With only one more semifinalist to be determined, it’s time to take a look at what happened in the second round so far, including a sweep in Canada, the Lightning continuing to get it done, the Islanders beating the B’s and Vegas being one win away from eliminating the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche.
Another Sweep in the North
In their first round matchup, the Winnipeg Jets came in as the underdog and swept the Edmonton Oilers to advance to the second round. In the second round, they got a taste of their own medicine. Coming off of 10 days rest, the Jets were flat in their first game against the away Montréal Canadiens, who were just 48 hours separated from an emotional Game 7 victory in Toronto.
At the end of Game 1, the Jets’ most talented offensive weapon, forward Mark Schiefele, got a match penalty for charging Montréal forward Jake Evans as he deposited the puck into a vacant Jets net to seal the win. Evans was knocked out and fell dangerously to the ice while a scrum ensued around Scheifele. Fortunately, Evans resumed skating this week with the team, but it remains to be seen how long he is out for. Following the hit, the league’s department of player safety suspended Scheifele for four games for the illegal hit, which ended up being more than enough to get the job done for the Canadiens.
The Canadiens outscored the Jets 14-6 and never trailed in any of the four games. Remarkably, the Canadiens have not trailed at any point on their current seven-game win streak dating back to Game 5 in Toronto. Forward Tyler Toffoli put the dagger in the series when he scored an overtime goal off of a beautiful feed from young American hero forward Cole Caufield not more than two minutes into overtime of Game 4. Now, the Canadiens await the winner of the Vegas and Colorado series, who they will battle for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Montréal entered the North division playoffs as the fourth and lowest seed, making their division title a surprise. Although they were an inconsistent regular season team, they found their game at the right time and it has paid off. They were not the only team to advance to the finals as the fourth seed in their respective division, though.
New York Saints
After their Game Five defeat that saw the New York Islanders take a three games to two series lead over his Boston Bruins, head coach Bruce Cassidy complained about the officiating in his post-game interview, saying “they sell a narrative over there that they’re the New York Saints rather than the New York Islanders.” Of course Islanders fans would not let him live that down.
Towards the end of another hard-fought game between these two veteran clubs, fans at Nassau Coliseum started chanting “New York Saints” as their Islanders leaned on a three-goal second period and cruised to a 6-2 victory and a series win over their rivals from Boston to become the second fourth seed to represent a division in the semis. The Islanders relied on their usual formula — bend don’t break — in another gutsy series win that puts them into the semi-final against the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second year in a row. For the Bruins, their top forward line of Patrice Bergeron with David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand was fantastic, scoring 11 goals in the six games, but was ultimately not enough. Forward Kyle Palmieri, a trade deadline acquisition for the Isles, leads the team with seven goals in the playoffs so far. He’s just one of the multitude of hard-working leaders on a team that seems to find a new hero every night.
Looking to Repeat
The defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning only needed five games to remove the Central division regular season champion Carolina Hurricanes. Another dominant performance from Andrei Vasilevskiy in net for the Bolts, who is in his mid-twenties and already making a case for one of the greatest stretches by a goaltender in NHL history. He has shut out the opposing team in three-straight elimination games dating back to last year’s Stanley Cup Final win over the Dallas Stars in six games. He absolutely stifled a lethal Canes offense in this series and is, without a doubt, the best goaltender in the world.
With Vasilevskiy making all of the stops and the offensive talent of forwards Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov up front, this team seems destined for a repeat. They are deep and talented at every position on the ice and always have an answer to what the opponent throws at them. For example, they can outscore you like they did in Game 4 when they won 6-4, and they can beat you in a low-chance contest like they did in Games 1, 2 and 5, in which the Hurricanes scored one, one and zero goals, respectively. Surely the Islanders will be out for revenge against this Lightning team that took them out a year ago, but I can’t see anybody beating the Bolts with how they’ve been playing as of late. It is automatic at this point — they are a well-oiled machine.
Vegas and Colorado
Lastly, in the West, the two top dogs are trading blows in a dynamite series. Things looked bleak for the Vegas Golden Knights after the Colorado Avalanche got a 2-0 jump on the series, but Vegas has rattled off three-straight wins and now sits 60 minutes away from eliminating the Stanley Cup favorites.
Following a Game 4 hat-trick from forward Jonathan Marchessault and a big win to even the series at T-Mobile Arena, Vegas went on the road to try to win an away game for the first time in the series. Down by two after two periods, Vegas rallied back to send the game to overtime where their captain, forward Mark Stone, blocked a shot and anticipated a rush chance. He got in behind the Avs defense and buried a shot over the glove of goaltender Phillip Grubauer, giving the Golden Knights their first series lead and a chance to close things out tonight in Las Vegas.
A primary reason the Knights have found success is because they have managed to shut down the Avs’ dynamic top forward line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. Simultaneously, the Golden Knights’ second forward line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith has gotten really hot. These are two of the best teams in the league and I expect a crazy atmosphere in Game 6 with the Avalanche having their backs against the wall and Vegas knowing they need to close it out and not give the Avs a chance to head back home for a Game 7. Also, if the Golden Knights can win, I will be 4/4 on my second round picks … so c’mon Vegas!!