NHL Playoffs 2016 Bracket Predictions: Picks & Preview For Metropolitan Division In Eastern Conference [POLL, PHOTOS & VIDEOS]
After a grueling season of NHL action, it's time for Act 2 as the puck is set to drop on the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs on Wednesday.
In the Metropolitan bracket, the top-seeded Capitals will take on the Wild Card-winning Flyers, while the No. 2 Penguins hold home-ice over the No. 3 Rangers.
This year's Round 1 playoff schedule can be viewed here. The playoff format for seeing and matchups can be found here. Click start at the top right of this page to view our slideshow for this bracket.
Our predictions for the Atlantic Division bracket can be found here.
Here are our predictions for the Metropolitan Division in Round 1
No. 1 Washington Capitals (56-18-8, 120 points) vs. W.C. No. 2 Philadelphia Flyers (41-27-14, 96 points)
Cup Dreams: The Capitals are in the postseason for the second straight year and are looking for their first title in franchise history, attempting to get back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since losing it in 1998. The Flyers are in the postseason for the second time in the last three seasons, and will look to return to the Cup Final for the first time since 2010. Philadelphia hasn't hoisted the Cup since 1975.
Season Series: 2-2.
Special Teams: Capitals: 21.9 percent power play (5th), 85.2 percent penalty kill (2nd); Flyers: 18.9 percent power play (11th), 80.5 percent penalty kill (20th).
Projected Goalie Matchup: Braden Holtby, Capitals (48-9-7, 2.20 GAA, .922 save percentage); Steve Mason, Flyers (23-19-10, 2.51 GAA, .918 save percentage)
Series Overview: The Capitals soared to the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best team this year, while the Flyers clinched a playoff spot very late in the season. This is a lopsided matchup on paper, especially with the Capitals special teams -- including their power play, which is paced by Alex Ovechkin, who had an NHL-best 19 tallies on the man-advantage.
The Capitals have failed to make it out of the second round in the Alex Ovechkin Era, but this Washington team is much deeper than past seasons. The offseason editions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams have paid off in spades, while Nicklas Backstrom is a great force and Evgeny Kuznetsov has had yet another breakout season.
Ovechkin scored a hat trick against the Blues on Saturday to reach the 50-goal plateau for the third straight season, while Oshie (26), Williams (22), Kuznetsov (20), Backstrom (22) and Jason Chimera (20) each reached the 20-goal plateau. Kuznetsov led the club with 77 points in the regular season. The Capitals led the conference and placed 2nd in the NHL with 3.02 goals per game.
Most people expected it to be a playoff-less year for Philadelphia, but they defied some expectations to make it. Wayne Simmonds (team-best 32 goals) and Claude Giroux (club-best 45 assists and 67 points) are two veterans that will be leaned on to match the production of Washington's explosive unit.
Shane Gostisbehere had a tremendous rookie season, setting a Flyers franchise record for rookie defenseman with 17 goals.
The goaltending matchup will be as pivotal as special teams as Mason needs to try to match Holtby, who tied an NHL record for single-season victories and placed fourth in the league in GAA.
Last Word: This is truly the one series in Round 1 that seems like it should be a short one, unless the Capitals are unable to exorcise their playoff demons. With an explosive lineup, a stingy defense, strong special teams and great goaltending, it's hard to imagine the Capitals losing in Round 1 to the Wild Card Flyers.
The Pick: Capitals in 5.
No. 2 Penguins (48-26-8, 104 points) vs. No. 3 Rangers (46-27-9, 101 points)
Cup Dreams: The Penguins are looking to get back into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since winning it all in 2009. The Rangers have had two Eastern Conference Finals appearances and one trip to the Stanley Cup Final (2013-14), since 2012, but haven't won it all since 1994.
Season Series: 3-1 Penguins.
Special Teams: Penguins: 18.4 percent power play (16th), 84.4 percent penalty kill (5th); Rangers: 18.6 percent power play (14th), 78.2 percent penalty kill (78.2 percent)
Projected Goalie Matchup: Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins (35-17-6, 2.29 GAA, .921 save percentage)*; Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (35-21-7, 2.48 GAA, .920 save percentage)
Series Overview: This is the third straight postseason in which these two teams will do battle. The Rangers clawed back from a 3-1 series hole to win in seven games in Round 2 during the 2013-14 playoffs, while they toppled the Penguins in five games last year in Round 1.
Both of these teams are dealing with key injuries, which could prove pivotal as the series progresses. For the Penguins, Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) returned to practice Monday, but it's unknown when he'll play after suffering his second concussion of the season on March 31. Matt Murray has filled in for Fleury, but he left the last game with an undisclosed injury and is also questionable. No. 3 goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who has 33 games to his career thus far, may get thrust into the crease.
The Penguins are also without Evgeni Malkin (arm) for at least the start of the series, while defenseman Olli Maatta (lower-body) suited up for practice Monday, but remains questionable for a return. The loss of Maatta would put more pressure on Kris Letang to step up and bring his Norris Trophy-caliber season into the playoffs.
Despite the injuries, Pittsburgh hasn't struggled at all. The Penguins won 14 of their final16 games as coach Mike Sullivan, who is a former Rangers assistant and took over for the fired Mike Johnston midway through the season, has his unit firing on all cylinders. Leading the charge is Sidney Crosby, who fought off a slow start to finish third in the league with 85 points.
Kris Letang (67), Phil Kessel (59) and Patrik Hornqvist (51) all eclipsed 50 points this season, while former Rangers forward Carl Hagelin -- who scored the game-winning, series-clinching goal for the Rangers against the Penguins in Round 1 last postseason -- is a series X-factor and Nick Bonino has filled in admirably for the injured Malkin.
The Rangers have also been bit by the injury bug as captain Ryan McDonagh (hand) won't suit up for Game 1 and Dan Girardi (upper-body) and Henrik Lundqvist (undisclosed) have also been dealing with some ailments. The Rangers are a battle-tested group with a plethora of playoff experience, but they've been wildly inconsistent with puck management and defense this season.
Nevertheless, New York had five 20-goal scorers this season, a group that includes Derek Brassard, who led the team with 27 and Mats Zuccarello (26), who is one of the club's best playmakers, leading the way with 61 points.
The Rangers will need some of their veterans to come through, including Rick Nash, who had just five goals in 19 playoff games last season, and Eric Staal, brother of defenseman Mark, who won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006, but hasn't appeared in a playoff game since 2009. Eric Staal was acquired from Carolina this season, but has just three tallies in 20 games since the trade.
Last Word: Injuries will play a major role in this series, but the Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL and gained some serious steam heading into the playoffs. A championship-starved Lundqvist has a clear edge in net, but may not have enough firepower to will his team to winning. The Rangers may have a mental hold over the Penguins after eliminating them the last two years, but this Pittsburgh club ranked third in the NHL with 2.94 goals per game, so if the Rangers' defense continues to struggle, it could haunt them. This time of year, it's always good to come into the playoffs red-hot.
The Pick: Penguins in 7.