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Pittsburgh Penguins (#1 Seed)
Despite dealing with a spate of injuries the Penguins steamrolled their way to the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were sidelined at various times as was defenseman Kris Letang and Paul Martin. Nevertheless, they led the NHL in goals per game, averaging 3.38 tallies per contest.
After winning 15 consecutive games in March, they have cooled down just a bit (how couldn’t they?) by going 8-4 in the month of April to capture 72 points in this strike-shortened season. Their last game of the season was an 8-3 victory over the Hurricanes.
While most GM’s would kick back and watch this talented team waltz into the playoffs, Ray Shero had different ideas. He went out and added even more thunder to their already explosive offense by acquiring Jarome Iginla, Jussi Jokinen and seasoned veteran Brenden Morrow while bolstering the blue line with steady defenseman Douglas Murray.
The Penguins are the NHL odds on favorites to capture the Eastern Conference crown for good reason, or make that reasons in our NHL picks. Their players are all finally healthy, their offense has only gotten better and their power play unit is 2nd only to the Capitals, connecting on 24.7 percent of their chances. Even their defense has been solid, allowing only 2.5 goals per game, ranking them 12th in the league. If you’re looking for an Achilles heel, then maybe their lackluster penalty killing unit will give you cause for pause as well as a serviceable, though unspectacular goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury.
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New York Islanders (#8 Seed)
Islanders fans realize their team will probably be bounced swiftly from the postseason party but let’s face it, they’re just happy they got an invitation. After years of futility the Isles caught fire in the second half of this abbreviated season and edged Winnipeg for the final playoff spot. John Tavares notched 28 goals and led New York to a pleasantly surprising season which hinged on their ability to win on the highway with a 14-6-4 road record which returned plenty of underdog money in the NHL odds this season.
As if playing the best team in the Eastern Conference, and arguably the entire league wasn’t daunting enough, the Isles may have shot their proverbial wad. New York enters this series on a three-game slide with losses to Carolina, Philly and Buffalo which all just happen to be non-playoff teams. That doesn’t bode well when facing off against the likes of Sid the Kid and company in their own building.
Check out PJ Laferla's Eastern Conference Playoff Preview and see if he agrees with this pick.
The Islanders must absolutely steal one on the road if they are to have any chance of making this series the least bit interesting. The Pens were 4-1 in the season series against the Islanders with New York capturing their only victory in the first meeting of the year, a 4-1 victory in Pittsburgh. However, with the recent additions to Pittsburgh’s roster and the returned good health of all of their gunners, that will be a steep hill to climb.
I would like to be able to be that guy who boldly predicted an Islanders upset but I can’t see it in any way, shape or form. The only area where they are even equal with Pittsburgh is between the pipes with Evgeni Nabokov providing a decent option with plenty of playoff experience behind him versus Marc-Andre Fleury who had bouts of bewildering ineptitude in last year’s playoff series loss to Philadelphia.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will sweep the slumping Islanders 4-0 in our NHL odds preview and roll into the second round of the playoffs without breaking much of a sweat.
Free Pick: The Pens at Bet365.