After an exhilarating finish to the Boston-Toronto series, the next round of matchups are set and its time to make some predictions. Here’s how I see the Second Round shaking out and who will be advancing to the Conference Finals.
Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets
The first series on this list is certainly the hardest one to decipher, at least in my eyes. Here are two of the best teams in the whole league who are similar in talent and production. They both have Stanley Cup potential and aspirations, but unfortunately one of them will be going home. On one side, the Predators have some top tier veteran talent who led their team through their Stanley Cup run in 2017. This experience will help when the going gets tough but it may also be a disadvantage. The Jets are a fast young team who can score quickly and often. They also have a great goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck who has been fantastic in the postseason. This series is the most evenly matched of all the Second Round matchups and could honestly go either way. I give a slight edge to the Jets because of the way Hellebuyck is playing and the erratic play of Pekka Rinne so far in the playoffs. Whichever teams’ goaltender holds up the best will be the one that advances in this series. And right now, I would have to give my vote to Winnipeg.
Prediction: Winnipeg in 7
Vegas Golden Knights vs. San Jose Sharks
Vegas was able to maintain their fantastic season run with a sweep over the Los Angeles Kings in Round One. They were able to advance on the back of some excellent play from veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury had a 0.976 save percentage against the Kings, only allowing three goals in their four games. He will be a very important factor for the Knights going forward as they will go as far as Fleury can carry them. Vegas will have a tougher foe to face in this round however, as the Sharks have been good in their own right. San Jose did very well against the Ducks in Round One, making quick work of them in another sweep. This series has two great west coast teams going head-to-head but I see Fleury and the Golden Knights advancing. His play along with the momentum that this team has gathered through this miraculous year will give them the edge over San Jose.
Prediction: Vegas in 6
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins
With Boston advancing to the Second Round, they get the opportunity to face a team that just barely edged them out in points in Tampa Bay. The Lightning had the best record in the Eastern Conference at 54-23-5 and have looked very good in this postseason as they eliminated the Devils in five games. Tampa will have more work cut out for them as Boston is a much better team than New Jersey, but the Lightning should be able to handle them. They have the better goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has cooled from his regular season production but still had a strong opening series. Tuukka Rask on the other hand was very inconsistent and finished the first round with a sub-.900 save percentage. He will be the key to this matchup for the Bruins. If he can play well they have the talent up front to compete with the Lightning and could very well defeat them in this series. But, I don’t see that happening. Rask will be outplayed by Vasilevskiy and we will see the Lightning in the Conference Finals for the third time in four seasons.
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 6
Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
In what seems to be a recurring NHL theme, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will face off once again in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is the third consecutive matchup for these two teams in this round and is the eleventh total time the two teams will play in the postseason. In recent years these two have played very well against one another, going at least six games in both previous series. This one has the makings of another classic but I see a change in history happening in 2018. Washington recovered from a 2-0 deficit against the Blue Jackets and looked very good in those four victories. While Pittsburgh has the star power of guys like Sidney Crosby and the like, I see the Capitals’ recent play pushing them over the top. Washington also has a better goaltender right now in Braden Holtby who has been the man in net for all four of their wins this postseason. Matt Murray for Pittsburgh has been more shaky so far in the playoffs. If he is not at 100%, the Capitals will take advantage. Look for another great seven game series that results in Alex Ovechkin and the Caps breaking their Third Round curse.