With the first round finally coming to a close on Monday with the Montréal Canadiens advancing over the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s time to take a look at the round two matchups and make some more predictions!
Round One Review
The first round had all the excitement that hockey fans could hope for. Overtime games, comebacks, two Game 7s and lots of emotion. In the West, the Colorado Avalanche stomped the St. Louis Blues in a four-game sweep, while the Vegas Golden Knights required seven games to eliminate the pesky Minnesota Wild. In both the North and the East, the two lower-seeded teams won both series, with the Winnipeg Jets sweeping the Edmonton Oilers, the Montréal Canadiens completing the shocking comeback win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins defeating the Washington Capitals in five games and the New York Islanders taking down the Pittsburgh Penguins in six. Finally, in the Central division, the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning beat their in-state rival Florida Panthers in six games, while the Carolina Hurricanes eliminated the Nashville Predators in six games in a series that required overtime in all of the last four games.
Overall, my picks were okay. I got 5/8 of the series winners correct, and only correctly predicted the number of games for the Islanders and Penguins series. Let’s hope I can pick the division winners with more accuracy.
*All picks were made prior to the first game of each series despite this article being published afterwards.
In the West, we have the showdown that fans have been waiting for all year. The league’s best regular season team, the Colorado Avalanche, are playing against the Vegas Golden Knights for the West division crown. Despite Colorado having the better roster, I just have a feeling that the Golden Knights will find a way to get it done. They are the strongest defensive team in the league, and they have a better goaltender than the Avalanche do. Two of the top three teams left in the playoffs are participating in this series, so it would not surprise me at all if the winner here goes on to win the Stanley Cup.
Coming off of a series sweep allowed the Avalanche to embarrass the Golden Knights on Sunday by a score of 7-1, so I guess you could say my pre-series pick is not looking too good. On top of that, the Avs are yet to lose a game this postseason: they are 5-0! Bear in mind the Golden Knights had very little time to rest between an emotionally and physically draining game seven victory over Minnesota, having to play in Colorado just 48 hours later. I would be shocked if the series continues to be such a mismatch like it was on Sunday.
Vegas, if they are going to win, must find a way to slow down forward Nathan MacKinnon, because he has been playing like an absolute monster with eight goals in five playoff games. He and Vegas captain forward Mark Stone are my X-factors for this matchup. Vegas seems to have trouble manufacturing goals come time for the postseason, and that will need to change for them to have any shot in this series.
Although I already dislike my pre-series pick, I have no choice but to stand by it. The Vegas Golden Knights will defeat the Colorado Avalanche in seven games.
The battle to decide the winner of the North division is not one that many saw coming. In fact, none of the 16 NHL experts at ESPN picked the Montréal Canadiens to be here, and only 3/16 picked the Jets. Regardless, here we are.
For my money, two of the top three remaining goaltenders in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are participating in this series. The Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck and Canadiens’ Carey Price were primary reasons that their teams were able to shut down the top offenses of the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively, to advance to the second round. Neither goaltender has won a Stanley Cup, but both are former Vezina Trophy winners as the league’s best goalie and have demonstrated their ability to dominate a game. I think that whoever of these two plays better will be moving on to the semi-finals of this year’s playoffs. And while it feels criminal to pick one over the other, I will go with Price. The fact that he has succeeded on bigger stages throughout his career like the Olympics and World Cup of Hockey, while Hellebuyck has not tasted as many pressure situations, gives Price the smallest of advantages. Both guys were cold-blooded killers in the opening round, so this battle will be fun to watch.
Seeing as though both of my first round selections for the North turned out wrong, I would be wary of trusting me on this one. The Jets are the favorites here, and both teams are coming off unlikely victories, so both sides should be feeling good about themselves. Because of their advantage on defense and my preference for Price over Hellebuyck, I am going with the Montréal Canadiens to defeat the Winnipeg Jets in 6 games.
The Boston Bruins and New York Islanders are both great teams with a ton of experience. While the Bruins are coming off a decisive five-game series with the Washington Capitals, many are doubting the Islanders and chalking their first round win to poor goaltending by Tristan Jarry of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although the Isles were certainly assisted by a struggling goaltender on the opposing side, I prefer to see their win as opportunistic.
Just a year ago, the Islanders were competing for the Eastern Conference Final before falling to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and they have a very similar group going back at it this year, so to discount them is a mistake in my opinion. On the other end of things, Boston is so dangerous because of the added depth scoring that forward Taylor Hall has brought to the team since his acquisition at the trade deadline. Furthermore, their top forward line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand is looking unstoppable, while their young defensive star Charlie McAvoy is playing well beyond his years. In net, both teams have solid goaltenders with Tuukka Rask in Boston and Semyon Varlamov on Long Island. It’s hard to say who has the advantage of the two, although Rask has won more throughout his career during the postseason.
The primary difference between these two clubs is the way that they are structured. The Bruins are very top-heavy. Their aforementioned top line is good enough to carry the team to victory almost every night. The Isles are much more designed to win by committee. I think Islanders head coach Barry Trotz is the best in the game right now, and I believe in the team’s ability to keep squeaking out wins. The series is now even at 1-1 after the Isles won Game 2 in overtime, and I am sticking with my pre-series prediction of the New York Islanders defeating the Boston Bruins in seven games.
If anyone doubted the Tampa Bay Lightning’s ability to repeat last season’s Stanley Cup-winning performance, the team has answered by beating a terrific Florida Panthers team in six games and now going up 2-0 on the regular season Central division champs in the Carolina Hurricanes. There is not much to be said here; the Canes are a great team but the Lightning have the best goalie in the world in Andrei Vasilevskiy and a deep roster playing in front of him. As of now, they are my favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
I have a really hard time picturing how the Hurricanes can beat the Bolts four times out of the next five games, especially after dropping the first two games with home-ice advantage. My pre-series prediction looks good here: The Tampa Bay Lightning will defeat the Carolina Hurricanes in six games.