surgery on Apr. 4 and he isn't expected to be back on the ice for one to two months. The Lightning also lost Anton Stralman to a non-displaced fracture of his left fibula back on Mar. 25. He likely won't play in the first round of the playoffs.
The Bolts were led in scoring by Nikita Kucherov, who broke out with 30 goals and 66 points in 77 games. Coach Jon Cooper has him back with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat because of Stamkos' injury. Tampa Bay needs more out of those two after they had lackluster seasons in 2015-16. The "Triplets" were stars during Tampa Bay's victory over Detroit in the 2015 playoffs. With Stralman sidelined, Victor Hedman will be leaned on heavily. He has been a stud at both ends of the ice this season.
Henrik Zetterberg paced the Red Wings in scoring with 50 points in 82 games. Pavel Datsyuk was right behind him with 49 points in 66 contests, but they scored just 29 goals between them. Rookie Dylan Larkin led Detroit with 23 markers.
It has been a roller coaster of a season for Detroit's goaltending. Petr Mrazek claimed the number one role with some excellent play for most of the season, but he struggled mightily down the stretch. Jimmy Howard became the goaltender of choice for coach Jeff Blashill for the last month of the campaign. He will probably be the starter in Game 1 as well.
Tampa Bay has received outstanding goaltending from Ben Bishop all year long. He has made a strong case for the Vezina Trophy with a 2.06 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in 61 appearances.
I see this series playing out similarly to the one a year ago. I'm picking the Lightning with the expectation that Bishop shuts down the Red Wings' 23rd-ranked offense and members of the "Triplets" lead the charge on the scoresheet. Tampa Bay in seven.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Jonathan Drouin got back into the lineup last Thursday against New Jersey and he scored the game-winning goal. He also scored on Montreal in Tampa Bay's season finale. His return from his AHL demotion should provide an offensive spark for the Lightning if he continues to get top-six minutes.
Tampa Bay will probably get Ryan Callahan back in the lineup for Game 1 from a lower-body injury. He sat out the last three games of the regular season, but felt good after Monday's practice.
Nikita Kucherov sat out the final game of the year for "body maintenance" and he's expected to be ready for the playoffs. Victor Hedman missed three games at the end of the season due to an upper-body injury, but he could have played in Saturday's finale. He was held out as a precaution and he is also expected to play in Game 1.
Tyler Johnson could be ready for the playoff opener, but he missed Monday's practice after he suffered an upper-body injury on Saturday. If he practices on Tuesday then he might be considered a game-time decision.
Tampa Bay finished 28th on the power play in the regular season and Stamkos' 14 goals will be missed. Kucherov led the team in man-advantage points with 25.
The Lightning also concluded the year seventh on the penalty kill at 84.0 percent. The Bolts allowed 41 goals when they were down a man 257 times.
DETROIT RED WINGS
Henrik Zetterberg hasn't scored a goal since Mar. 17 against Columbus, but he has contributed five assists in the last seven games. Pavel Datsyuk has also struggled to score goals, with none in his last 10 games, but he has seven assists over that span.
Dylan Larkin has produced two goals and no assists in the past 10 matches. Justin Abdelkader ended an eight-game scoring drought with a goal in Saturday's season finale versus the Rangers. Tomas Tatar has picked up one goal and two helpers in his past 10 games. He didn't have a point in the last four outings of the season. Petr Mrazek had a porous month of March with an .884 save percentage in nine starts and 10 appearances. He allowed a whopping 28 goals on 242 shots.
The Red Wings have played without Drew Miller since Jan. 10. He had reconstructive surgery on his ACL and was given a four-to-six month timetable. Johan Franzen skated in just two games this season because of a concussion problem and he isn't expected to be back anytime soon.
The Wings ranked 13th in the power play in 2015-16. The team scored 50 goals on 266 attempts for an 18.8 percentage. Zetterberg led the team in power-play scoring with 22 points. Datsyuk and Mike Green finished just behind him with 20 points apiece.
Detroit placed 14th on the penalty kill this season with an 81.5 success rate.
FLORIDA PANTHERS VS. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The Panthers claimed the Atlantic Division title after the team finished 20th in the league last season. Florida hasn't been in the playoffs since 2012 and they haven't won a series since 1996 when they were defeated in the Stanley Cup Final by Colorado. The New York Islanders have their own playoff ghosts to vanquish. The Isles haven't won a series since 1993 and they have been knocked out in the first round in two of the last three seasons.
