The quest for the Stanley Cup continues as the second-round of the NHL playoffs begins tonight with the Pittsburgh Penguins facing the Washington Capitals. Here’s a preview (and predictions) of the four remaining series:
Tampa Bay Lightning (54-23-5) vs. Boston Bruins (50-20-12)
Season series: Tampa Bay 1-3-0; Boston 3-1-0. First round: Tampa Bay over New Jersey in 5; Boston over Toronto in 7.
Lightning: Vezina-trophy candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy played well against the Devils with a 2.01 GAA and .941 save percentage. Tampa Bay scores goals. They scored on average 3.5 goals per game in the regular season, more than any other team. Their top line of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and J.T. Miller leads the way for Tampa’s offence, accounting for seven of their opening round 18 goals. Look for depth forwards like Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde to provide secondary scoring when the Bolts need it most.
Bruins: Boston’s success rests entirely on their first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. In their four wins against Toronto, that line produced nine goals, 21 assists and a plus-23 rating. In Boston’s three losses that line produced zero goals and zero assists with a minus-16 rating. In net, goaltender Tuukka Rask easily had the worst save percentage of any starting goalie in the first round at .899. However he does have that star ability to steal games for the Bruins.
Prediction: Tampa Bay over Boston in six games… The Lightning have a spread-out offence and know how to score goals, plus the acquisition of Ryan McDonagh will solidify that back end. Boston can’t win while relying on one line.
Washington Capitals (49-26-7) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (47-29-6)
Season Series: Washington 2-2-0; Pittsburgh 2-2-0. First round: Washington over Columbus in 6; Pittsburgh over Philadelphia in 6.
Capitals: For the third year in a row, the Capitals and Penguins clash in the second round. The Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin matchup is always a great one that keeps seeing the same results, as Ovechkin has yet to play in a conference finals. The Capitals are coming off a series win against the Blue Jackets that saw them down two games to none to start. Their power-play percentage was the highest among teams in the first round with a 33.3% conversion rate. Defenceman John Carlson will need to continue to carry their back end, while goaltender Braden Holtby will have to turn things around after having his worst season statistically in his career and be solid in front of the net. Ovechkin and Co. will have another shot at proving they can get past the Penguins and into the conference finals.
GAME NOTES: For the 11th time in franchise history, the Capitals will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs. Game 1 is tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Capital One Arena. https://t.co/vhGVZtjszV pic.twitter.com/4g69dZMVLO
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) April 25, 2018
Penguins: The Penguins are looking to become the first team since the New York Islanders in the 1980s to win three consecutive Stanley Cups. For the past two years, the Penguins have had two goaltenders with the ability to come into the playoffs and perform well. This time around, Matt Murray will be carrying the workload alone, as Marc-Andre Fleury was left available for Vegas to pick up in the expansion draft. After missing some games this season due to a concussion and the passing of his father, Murray looks to resume his typical playoff form and snag himself a third Stanley Cup. The one-two punch in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is a lot to handle for any NHL team and the stellar play of Jake Guentzel against the Flyers in the first round should continue against the Caps.
Prediction: Penguins over Capitals in seven games…With a healthy Malkin, the Pens will find a way to win over the Caps spearheaded by Crosby, even with a struggling Murray. Without Malkin I’m not so sure Crosby can carry this team alone.
Nashville Predators (53-18-11) vs. Winnipeg Jets (52-20-10)
Season Series: Nashville 3-1-1; Winnipeg 2-3-0. First round: Nashville over Colorado in 6; Winnipeg over Minnesota in 5.
Predators: The top two teams in the regular season will meet in the second round. With the defence Nashville has, including the likes of Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis, as well with Vezina candidate Pekka Rinne, they only allowed 204 goals during the regular season, good for second-best in the NHL. Winger Filip Forsberg showed some dazzling moves against the Avs in the first round to account for six points and he’ll be a threat in this series. Last year in the playoffs, the Preds had trouble scoring goals. Only two Predators (Forsberg and Josi) finished in the top 10 in NHL playoff scoring and Nashville was shut out in Games 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup final. With almost an identical roster from last year, they have that experience and know what it takes to get to the final. If their defence holds up and depth scoring continues from their bottom six forwards, Nashville will be a tough team to beat.
Jets: The Jets were second in the regular season in points with 114 and second in goals for with 273. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck had a breakout year and set the record for wins by an American goaltender with 44. The Jets also have a physical and dynamic defence. Dustin Byfuglien was a force on the back end against the Wild, leading the team with five assists. After acquiring centre Paul Stastny at the trade deadline, the Jets confidently have three lines that can score. With their size and speed up front, and if Patrik Laine and Blake Wheeler can continue their point production, there’s no stopping the Jets.
Prediction: Jets over Predators in five games… Putting two powerhouses together in the second round will be interesting to watch but I believe Laine will explode in the series and lead the playoffs in goals. Hellebuyck will record two more shutouts against the Preds.
Vegas Golden Knights (51-24-7) vs. San Jose Sharks (45-27-10)
Season Series: Vegas 3-0-1; San Jose 1-2-1. First round: Vegas over L.A. in 4; San Jose over Anaheim in 4.
Golden Knights: This series will most certainly be a goaltending matchup. Marc-Andre Fleury was lights-out against Los Angeles, allowing only three goals in three games. No player had more than one goal and only one player had more than two points (Reilly Smith) in their first round. Vegas will need William Karlsson to produce in this series — after scoring 43 goals in the regular season he was held to only one goal against the Kings. The Golden Knights went one-for-12 on the power play in the first round and will need to get better as the Sharks were second in the regular season with a penalty-killing percentage of 84.8%.
Sharks: The Sharks match up well against Vegas in terms of depth. Eight of their 12 forwards had at least three points in four games against Anaheim in the first round. Goaltender Martin Jones, a North Vancouver native, was spectacular in the first round, posting a 1.00 GAA and .970 save percentage as the Sharks faced an average of 33 shots per game. The Sharks are going to need players Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski to emerge in the post-season like they did in 2016. Couture led the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs in points (30) while Burns was second with 24. Pavelski led in goals (14) and was third in points (23).
Prediction: Golden Knights over Sharks in six games… It does not feel right to go against the Cinderella story and Fleury won’t let up. The Golden Knights are more well-rounded and they will fix their scoring woes they had against the Kings and put the Sharks in the dust.
First Round Prediction Record: 6 out of 8.