After a second round filled with lots of great hockey, it brings us one step closer to crowning an NHL champion. There are a lot of new faces in this year’s Conference Finals with only Tampa having Stanley Cup appearances. Here’s how I see the next round shaking out and who will be advancing to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Winnipeg Jets
For the first time in the modern era, two teams will be making their first Conference Finals appearance against one another. For Vegas, their story is obvious. At this time last year, the Golden Knights were assembling their farm system and was far from consideration for this large of a playoff run. Vegas is without a doubt having the greatest premier expansion team season in the history of major American sports, but is this going to be the end? If the Jets have anything to say about it, it will. This young Winnipeg team (average age of 26) has played like anything but. They have gotten excellent play from their solid young players like Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele. But, what has helped push them over Nashville is the performances of their veterans. Three of the top four guys in playoff points are over 30 (Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny and Dustin Byfuglien). If they can continue to play well and can find a way to get past the remarkable play of Marc-Andre Fleury (0.951% save percentage with only 17 goals allowed in 10 games), they will have what it takes to make the clock strike midnight on hockey’s miraculous Cinderella story.
Prediction: Winnipeg in 7
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals
These two teams were early odds favorites to be in this position but only one finally made the leap here. Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals have been waiting for this moment for a long time and will look to take advantage of this opportunity. Unfortunately, they will be facing a very tough opponent in the Lightning. Tampa has a stacked roster and will have plenty of firepower. Guys like Steven Stamkos, Ryan McDonagh and Nikita Kucherov will be key in this matchup. Sure, the Capitals have some stars as well, but the depth of the Lightning will push them over the top in this series. Look for a competitive series between an experienced Tampa team and a feisty Washington squad with the Lightning advancing to their second Stanley Cup Finals in four years.