We are just one day away from Capitals hockey which means it's time for the most sacred of all preseason traditions: predictions. Today, we'll tackle the Eastern Conference. Saturday, we will take a look at the West and come up with a Stanley Cup winner.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Montreal Canadiens
- Detroit Red Wings
In the playoffs we saw a breakout performance from the Tampa Bay Lightning that should translate into a strong regular season. Not only do I believe they will finish first in the division, I believe they will finish first in the conference. The only quibble I have with Gormley's prediction is Detroit. Mike Babcock is gone and Pavel Datsyuk can't stay healthy. I think there is a real chance the Red Wings snap their postseason streak and are passed by Florida, a team with a lot of young talent and a strong supporting cast of veterans such as Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo.
- Washington Capitals
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- New York Rangers
Most predictions have these teams as the top three in some order. I would not have the Caps in the top spot, but I also wouldn't be surprised if they finished the season there.
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- New York Islanders
The Blue Jackets had a roster good enough to reach the playoffs last season, but they were destroyed by injuries. Now that roster is even better with the addition of Brandon Saad and, most importantly, they are healthy. They should be a playoff team this season. Based on Gormley's predicted order of finish, the second team will either be the Islanders or the Panthers. I know I just got done saying Florida would make it in over Detroit, but that's not the question now. If given the choice between the Islanders and Panthers, I think the Islanders are the better team so I will give John Tavares' squad the nod.
1. Tampa Bay vs. 4. New York Islanders (2nd wild card)
Can Jaroslav Halak survive the offensvie onslaught of the Lighting in a best of seven series? I doubt it.
Winner: Tampa Bay
2. Montreal vs. 3. Detroit
Considering I don't think the Red Wings will even make it this far, it may seem odd that I could think they can beat Montreal, but the Canadiens are vulnerable. With Price having a historic season last year, Montreal still only made it to the second round. The Canadiens are bound to take a step back because they did not do enough to address their offensive woes and because Price will be hard-pressed to replicate last season's numbers. I like an upset here.
1. Washington vs. 4. Columbus (2nd wild card)
This is a scary matchup for the Caps, especially with Sergei Bobrovsky in net and the Stanley Cup winning Saad. Let's give the Caps credit, however. Their roster is loaded and full of experience. The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, have made the playoffs once in the past six seasons and failed to advance out of the first round.
2. Pittsburgh vs. New York
The Penguins got the top-line forward they were so desperately seeking last season in Phil Kessel. With Kessel, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, how could this team lose? The Penguins will be great...in the regular season, but I have questions about their defense and their head coach. Mike Johnston bungled his way into the playoffs last season as the Penguins did everything they could to try and miss out on the playoffs altogether. They did eventually make it as a wild card team, only to be dispatched in five games by the Rangers. In this rematch, I have to go with New York.
Winners: New York Rangers
Tampa Bay vs. Detroit
The best team in the conference against a Detroit team I do not think will make the playoffs. Hmm, tough choice. It's Tampa and it's not close.
Winner: Tampa Bay
Washington vs. New York Rangers
Because of course these two teams would meet again in the playoffs. It's almost required at this point. The Rangers peaked in 2014 when they reached the Stanley Cup Finals whereas the Caps have an even stronger team than the one that had the Blueshirts on the ropes with a 3-1 series lead last season. This is the year the Rangers realize they can't keep giving away first-round draft picks for mid-season trades and this is the year the Caps beat New York.
Tampa Bay vs. Washington
The Caps will make the Conference Finals for the first time since the magical 1998 season, but they will have to face a potential juggernaut in Tampa Bay. We all know how important it is for teams to build through the draft and focus on their young talent. When a team scouts and drafts really well, they can develop a superstar team of young stars who fit under the cap because of their cheap contracts. That is what has happened in Tampa. It can be hard to keep those rosters intact in the long-term as those superstar players all want to get paid, so Tampa's championship window may be smaller than many believe. In the short term, however, this team is loaded. The Caps have one of the best rosters in team history, but I'm not sure they have enough to beat Tampa in a best of seven series.
Winner: Tampa Bay
So no, I do not have the Caps going all the way this year, but fear not Caps fans. These are preseason predictions which means I am bound to be wrong.
Be sure to check back on Saturday for a look at the Western Conference and a Cup prediction.
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