The days of Washington and Pittsburgh dominating this division are coming to an end. For starters, the Capitals aren’t even in this quarter of the bracket this year, having been shipped off to the Atlantic as the second wild card. Things aren’t much better for the Penguins, who are in the playoffs but clearly not the same team that won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017. They honestly remind me of the Detroit Red Wings from a decade ago: a shadow of their former selves, trying to keep the playoff streak alive because they’re not ready for a full rebuild.
And that’s a problem going into the playoffs, because teams like Carolina and the New York Rangers have stepped into the void and taken over this division. They’re on a collision course to meet in the Metro Division finals…unless the Penguins or Boston Bruins can spoil the party. Here are my best bets for the Metropolitan.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (-110) vs. NEW YORK RANGERS (-110)
Don’t expect a lot of Pittsburgh goals in this series. Igor Shesterkin was the league’s top netminder throughout the season, and the Penguins managed a mere four goals in four games against the combination of Shesterkin and the Rangers’ defense. Stopping Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is never an easy task, but the Blueshirts’ young blueliners seem to have the edge on the Penguins’ aging stars.
Throw in that Tristan Jarry isn’t healthy, and this looks to be too much for Pittsburgh’s aging squad to overcome. I think the Penguins have one last gasp in them to take a game in this series, but that’s about it. There’s a reason that the Penguins haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. I’m backing the Rangers in five.
BOSTON BRUINS (-105) vs. CAROLINA HURRICANES (-115)
This line is as low as it is because of the Hurricanes’ struggles against Boston over the past few seasons. In two of their past three playoff appearances, the Hurricanes have seen their season end at Boston’s hand, and there’s a real chance of this becoming a mental block for Carolina. But the Hurricanes have been progressing every year since their first playoff trip with this group in 2018, and they’ve yet to fail to get out of the first round.
The Bruins are still a talented, experienced team, but I think people are reading too much into past season performances and not enough into current performances. Carolina squashed Boston in all three meetings by a combined score of 16-1, yet the Bruins are going off with some small juice instead of as a decided underdog. This reminds me of the 2017 season, when Boston came up against Ottawa and was favored to cruise past the Senators, despite going 0-4 against them in the regular season.
What happened? True to form, Ottawa won all three meetings in Boston and took the series in six games. I’ll go with a repeat here, and I think I might be acting a bit conservative in taking the Hurricanes in six.