My apologies that this post is a few days late. I was waiting for Ducks-Preds to finish, and still in a foggy haze of Blackhawks denial. But we’ve made it to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the story is more about who’s not here than who is. Granted the teams left are very talented and very fun. But as the title suggests, there are a lot of new teams left to battle for the Cup this summer.
For the first time since 2011, neither the Blackhawks or the Kings will be in the Western Conference Finals. Of the four teams remaining in the West, only one has won the Stanley Cup before (Dallas 1999). It was certainly a surprise that the Hawks, Kings and Ducks all failed to get past the first round. In the East, we will be treated to a Caps-Pens series that is sure to not disappoint. The most recent Cup champ in the East is Pittsburgh (2009), and before them Tampa (2004). The Islanders have not won since 1983, and the Capitals are going for their first. So needless to say, there is a good chance someone ends a long drought this year. Let’s break it down…
Capitals vs. Penguins
-This is the series that the NHL was begging for when the playoffs began. A historical rivalry, the best regular season team vs. the hottest team going into the playoffs, and not to mention Crosby vs. Ovechkin. This is the first playoff matchup between these two since 2009 when Pittsburgh won in seven games en route to the Stanley Cup.
-We’re a day late to this one, as the Caps won Game 1 Thursday night 4-3 in overtime thanks to T.J. Oshie’s hat trick. He now leads Washington is goals and points.
-Keep an eye on the goalies in this series. Braden Holtby was fantastic all year, and again in the first round vs. Philadelphia. Matt Murray secured a hold on the Pens’ job until Fleury returns to health. We’ll see if Murray can keep his cool as the lights turn on during this series. The Capitals are far more talented than the Rangers he faced in round one.
-Pittsburgh has been hot, and played well vs. Washington in the regular season. We’ll see if they can continue that in the playoffs. Win or lose, they will look good doing it in their black and gold jerseys. I can’t get enough of them.
Lightning vs. Islanders
-Again, we’re a few days late with this series. Game 1 actually happened on the same night as Ducks-Preds Game 7. The Islanders went into Tampa and won Game 1 5-3 to take away home ice advantage.
-If John Tavares continues to heat up, the Islanders are a legit Cup threat. The Isles’ captain has six goals and 11 points, including a series winner that knocked off Florida in the first round. I think getting out of the first round was exactly what this Isles team needed. It seemed like a hurdle that once they got past would cement them into a real threat in the East.
-For the Lightning, my questions center on their injury trouble. Will those injuries catch up to them in this series? Their stars showed up in the first round vs. Detroit, where they made it look pretty darn easy. But after losing Game 1 at home, where Ben Bishop had his worst playoff game in a long time, I’m wondering how/if they will respond to the surging Islanders.
Stars vs. Blues
-The Blues finally did it! And it only took blowing a 3-1 series lead, Troy Brouwer almost whiffing three times on a puck in the crease, and a double post from Seabrook to beat the Hawks in seven games (No, you’re being salty).
-The Stars are a team where you don’t really worry if they give up four goals because they seem to easily be able to put up five or six when they need to. The Wild preyed upon their average defense and goaltending, but it didn’t seem to matter because Dallas basically scored at will.
-The key for St. Louis will be to slow down the Stars’ attack, and that starts with Jamie Benn who had 10 points in the first round. We’ll see if Brian Elliott returns to being Brian Elliott. He seemed to regress a little as the first round wore on. Dallas’ offense will throw a lot of pucks his way, as the Hawks did.
-For the Blues it all goes through Vladimir Tarasenko. He was their best player at times against a depleted Blackhawks defense. Now he’s going up against another average defense. The Blues should be able to get shots and chances in this series. It will all be about finishing, and putting pressure on Dallas’ carousel goaltending.
Sharks vs. Predators
-This is a very intriguing match-up. Two teams that were able to get past some demons in the first round. The Sharks avenged their 2014 nightmare and defeated the LA Kings in a convincing five games (did not see that coming). The Preds took advantage of Anaheim and Bruce Boudreau in a home Game 7, winning their first seven game series in franchise history (Side note: That’s four straight years losing a Game 7 at home for the Ducks).
-The key for Nashville revolves around their defense. They were able to stifle a stingy Ducks attack. When they roll well defensively it naturally makes things easier on Pekka Rinne. When you make things easy for Rinne, he can be a problem.
-The Sharks are going to need their stars to show up once again. Pavelski, Burns, Thornton and company did their job vs. LA, especially on the power play. I’m intrigued to see if Martin Jones regresses, or takes his game to the next level in his first second round appearance. It will be up to the Sharks to make it seven straight years with a California team in the Western Conference finals.