Florida was led in scoring by the ageless Jaromir Jagr, who tallied 27 goals and 66 points in 79 games. He was followed closely by fellow veteran Jussi Jokinen, who reached the 60-point mark for the second time in his career. They had plenty of help on the scoresheet from the Panthers' young stars as well. Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov fell one point shy of hitting 60 on the season, while Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith both finished with 25 goals and 50-point campaigns.
To no one's surprise, John Tavares was the top point getter on the Islanders. However, his 33 goals and 70 points in 78 games were disappointing totals considering the totals he recorded in his previous two seasons. On the plus side, he did finish the 2015-16 season on a positive note. Pending unrestricted free agents Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen were the team's next two highest point producers. Okposo surpassed the 60-point mark with 22 goals and 42 assists in 79 contests, while Nielsen earned 20 goals and 52 points in 81 matches.
This series will be close, but I give the Panthers a slight edge. Roberto Luongo is a big part of that after he had a great season with a 35-19-6 record. He posted a 2.35 goals-against average, with a .922 save percentage, and he has plenty of playoff experience. Thomas Greiss has appeared in one postseason match in his career when he longed 41 minutes of playing time as a member of the San Jose Sharks in 2010. Florida also has plenty of depth that most people don't give them enough credit for. I'm taking the Cats in seven games.
Jaromir Jagr picked up at least one point in eight of his last nine outings. He earned three goals and eight assists during that stretch. Jonathan Huberdeau has been held scoreless in just one of his last nine appearances. He accounted for seven goals and four assists during that span. Aleksander Barkov ended the season on a nine-game scoring spree. He produced five goals and eight assists.
Jussi Jokinen ended a six-game scoring drought in the last game of the season when he recorded a goal and an assist against Carolina.
Vincent Trocheck's season ended prematurely because of a foot injury. He hasn't played since Mar. 29 and he didn't participate in Monday's practice. It doesn't look like he will be available for the start of the playoffs.
Erik Gudbranson is expected to play Thursday after he missed the last three games of the regular season.
Willie Mitchell (upper body) and Dave Bolland (lower body) are not expected to be back. Mitchell is much closer than Bolland, who hasn't skated since December, but his status is cloudy at best because of past head injuries.
Steven Kampfer is also uncertain for the start of the playoffs due to a lower-body injury.
Florida scored 47 goals on 278 chances on the power play in 2015-16 to place 23rd overall in the NHL. Barkov topped the club with 16 power-play points and Nick Bjugstad was just behind him with 15. They were limited to 66 and 67 games respectively, due to injuries.
The Panthers' penalty kill ranked 24th in the NHL. They permitted 55 goals and posted a 79.5 percent success rate.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
John Tavares has tallied seven goals and seven assists in the past 10 games. He has scored a goal in each of his last four appearances and he has added five helpers during that span. Kyle Okposo picked up two goals and six assists in his past eight outings.
Anders Lee is out indefinitely with a broken fibula, which he suffered on Apr.7 against the Rangers.
Jaroslav Halak doesn't have a clear-cut timetable for his return from a lower-body injury, but he faced shots after the Islanders’ morning skate on Apr. 9.
Travis Hamonic is hoping to be ready to go for Game 1 on Thursday night, but there isn't a set timetable for his return. He skated on Saturday at practice and took to the ice again on Monday. He missed the last six games of the season because of a lower-body injury.
Mikhail Grabovski hasn't played since Mar. 15 due to an upper-body ailment and his status for Game 1 is uncertain.
The Islanders were second in the NHL in total hits with 2,311. Matt Martin led all skaters with 365 and Cal Clutterbuck was fourth with 288. The team also ranked second in the league with 1,322 blocked shots.
New York's power play concluded the year in 17th place. They scored 42 times on 229 chances for an 18.3 percent success rate. Okposo paced the team in scoring with 23 points and Frans Nielsen was second with 20.
The Islanders had the fourth-best penalty kill in the league at 84.5 percent during the regular season. They allowed just 36 power-play goals against, which was the second-lowest total in the NHL.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS. NEW YORK RANGERS
Pittsburgh was red hot down the stretch despite losing Evgeni Malkin to an upper-body injury on Mar. 11. The Penguins ended the year with 13 wins in 15 games without him in the lineup. The team's late-season surge got them the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and home ice advantage against the Rangers in the opening round.
