NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions: Eastern Conference Finals
Although the Dallas Stars are eliminated, there are still hockey games being played. Let's start with the easier conference to talk about when predicting the next round, the Eastern Conference match-up of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are riding the wave of a rookie goaltender and firing on all cylinders in most aspects of their game. They dispatched the Eastern Conference regular season champion Washington Capitals. The Tampa Bay Lightning are well rested after dispatching the New York Islanders early in their series (they obviously missed the memo about stretching these series out). They'll potentially get back big pieces on defense and forward this round, and Ben Bishop continues to be a top goaltender in the league.
So who wins in the East?
Taylor: I wouldn't mind seeing a rookie goaltender step in and lead his team to a Stanley Cup Finals series, but I like the young core of forwards the Lightning has. Pick your own adventure, and I pick Lightning in 7.
Erin: The Penguins have the momentum, but the Lightning have the stronger all-around team in my mind. That doesn't always make a difference in the playoffs. The biggest question for me will be if Ben Bishop continues to be the best goalie in the NHL this season or if Matt Murray continues to ride the rookie wave. The former is more likely. Lightning in 6.
Robert: Tampa is getting reinforcements, and they're already stupid good and battle-hardened. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is a bunch of ice-dwelling flightless birds who play hockey. Lightning in 4, but when Crosby appeals to the league, they will strike a deal to have the series expunged from the record after 2027.
Wes: Hey, look, a team I picked to lose TWICE is playing against I team I thought Washington could beat. Way to make me look bad, guys. Why does 10 points in 11 games feel like struggling for Sidney Crosby? Will Matt Murray turn back into a pumpkin? Will it even matter considering how good the Bolts have looked? It's a pick 'em, but I say Lightning in 7.
Marcus: The Penguins are better. Matt Murray is on fire in net. Crosby and Malkin sucked last round and the Pens still handled the Capitals. It was a strong run from the Lightning, but the clock strikes midnight. Penguins in 6.
Ann: I picked Holtby over the Penguins rookie goaltending to my detriment. The Lightning have had more time to rest but that's not always a good thing in the post season. I believe in the magic of Matt Murray. Penguins in 6.
Kathleen: This is tough. The Pens are looking awfully mighty at the moment, but the Bolts are strong, slightly better rested, and possibly about to see Stralman (and Stamkos?) appear over the hill. I thought the Caps could beat them, and I was wrong. I don't thing I'm wrong about this one, though. Penguins in 7.
Melissa: Phil Kessel continues to look right at home in Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray is as calm as ever in net. Tampa gets Anton Stralman back, but it's not enough to stop the Penguins from rolling to the finals. Penguins in 6.
Derek: A few months ago I would have said Tampa Bay, even with their injuries...but at the ridiculous pace the Pens have been playing lately, I just can't bet against them. It'll be close, however, because Tampa is still an excellent team. Pittsburgh will be forced to grind out two wins, but they'll do it. Penguins in 6.
Huw: The way the Penguins handled the Washington Capitals was impressive. Even with key players returning into the line up for the Lightning I think they are going to be hard pressed to win this series. Penguins in 6.