(1) Nashville Predators vs (2) Winnipeg Jets
It took a few games for the Predators to find their footing, but by the end of their season against Colorado, the Avalanche were completely overmatched. The depth of Nashville’s scoring lines and Pekka Rinne’s timely saves reminded the hockey world that the Predators are the most complete team in the league and they seem to be firing on all cylinders. It’s bad news for the rest of the NHL.
However, if there’s one team in the West who seemingly has the chops to knock Nashville out from a return to the Cup final, it’s Winnipeg. Where Nashville is consistent throughout their lineup, the Jets feature game-breaking talent and moxie. Whether it’s Blake Wheeler, Mark Schieffle or Patrick Laine, the Jets have a much tougher offense than Colorado and pose a much bigger threat.
Both teams have great defenses, with Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien for Winnipeg matching up with Nashville’s fab-foursome, led by Norris Trophy-nominated PK Subban. In terms of goaltending, Connor Hellebuyck had a great first round. If he wears down as the playoffs go along though, the Predators have the guns to put pucks past him, but if he keeps playing like he has been, he’ll be fine. Rinne, again, is shutting the door with that great defense in front of him.
It’ll like come down to a battle of wills, and a little bit of luck, as both teams are so evenly matched. It’s a literal clash of the titans and the winner will have a very good shot of going to the Cup final.
Prediction: Nashville in 7
(1) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (3) San Jose Sharks
The Golden Knights continue to surprise. After a sweep of the Kings in the first round, they have carried over their play from the regular season into the playoffs and maybe there will be more surprises along the way.
The Sharks, meanwhile, counter with a sweep of their own against the Ducks, all while still missing Joe Thornton. Perhaps this old group still has one more run left in them.
William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith form a dominant first line for the Knights and will need to be stopped for the Sharks to advance. Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane and Logan Couture though are pretty phenomenal in their own right, and the Sharks seem able to match the Knights in pure offensive force. What the Sharks have that the Knights don’t though is Brent Burns, the most dominant offensive defenseman in the game today, and something that the Knights didn’t have to deal with in the first round against the Kings.
Marc-Andre Fleury, reprising his run from last year’s playoffs with the Penguins, continues to put up great numbers. He can single-handedly carry the Knights at times if San Jose swarms against their smaller forwards. Martin Jones though, is no slouch either. Coming off sweeps, both of their confidences will be high.
Prediction: Sharks in 6
(1) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (2) Boston Bruins
After a full seven game series in the opening round, Boston will face an even bigger challenge in the second with a Tampa Bay squad that is rested, deep and dangerous.
The Lightning showcased their depth and talent in their first round series against the Devils. Kucherov, Stamkos and Johnson all came through with timely goals, Hedman and Stralman anchored a stingy defense and goaltender Vasilevsky hung through to be strong. As long as their health is good, they are the second, maybe even the first, best team in the league.
Meanwhile, it took the Bruins three tries, but they finally eliminated the pesky Maple Leafs. Bergeron got his first goal of the playoffs in game 7 and must be a stronger offensive force. Marchard and Patstrnak complement him on the wings as the best line in hockey, but the Maple Leafs exposed Boston’s propensity as a one-line team. If the Lightning shut them down and get under their skin, drawing some dumb penalties as Marchand is wont to take, then the Lightning will prevail.
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 5
(1) Washington Capitals vs. (2) Pittsburgh Penguins
Another year, another second round matchup between the Capitals and Penguins. The playoff structure is surely to Washington’s detriment as they have to contend with Pittsburgh every second round. If it were the standard 1 vs. 8 scenario, it’d be interesting to know how many conference or Cup finals this group would have under their belt.
But it’s back to Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and Murray against Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson and Holtby. The Capitals are lacking the depth they had last season when the won the President’s Trophy and went all-in on capturing the Cup. But the Penguins are surely fighting the fatigue of three straight years of deep playoff runs. Which will win out?
If the Capitals are ever to win the Cup, they have to beat the Penguins. Pittsburgh is so in Washington’s head that they should charge rent. It may all come down to Capitals goaltender Brayden Holtby. If he can perform at his best, he could steal this series for Washington.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6