Sidney Crosby went on a scoring tear down the stretch. He compiled 44 points in 33 games to end the year with 85 points in 80 outings. Phil Kessel also picked up his play late in the season when he had 19 points over the final 21 matches. Kris Letang bounced back from some injury-plagued seasons by skating in 71 games and racking up 67 points.
Nick Bonino has filled in wonderfully for Malkin on the Penguins' second line and Carl Hagelin has been a good pickup for the team with 10 goals and 27 points in 37 appearances. Between the pipes, Marc-Andre Fleury improved on last year's impressive numbers by recording 35 wins along with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.
Meanwhile, the Rangers received another steady season from Henrik Lundqvist, who also posted 35 wins. He ended up with a 2.48 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. If the Blueshirts stand a chance of upsetting the Penguins then Lundqvist will have to be at his best. He beat them just one time during the regular season on four opportunities (1-2-1), while recording a 2.69 GAA and a .917 save percentage.
Mats Zuccarello topped New York in scoring thanks to career highs in goals (26) and points (61) in 2015-16. Derick Brassard potted a team-leading 27 goals and he earned 58 points in 80 games. He hasn't been productive going into the playoffs, but he has been great in the postseason since joining the Rangers. He has 17 goals and 40 points in 54 playoff matches over the last three years.
The Rangers' defense corps can also chip in offensively even without Ryan McDonagh in the lineup. Keith Yandle was fourth on the team in scoring with 47 points in 82 games and Kevin Klein had 26 points in 69 appearances.
It's been a disappointing year for Rick Nash, who was limited to 60 matches, where he had 15 goals and 36 points. Eric Staal's play hasn't generated much buzz either. He has only contributed six points in 20 games with the Blueshirts since being acquired from Carolina.
New York had a 19-17-5 record on the road this campaign and they'll need to come out flying to take home ice advantage away from the Penguins. I don't see that happening. Pittsburgh has been on a roll and it will carry them through the Rangers into the second round of the playoffs. I'm going with Pittsburgh in six games.
Sidney Crosby was scratched for Saturday's season finale, but he ended the year with at least one point in each of his last eight games. He registered five goals and four assists during that span. Kris Letang didn't play in the last game of the season either and his season ended with an eight-game point streak as well. The offensive blueliner amassed two goals and 10 assists during his scoring spree. Carl Hagelin has notched five goals and four helpers in his past nine contests. Nick Bonino has collected four goals and 13 points over that same nine-game stretch. Phil Kessel generated five goals and seven assists in his last nine appearances.
Chris Kunitz didn't find the back of the net in the final eight games of the year. He also contributed just two assists during that time.
Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't played since Mar. 31 because of a concussion, but he could be available for Game 1. He was back at practice on Monday. His return would be great news for the Penguins as Matt Murray was injured in Saturday's regular-season finale against Philadelphia when he was clipped in the head by a hard-charging Brayden Schenn.
Evgeni Malkin isn't projected to play in the first two rounds of the playoffs because of an upper-body injury. He could be ready to return in mid-late May.
Beau Bennett (undisclosed) didn't practice on Monday and he is listed as day-to-day. It's unclear if he will be ready to play when the playoffs begin.
Olli Maatta (lower body) took part in a full practice on Monday. He sat out nine straight games due to the ailment, but didn't have any issues during the session. If he isn't back for Game 1 then it doesn't seem like he will have to wait long to get back into the fold.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Mats Zuccarello registered four goals and four assists in nine games at the end of the regular season. Derek Stepan has been held without a point in just two of his last 10 contests. He has accounted for six goals and 15 points during that time. Chris Kreider has collected five goals and four helpers in his past eight matches.
Derick Brassard earned one assist and no goals in seven games to close out the year. Rick Nash has posted one goal in the last eight games and he didn't reach the scoresheet in five games to finish the season.
Mats Zuccarello, Dan Girardi, Viktor Stalberg and Eric Staal missed time at the end of season, but they are all expected to be available for Game 1 on Wednesday night. Stalberg could replace Oscar Lindberg in the lineup.
Ryan McDonagh will not be ready for the start of the first-round series against Pittsburgh. He is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Henrik Lundqvist wasn't feeling well during Monday's practice, so he was sent off the ice. He will probably be ready to play on Wednesday, though.
The Rangers were 14th overall on the power play. The team scored 42 times on 226 chances and were led in scoring by Brassard and Keith Yandle, who both recorded 22 points.
New York struggled on the penalty kill in 2015-16, finishing 26th in the NHL with a 78.2 percentage. They allowed 53 power-play goals against when they were short 243 times.