The four best-of-5 series of the postseason qualifying round in the Eastern Conference are as follows: the Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, .623) vs. the Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, .500); the Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, .596) vs. the New York Rangers (37-28-5, .564); the Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, .579) vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, .579), and as we all know by now, the New York Islanders (35-23-10, .588) vs. the Florida Panthers (35-26-8, .565).
Of course, the Florida - New York Islanders series is the one that will be the main focus of Panthers fans like us here on the LBC, but today’s question is which of the other three series are you most looking forward to watching?
Let’s quickly breakdown the three other series in the east, which will most likely be played in Toronto, and put it to a vote.
Pittsburgh (5) vs. Montreal (12)
Injury-riddled Pittsburgh was struggling - 3-7 in its last 10 games - when the regular season was paused back in March. With a four-plus month break, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the 40-win Penguins should be healthy and ready to go come late July and will be heavy favorites over upstart Montreal.
The NHL .500 Canadiens are by far the team that benefits the most from the expanded 24-team format, as there was little to no chance they would’ve have made it to the postseason had we gotten all 82 games in. Given a clean slate, a long potentially equalizing lay-off, and Carey Price in goal, could a huge upset be in the makings here?
Montreal and Pittsburgh did get in all three of its match-ups during the truncated regular season. The Canadiens won 4-1 on the road on December 10; Brandon Tanev’s overtime goal gave Pittsburgh a 3-2 victory at Bell Centre on January 4; and the Penguins took the season series with a 4-1 win on home ice on Valentine’s Day.
There is a little playoff history between these two long-time franchises, but not as much as one would think. It wasn’t until 1998 that they met in the postseason for the first time, with Montreal winning four games to two in the opening round. They faced off again in the Conference Semifinals in 2010 with the Habs taking the seven-gamer with a decisive 5-2 road win at Mellon Arena.
Carolina (6) vs. New York Rangers (11)
Like Pittsburgh, Carolina was a team that was dealing with injury issues back in March. Those issues might have kept them out of the playoffs, if not for the coronavirus. Now this speedy team that made s surprise run to the final four last year could have players like Dougie Hamilton, Sami Vatanen, Ryan Dzingel and maybe even Brett Pesce back in the lineup when play resumes.
The Rangers were one of the more interesting teams in the league this season. Signing star forward Artemi Panarin, who enjoyed a Hart-worthy debut in the Big Apple, seems to have accelerated the club’s rebuild, but one wonders if they are for real or still a year or two away. Talented young goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who went 10-2 with a .932 save percentage in 12 games, could be the wild card if he gets the nod in net over veteran Henrik Lundqvist.
What should have Hurricanes fans at least somewhat worried is that the Rangers swept all four regular season tilts against their beloved Bunch of Jerks. The Broadway Blueshirts won 4-2 in Raleigh on November 7; 3-2 at Madison Square Garden on November 27; 5-3 at the Garden exactly one month later; and 5-2 at PNC Arena in the final meeting on February 21.
Although the Hurricanes franchise entered the league as the Hartford Whalers in 1979, this will be its first-ever postseason meeting with New York City’s second NHL team, which has been around since 1926. This should be a pretty good series with the Rangers seeming to match up very well against the gritty, balanced Canes.
Toronto (8) vs. Columbus (9)
The Panthers had crept to within three points of the third place Maple Leafs and very well might’ve knocked them out of the playoff picture had the final portion of the regular season been played. Toronto boasts a deep well of riches at the forward position that many teams simply can’t match, but like the Cats, have issues with consistency and in its own end.
After they shocked the Tampa Bay Lightning last spring, not much was expected of the Blue Jackets after Sergei Bobrovsky, Panarin, Dzingel and Matt Duchene all said goodbye to Columbus in free agency. The hard-working team confounded the experts with a wild card run backstopped by the unheralded goaltending duo of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikens.
The Blue Jackets opened the regular season with a 4-1 home ice loss to the Buds, playing its second game of the campaign, on October 4. Columbus pulled out a 4-3 overtime win courtesy of Gustav Nyquist’s penalty shot goal 1:57 in the extra session on October 21, in Toronto. The third and final meeting, scheduled for March 21 at Scotiabank Arena was canceled.
The Blue Jackets have been around since 2000 and have only been to the playoffs five times prior, so this will be its first time facing the Maple Leafs in the postseason. Lack of any sort of rivalry between the two clubs that each finished with 81 points aside, this might be the best series of the qualifying round.
Which other Eastern Conference series are you most interested in?
This poll is closed
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Hurricanes vs. Rangers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets