2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 2 Preview
The first round of the NHL playoffs were lacking in much drama. Most of the games were blowouts and we had more sweeps than Game 7’s. Something I never would have guessed. But I did go eight for eight in the first round though, which is a personal best. On to the second round which has some really great matchups.
A1 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. A2 Boston Bruins
Season Series: 3-1 Bruins
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Bruins
What We Learned: The Lightning dispatched the Devils with ease. The Bruins had to work extra hard to beat the Maple Leafs.
Stars to Watch: For the Lightning, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos picked up right were they left off in the regular season in the first round. Tyler Johnson also had a few big goals. I expect he’ll deliver even more in this round. Alex Killorn raised his game a notch. For the Bruins, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug all played real well in the first round. Jake DeBrusk also majorly contributed. Rick Nash, however, did nothing. Just like I thought.
X-Factor: Don’t expect much defense in this series. Neither of these teams block much shots and they had the third and fourth best powerplays in the regular season. The Bruins seem like a team that has faced and overcome everything thrown their way this season and playoffs. They remind me of the Kings from 2014 that needed seven games to beat everyone in the first three rounds. Failing to win the top seed and home ice advantage is another one of those things they will need to overcome now.
Goalie Problem: Andrei Vasilevskiy played well in the first round and faced a lot of shots. He’ll be worked even more in this round. Tuukka Rask was a bit uneven against the Maple Leafs but the flow of those games weren’t really normal. However, the flow of these games might also be weird. He’ll face a lot more shots in this series. This matchup is pretty much even.
Fun Fact: The Lightning played all of the teams currently left in the second round in the 2011 playoffs. They lost to the Bruins in the Conference Finals.
Prediction: This will be a close and high scoring series. I could easily go either way with this series but I picked the Bruins to go all the way and I’m sticking with it. I also feel they are a little bit deeper. Bruins in 7.
M1 Washington Capitals vs. M2 Pittsburgh Penguins
Season Series: 2-2
Playoff Series History: 9-1 Penguins
What We Learned: The Capitals actually battled back and won. The Penguins actually dispatched their crosstown rivals rather easily.
Stars to Watch: Not surprisingly, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom led the Capitals in first round scoring. What is surprising is John Carlson let the Capitals in points and assists. That’ll need to continue in this series for the Capitals to have a chance. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel each had 13 points for the Penguins in the first round. That’s pretty impressive in six games. Overall, the Penguins had seven players with at least five points against the Flyers. Evgeni Malkin will probably be back at some point this series.
X-Factor: Well it’s not hard to see that the Penguins have a significant advantage over the Capitals when it comes to the playoffs. You might even say they are in the their heads. The question is how much will the Capitals let it get to them? The other factor is when does fatigue set in for the Penguins?
Goalie Problem: Braden Holtby battled back and reclaimed the starting role from Philipp Grubauer. He’s played pretty well since then. He’s still not as good as he can be though. Matt Murray played well until the last game. He was average at best then. If that carries over the Penguins will probably be in trouble. I imagine it won’t though. Despite the fact that these are two very good goalies, this is probbaly the one series where you aren’t sure exactly what you will be getting in goal.
Fun Fact: Ovechkin had eight goals in his first seven playoff games against the Penguins. Since then he’s had four goals in thirteen games. Every time the Penguins have ever won the Stanley Cup, they beat the Capitals along the way. What will this year’s outcome bring?
Prediction: Logic dictates you pick the Penguins here. But there’s something about this Capitals team I like. They lost the first two games at home in overtime but they battled back to win four straight games. Something that is not easy to do at all. Holtby lost his starting job but he battled back to win it. This shows something a fight the Capitals usually don’t have. However, I’m not getting suckered in, again, by them this time. The Penguins are just a better team overall and they seem to be clicking real well right now. They should win unless Murray just craps out. Penguins in 7.
C1 Nashville Predators vs C2 Winnipeg Jets
Season Series: 3-2 Predators
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Predators had some hiccups but they most cruised through round one. The Jets pretty much had their way with the Wild.
Stars to Watch: Austin Watson and especially Colton Sissons were key in the first round for the Predators. Sissons was literally everywhere. Filip Forsberg was also very dangerous. The best players in the first round for the Jets were the same best players in the regular season. Mark Scheifele, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine and Blake Wheeler all continued humming along.
X-Factor: The Predators have a huge defensive advantage. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban log a lot of minutes for the Predators and will be a tough matchup for the Jets stars. The Jets really only have Dustin Byfuglien on the blueline. Unless another defenseman steps up on the Jets side, it might be hard for them to slow down and stop the Predators top players.
Goalie Problem: Pekka Rinne was sharp in the first round but Connor Hellebuyck was even sharper with his two shutouts. They will both be good this time around as well but they will each be facing a lot more shots. This is a pretty even matchup, although Rinne has a big experience advantage.
Fun Fact: These are two of the top five face-off teams in the regular season. The Predators were also the best face-off team in round one.
Prediction: This should be a really fun series between two great teams. The Jets lack of playoff experience will start to come into play here. Despite the great goalies in it, I expect the games to be high scoring with a lot of scoring opportunities and hitting. I also imagine the home teams winning all the games because Nashville and Winnipeg are two of the harder places to play. Meaning the Predators will take it in 7.
P1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. P3 San Jose Sharks
Season Series: 3-1 Golden Knights, two games went to overtime
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: Both teams swept through their weaker Southern California opponent. Although the Kings were more of a challenge.
Stars to Watch: The Vegas Knights scoring in the first round was evenly spread out. Reilly Smith led them closely followed by William Karlsson and James Neal. This round will probably be balanced again but I expect more out of Karlsson and Neal. Evander Kane has paid off so far in the playoffs for the Sharks. While Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were their usual selves. But Tomas Hertl and Marcus Sorensen added some welcomed scoring depth. Hertl has shown moments of great skill before but Sorensen is a surprise.
X-Factor: Joe Thornton is still ruled out but he might come back at any time. He will give the Sharks even more depth. Both of these teams have had a lot of rest so they might be a bit rusty in Game 1. This will probably be an advantage for the Golden Knights since they will be at home.
Goalie Problem: Marc-Andre Fleury really couldn’t have played any better against the Kings with two shutouts. Martin Jones was pretty decent against the Ducks too. Fleury is the better goaltender but not by much. The goaltending should be great in the series and will lead to a lot of low scoring games.
Fun Fact: The Golden Knights are undefeated in the playoffs. That will probably change here.
Prediction: It’s really hard to pick against the Golden Knights at this point. They overcome everything that comes this way. The Sharks are a good team, and they might have an advantage in scoring depth, but I don’t think they are a great enough team to derail the Golden Knights. There’s just something about this team. The Knights also played really close games against the Kings and won. The fact that most of the Sharks games against the Ducks were blowouts will not help them here at all. Golden Knights in 6.