NHL East Preview: Lightning v Blue Jackets, Islanders v Penguins, Capitals v Hurricanes, Maple Leafs v Bruins
Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov, controls the puck against Columbus in February (Paul Vernon)Associated Press

NHL East Preview: Lightning v Blue Jackets, Islanders v Penguins, Capitals v Hurricanes, Maple Leafs v Bruins

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(Team with home-ice advantage in CAPS)

LIGHTNING (-410) over Blue Jackets

The President’s Trophy-winning Lightning were probably hoping to be going against the Hurricanes or Canadiens rather than the Blue Jackets in round one, but they end up getting one of the tougher opponents this postseason. It’s do or die for Columbus as they went all in and sold off all but two of their draft picks at the deadline. The Jackets are good - very good, in fact - but we don’t see them coming out alive against Tampa Bay. Lightning in 6.

Player to Watch
F Nikita Kucherov scored more points this season than any other player in the league (128), which happened to be the same amount of points the team finished with in the standings. It is almost certain that he’s going to run away with the Hart Trophy. His run of play should continue throughout the Lightning’s deep playoff run.

Penguins (-150) over ISLANDERS

The Penguins are looking to secure their fourth Stanley Cup since the 2008-09 season with Sidney Crosby at the helm. The Islanders will be a tough opponent and it should be a low-scoring series. Sure, New York gets to play their home games for the series at the Coliseum which is a completely different element for the opposing team, but Pittsburgh’s depth far outclasses the Islanders. Penguins in 5.

Player to Watch
F Jake Guentzel is a playoff machine, especially when he is on Crosby’s wing. The playoffs are where this kid made his money and he thrives in high pressure situations such as these. We wouldn’t be shocked if he pots one in Game 1 to set the trend for the series either. He’s lethal in April and May.

CAPITALS (-155) over Hurricanes

The Reigning Cup Champs look to defend the title but will do so without their old coach, Barry Trotz. He was a huge factor in their success down the stretch last season getting F Alex Ovechkin his first Stanley Cup. The Capitals get the easier of the Eastern wild-card match-ups but there’s no doubt the building in North Carolina will be bumping. Fans have been waiting 10 years for this, so it’s a shame it’s going to be a quick first-round exit for the Hurricanes. Capitals in 5.

Player to Watch
G Braden Holtby was a machine for the Caps last year and they will need him to replicate his production this year if they are to win back-to-back cups. He’s going to need to stand on his head to keep the puck out of the net with F Sebastian Aho and company on the other end of the ice.

Bruins (-150) over Maple Leafs

The Rivalry continues as the Leafs and the Bruins face off yet again in the postseason. This is going to be one of the most entertaining series but we think the Bruins will take this one in seven. The Leafs have the firepower to get the job done, but there’s some sort of magic going on the the Bruins’ locker room. If there’s one Eastern Conference team that can take the Lightning when all is said and done, it’s the Bruins, and we are confident it’ll be Bruins-Lightning come Round 2.

Player to Watch
F Brad Marchand is a pest on and off the ice. Look for him to rile the Leafs up all while filling the back of the net and racking up points. He was the subject of league discussions when he licked a Maple Leaf player during a game last year. Only a matter of time before he does something like that again.

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