2020-21 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Second Round Preview
What a first round that was with fifteen overtime games. Goals off face-offs are becoming a trend. The biggest surprise was the Edmonton Oilers failing to win a game. Losing the series isn’t surprising considering they lost to the Blackhawks last season but not winning a game is brutal. Especially when you have the top two scorers in the NHL, it’ll be a long summer in Edmonton. The most interesting thing to note is the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning both advanced. If the Toronto Maple Leafs win, that makes three from the Atlantic Division, which never would have happened in a regular season. Another reason why they should seed one through eight by conference. Expect at least one overtime game in all the second-round series.
I can’t believe the Toronto Maple Leafs lost, again. The bracket was set up so perfectly for them.
1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning
Season Series: 4-4
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Hurricanes worked hard against the surprising Predators. The Lightning bounced back to form and dispatched the Panther more easily than expected.
Stars to Watch: Sebastian Aho and Jordan Staal led the Hurricanes in scoring in round one. But Martin Necas had some big goals. Nikita Kucherov leads the playoffs in scoring. Miss the whole season and pick up where you left off. Not too shabby. Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Brayden Point were all right behind. Basically the usual suspects.
Goalie Problem: Alex Nedeljkovic showed he’s the real deal in his first playoff appearance. Andrei Vasilevskiy had some impressive saves. Both goalies pitched a shutout in the first round. That’ll be hard to accomplish this round, but it might happen. The Hurricanes had the most shots and deflected goals in round one. Vasilevskiy will be busy.
X-Factor: Expect penalties from the second and third highest penalized teams in the first round. That means power plays. The Lightning had the second-best power play in round one at 40%. But the Hurricanes had the second-highest penalty kill. Something has got to give.
Fun Fact: The Lightning haven’t lost in the second round since 2003. The Hurricanes have been to the playoffs far fewer times, but they’ve never lost in the second round in their existence.
Prediction: This is a difficult series to predict. I thought the Lightning might be due for a hangover, but they looked excellent against the Panthers. The Hurricanes are no slouches, though. They played a very game Predators team and managed to eke out the series. Goaltending will probably decide the series. Assuming they are equal, the Lightning have more firepower. Unless the Hurricanes can contain Kucherov, I lean toward the Lightning. The Lightning also have Hedman, who is playing some excellent hockey. Lightning in six.
3 Boston Bruins vs. 4 New York Islanders
Season Series: 5-3 Islanders
Playoff Series History: 2-0 Islanders
What We Learned: The Bruins do very well with depth. The Islanders showed more offense than usual and outscored the Penguins.
Stars to Watch: David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Charlie McAvoy led the Bruins in scoring in round one. You can really feel McAvoy and Taylor Hall’s presence when they are on the ice. Hard to imagine Anthony Beauvillier and Jean-Gabriel Pageau continuing to play as they did in the first round, but they led the Islanders in scoring. However, depth has always been a strength of theirs. But I don’t think they can continue winning if Mathew Barzal keeps not scoring goals.
Goalie Problem: Tuukka Rask is still getting it done. He’s as reliable as they come. Ilya Sorokin replaced Semyon Varlamov in net. It’s hard picturing them going back. Sorokin was a workhorse against the Penguins. This will be a match-up of two of the better goalies in the playoffs.
X-Factor: I can see the crowd being a factor in this series, especially on long island. The Islanders won two games there and the one they lost, they scored three in the third and only lost by a goal. It’s important the Bruins win their home games which they did against the Capitals. These teams also score goals in bunches which can help feed the crowd and vice versa.
Fun Fact: These two teams turned over the puck the least in the first round right after the Minnesota Wild. Don’t expect many turnovers in this series. (I like how Game 1 was a venerable slopfest. Way to make me look bad guys.)
Prediction: It’s hard to know what to make of these Islanders. They usually win with defense but put up four goals or more most games against the Penguins and showed they could win high-scoring games. The Bruins had a few high-scoring games themselves and managed to play in one more overtime game at three. I imagine we’ll get at least one overtime game and a few high-scoring games. I picked the Bruins to come out of this bracket, and I’m sticking with it. I wouldn’t discount the Islanders pulling out another series. But I trust the Bruins big guns to score more than anyone on the Islanders. Bruins in six or seven.
1 Colorado Avalanche vs. 2 Vegas Golden Knights
Season Series: 4-4
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Avalanche dismantled the Blues for the second sweep in the first round. The Golden Knights did what they usually do. Jump out to a 3-1 lead and win in seven.
Stars to Watch: The Avalanche big three of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog were one, two, and three on the team in round one scoring. Ryan Graves had a good series from the blueline. Mattias Janmark, of all people, led Vegas in round one scoring. Mark Stone, Alex Tuch, and Chandler Stephenson were right behind.
Goalie Problem: Philipp Grubauer wasn’t tested much against the Blues. That will change. Marc-Andre Fleury had a few bad goals, as he’s inclined to do, but he played exceptionally well otherwise.
X-Factor: The Avalanche were dead last in playoff hits per game with a measly 16. That lined up with their regular season. The Golden Knights had 42. They can really grind the Avalanche up and neutralize their speed if they want to, and I bet they will. Especially their top line.
Fun Fact: The Avalanche were 50% on their power play in round one. The Golden Knights 13%.
Prediction: This is the series everyone has been waiting for, and it should be a dandy. The Colorado Avalanche have been ascending for a while, and now would be as good a time as any to break through, but I feel the Golden Knights will win. MacKinnon played exceptionally against the Stars last season, but it wasn’t enough. They lost in seven. This series will probably go seven, too, and the Golden Knights are great in those games. Their coach is also undefeated in game sevens. In fact, the Stars were up 3-1 against the Avalanche before winning in seven. Since the Golden Knights are usually up 3-1 before winning in seven, expect the same thing to happen here. I also trust Fleury more. Unless the Avalanche become a more physical team, it’s hard envisioning them beating better teams in a playoff series. Golden Knights in seven.
3 Winnipeg Jets vs. 4 Montreal Canadiens
Season Series: 6-3 Winnipeg Jets
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Jets shut down the Oilers, while the Canadiens reveled in being underdogs yet again.
Stars to Watch: Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, and Blake Wheeler led the Jets in round one. Tyler Toffoli, Corey Perry, Nick Suzuki, and Joel Armia led the Canadiens. It’s surprising how much Perry still has left. Both of these teams are fairly deep as nobody on either team had more than five points.
Goalie Problem: Connor Hellebuyck continues to impress and redeemed himself from last year’s playoffs. Posting the lowest GAA against the top two scorers is impressive. Carey Price returned in style and delivered the performance he needed to for them to win.
X-Factor: The Jets have had a lot of rest, and the Canadiens came off three emotional games in a row. That sounds a bit like the Golden Knights vs. Avalanche. I’d be amazed if the Canadiens won game one. These two teams each had 40 hits a game in round one. Expect a physical series.
Fun Fact: The Canadiens gave away the puck the most in the playoffs and took it away the fewest, but they managed to survive. The Jets had the most blocked shots in round one.
Prediction: This was not the series I envisioned but hey, why not. The Canadiens tend to put together these scrappy performances in the playoffs and win a series or two, but they always fall short. The Jets have more talent than them. I also liked the way they neutralized Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Canadiens should pose less of a challenge. I expect a high-scoring series based on the regular season games. Unless Price stands on his head, the Jets should take it in six or seven.