NHL: Metro Division Playoff Preview

Story posted 5 days ago in CommRadio, Sports by Jeremy Schooler

There has been quite a bit of shuffling at the top of the Metropolitan Division, with historic teams such as the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers both finishing in the bottom half of the conference, and the New Jersey Devils, a playoff team a season ago, finishing with the third worst record in the NHL. Additionally, the Carolina Hurricanes, who had the NHL’s longest active playoff drought, made the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Despite all this change, some things stayed the same; the Capitals clinched their 11th playoff berth in 12 seasons, and fourth straight division title, and the Penguins will be playing past the regular season for the 12th straight year. The New York Islanders, forever considered the “little brother” to the Rangers in terms of New York hockey popularity, made a remarkable to run to having home-ice advantage in the playoffs, despite losing their captain and most productive player, John Tavares, to the Maple Leafs in free agency.

All this shifting of teams has resulted in both series in the Metropolitan Division being series that involve teams with little to no recent history, including Washington vs. Carolina, two teams that have never met in the playoffs, and New York vs. Pittsburgh, who have met only once (2013) since the early 1990s. Although the matchups are based on seeding, the reality is that all four teams are extremely close in the standings; Washington didn’t clinch the division until the 81st game of the season, and only six points separate the five playoff teams in the Metro, from Washington at 104 points to Columbus at 98 points.

Washington, coming off winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2018, has showed the same firepower they did last season. For Carolina to be able to pull off the upset, they will need to stop the lethal power play unit of John Carlson, Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Nick Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, which they were unable to do in the regular season. Additionally, because Carolina has gone so long without a playoff berth, they have very little playoff experience, even from their statistically better players. One key player who  does  have valuable experience is captain Justin Williams. The former Capital has been nicknamed “Mr. Game 7” due to the 7-1 record his teams have in game 7s, and his record 14 points in those games. If Carolina is able to get solid production from Williams, as well as young stars Sebastian Aho, Nino Niederreiter and Andrei Svechnikov, they will certainly be able to slow down Washington. This combination, plus goaltender Petr Mrazek staying hot, will be the key to Carolina getting a series win. Otherwise, they will be overpowered and outmatched by Washington’s deep, proven, playoff experienced roster.

New York and Pittsburgh had a very competitive season series, with each team going 2-2, including a home win, road win and shootout win. This may not be the same Penguins team that won the Stanley Cup back-to-back seasons in 2016 and 2017, but they are still very capable of making a lengthy playoff run. With proven veterans Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang, as well as a supporting cast that includes Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel and new addition Nick Bjugstad, there is depth and talent all over the Penguins roster. The Penguins success will likely come down to Matt Murray’s play, as they will be depending on him throughout the postseason. Contrary to the Penguins, the Islanders style of play does not have them relying as much on their goaltender. They will certainly need Robin Lehner to play well in
order to beat Pittsburgh, but their main firepower and the root of their success has come from the play of captain Anders Lee, 2018 Calder Trophy winner Mat Barzal, and a deep supporting cast that includes Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey. The Islanders and Penguins have played very closely fought games throughout the season, and, statistically, that will likely continue into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

 

Jeremy Schooler is a sophomore studying broadcast journalism and business. To contact him, email jfs5717@psu.edu.