2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 3 Conference Finals Preview
After posting a sterling eight for eight record in the first round, I posted a paltry one for four in the second round. This wasn’t surprising as the second round teams were much closer in skill level. The only one I got right, Vegas, I picked in six because I knew they would win. The others I picked in seven because I could really go either way with them. The Jets vs Predators series was just bizarre and made no sense. I felt the Capitals team was different and they were. If they were going to beat the Penguins it would be when they are a tired team coming off of two Stanley Cups. The Bruins vs Lightning series was probably the worst officiated series ever. When all the analysts agree something should be a penalty and it wasn’t called, that’s a huge problem. The no call enabled the Lightning to score the game tying goal in Game 4 and force overtime where they won to go up 3-1. But the series should have been 2-2 instead. This is a huge difference. Not to mention they missed a slashing call at the end of Game 2, I believe, on a breakaway. Just so many missed calls in that series. On to the NHL conference finals where we almost had all four top seeds make it. Instead, we settle for three.
A1 Tampa Bay Lightning vs M1 Washington Capitals
Season Series: 2-1 Lightning
Playoff Series History: 2-0 Lightning
What We Learned: The Capitals actually are a different team. The Lightning actually are the best team.
Stars to Watch: Alex Ovechkin had the series of his life against the Penguins and he needed to for the Capitals to finally advance past the second round. It wasn’t just his goals. I was more impressed with his passing. Something he isn’t really known for. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson all produced about a point per game. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson have all played well but they haven’t really played to their full capacity yet. Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat have impressed though.
X-Factor: The biggest problem for the Capitals now is the obvious let down. They never made it past the second round. They never beat the Penguins. Now they have done both and that’s a problem. That series was basically their Stanley Cup. Many teams have slumped in the next round after making it past an arch rival. The Lightning are too good of a team to play when you are not at your best.
Goalie Problem: Braden Holtby played well against the Penguins. He still isn’t at his best yet but it’s impressive to see how he has overcome this season’s struggles. Andrei Vasilevskiy has played about as well as one could in the playoffs. He’ll get better with even more experience.
Fun Fact: Chris Kunitz has zero points in ten playoff games. You’re probably wondering why I wasted a fact on Kunitz. He has won four Stanley Cups and has never gone scoreless in the playoffs before. I just found it to be interesting.
Prediction: I don’t really see how you can pick the Capitals here. The Penguins were tired from winning the Stanley Cup the past few seasons and the Capitals took advantage. The Lightning have been in these conference finals a few times lately but they weren’t in the playoffs last season. That means they are well rested. I’m not really sold on the Capitals defense either. The Lightning have much better defensemen. The Bruins aren’t the best team but they do have way more talent than the Capitals. If the Lightning can beat the Bruins in only five games, there’s no reason to think the Capitals would pose much of a problem. Unless of course Ovechkin just goes nuclear. Lightning in 6.
P1 Vegas Golden Knights vs C2 Winnipeg Jets
Season Series: 2-1 Golden Knights
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Golden Knights keep right on rolling. The Jets are very inconsistent but they are for real.
Stars to Watch: Mark Scheifele, Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Stastny and Blake Wheeler are all averaging a point or more per game. Patrik Laine has played okay but he hasn’t taken off yet. He will need to get going in this round to give the Jets a better chance of winning. Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson are all averaging a point per game or higher for the Golden Knights. Alex Tuch and James Neal have also scored some big goals. These teams are pretty evenly matched up front.
X-Factor: Vegas will be rested, Winnipeg will not. That will probably mean an easy first win for Vegas. The biggest question is what effect will home ice have? The Jets lost two of three games in Winnipeg and won three of four in Nashville. Normally, I would think these two teams would just win all their home games but I’m not so sure anymore. Vegas has only lost one game at home so far and that was in overtime.
Goalie Problem: Marc-Andre Fleury has the highest SV% in the playoffs and also leads with four shutouts. He hasn’t really had a bad game either. Connor Hellebuyck is playing really well for a goalie with no playoff experience. He’s already beaten two goalies who are probably considered better than him. He might even make it a third. But it’s obvious that Fleury currently has the advantage.
Fun Fact: These are two of the top five scoring teams in the regular season. Both of these teams have now also won two playoff series in their franchise’s history.
Prediction: This series will be very fast paced and mostly high scoring. But it wouldn’t surprise me if we get a few 2-1 games sprinkled throughout. I also expect a few overtime games. The Jets probably have a slightly better top six but I don’t really think you can derail the Golden Knights and their magical season at this point. Plus, Fleury is just in too good of a groove right now. The Sharks have a top six as talented as the Jets and they couldn’t solve Fleury. Golden Knights in 7.
Author: Alex Mueller
Alex Mueller graduated from Temple University with a minor in journalism over a decade ago. He’s been writing about NHL hockey, on and off, since the Fall of 2009. He’s written for Pucking Awesome, the Checking Line and now Hockey Recaps. He played goalie at San Diego Ice Arena. His first novel, Bobby Sterling vs Truth, is available on Amazon now.