(1) Boston vs Montreal (8)
I've written before about how I think that the Bruins are not as good as either their goal differential or record would suggest. Now that the season is over, my opinion hasn't really changed. That Boston has managed to post a goal differential of +80, despite having a negative 43 shot differential, suggests that they've been at least somewhat fortunate, and I don’t think that any reasonable person would deny that. Since my original post back in January, it appears that I've been somewhat vindicated. As per timeonice, the Bruins' EV shooting percentage had been 10.3% up to that point, but has only been 7.6% since then. However, their team EV save percentage has remained excellent and, considering that they also excelled in that regard last year, I think that they're the type of team that's going to reliably post a high EV save percentage over the large sample of games. Whether this is due to good goaltending, coaching/team strategy, or some combination thereof, I can't say. Interestingly, it seems that the Bruins have not been any better than the average team in terms of shot quality against this season, which implicates good goaltending as the causal factor (see here, for example). While the difference between these two teams is not as large as the gap in goal differential would suggest, the Bruins still appear to be the superior club.
For those that value the underlying numbers more than the results, special teams are a wash. But at even strength, the Bruins are much better any way you look at it.
The Habs were actually playing pretty well throughout the first part of the season, but since then they’ve fallen off the proverbial cliff. Both their goal and shot differential have dropped precipitously. I’d be inclined to attribute this to injuries, but they were also missing some guys during the first half and it didn’t seem to have too great of an impact upon their play.
Although I wouldn't necessarily be shocked if
Bruins in 5.
(2) Washington vs New York Rangers (7)
The Rangers are another team that I've written about over the course of the season. In hindsight, my appraisal may have been a tad harsh. I seemed to have overlooked the fact that the Rangers had given up a tonne of shorthanded goals at the time, which tends to suggest bad luck. Since then, the Rangers have undergone a coaching range which, like in the case of the Penguins, seems to have helped them to some degree -- though perhaps moreso in terms of their results than their actual play.
Even though the Rangers are respectable, the Capitals seem to be the better team. They're better than the Rangers at EV strength and much better on the powerplay. The Rangers appear to have the penalty kill but the advantage is too small for it to make up for their other deficiencies. Some may point out that the Rangers have the better goaltending, and while this probably true, goaltending is only really important to the extent that it contributes to goal differential. The Capitals have a much better GD than the Rangers. I realize that there's a tendency in the hockey world to treat goaltending as more important in the playoffs, but I've never seen any evidence that would support that notion. I suspect that it's neither more nor less important than during the regular season.Capitals in 6.
(3) New Jersey vs Carolina (6)
A fairly strong argument can be made that the Devils are the class of the East. Their underlying numbers are fantastic, especially at EV and on the powerplay. Additionally, it's difficult on paper to find any source of weakness with the team. In that sense, I think that
My choice, therefore, is not a difficult one, and while
Devils in 6.
(4) Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia (5)
I've been meaning to make a post about the turnaround that the Pens have experienced since their coaching change. Not only have they substantially improved their record, but -- and more importantly -- their underlying numbers as well. Observe: However, unlike in the case with
Penguins in 5.