(1) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (1) Washington Capitals
The Lightning have rolled through the playoffs in dominant fashion with an 8-2 record, displaying their wide array of depth at every position and advancing to the third round for the third time in the past four years. Brayden Point has been a revelation for the team, giving them an additional threat as if they really needed another one.
The Capitals meanwhile, have finally advanced past the Pittsburgh Penguins after so many years of disappointment. They are a hard-working, tenacious group that makes life miserable for their opponents. It will be important for them not to bask in their win over the Penguins because the Lightning are a better team than they’ve faced yet.
In the end, Tampa may have just too much depth and better health than the Capitals. If Nicklas Backstrom (who missed Game 6 against the Penguins) is able to contribute, he makes things interesting, but Stamkos, Hedman and Vasilevsky are too formidable for the ragtag Capitals.
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 6
(2) Winnipeg Jets vs. (1) Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights are undoubtedly the best expansion franchise in the history of any sport. Can they push it further to a championship? They’re healthy, deep and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has crafted a new chapter in his legacy; cast off from a dominant franchise, bringing to life a new team in the middle of the desert after an unspeakable tragedy. I’ve doubted them all the way up to now. Will they continue to surprise?
They’ll face their biggest test yet against the Winnipeg Jets, who overcame their playoff inexperience in an epic series against the Nashville Predators. The Jets are loaded at every position and are now brimming with confidence after disposing of the best team in the regular season. Their window of opportunity to win a Stanley Cup is now. If Patrick Laine can break out of his goal-scoring slump, there may not be a better team in the league.
Prediction: Winnipeg in 5