Now that we have moved on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we are down to eight teams, four in each conference as it’s the conference semi-finals. While the teams that are in the conference semi-finals have previously been previewed in our first article, let’s take a look at the matchups in each conference:
Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins
This was the series everyone wanted to see. Two powerhouse teams going at it and also how intense the rivalry is between the two squads including their best players in the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby and Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, both being the best players in the entire NHL. This will be the third straight season that these two teams have met in the second round of the playoffs and in the two previous ones, the Penguins won. During the regular season, both squads split the season series 2-2. The Capitals are coming off a series where they were down 0-2 and then won four straight against the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Penguins won their matchup with in-state rival Philadelphia Flyers in six games by scoring an incredible 27 goals. The biggest question about this series is whether the Penguins still have any energy left in them. It was a grueling series against the Flyers, so can they keep up? The Capitals seem to have more speed in them than they used to which pairs up well with Penguins style of play. Both are offensive juggernauts and this series will come down to goaltending. The Capitals had a small goalie controversy in the first round, but when Braden Holtby took over as the starter, he played really well. Matt Murray is a decent goalie for the Penguins, but Holtby is a Vezina Trophy winner and had a .932 save percentage in the series against Columbus. Having Holtby hot right now is crucial for the Capitals. This series is very even and it comes whoever has the better goaltending wins. However, can the Penguins continue in their quest for a three-peat?
James Rowe: Capitals. I pick the Capitals every year and they always falter. However, I feel really confident about the Capitals chances this year, especially with how Holby played against Columbus. I don’t think Capitals are taking this matchup for granted like they did in the past and will be more prepared than the previous two years. It just feels different, but this will be another exciting series. Is third time the charm for the Capitals? Is this the year the Capitals finally break through and advance and exorcise their playoff demons? Let’s find out.
Tali Raphael: Penguins. I’d rather see the Caps win but I have no faith in them until it all comes to fruition.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Boston Bruins
The Bruins held a 3-1 lead in their series against Toronto, but then lost the next two and were down 4-3 going into the third period. It didn’t look good for them until they scored four goals in the third period and they advanced to the second round. Their reward? The best team in the conference, Tampa Bay. The Lightning won their series against New Jersey in convincing fashion as they beat the Devils in five games. However, the Bruins have matched up well with Tampa Bay this season winning three of the four games played. The Lightning on the other hand have played extremely well especially with Andrei Vasilevskiy having the best save percentage amongst all goalies in the conference minding the net and with the fire power they have, it will not be easy for the Bruins despite a great defense lead by Patrice Bergeron. This could be a really great series as it might go seven games.
James: Tampa Bay. This was a tough decision, but honestly with how Vasilevskiy played minding the net and with just such an outstanding offense, I think Tampa Bay might just squeak by. The Bruins might have the defensive capability to matchup with the Lightning, but with players like Steve Stamkos or Nikita Kucherov leading Tampa Bay’s offense, I feel like might over power Boston’s defense.
Tali: Tampa Bay. So much offensive firepower and a hot Vasilevskiy is a hard combination to counter, and it’s a good combination for the playoffs. Although, it’s not hard to foresee a classical, stalwart Boston playoff performance.
Nashville Predators vs Winnipeg Jets
The President’s Trophy winners, Nashville, advanced to the second round, but they will take on the Jets for the first time in the playoffs. Nashville won the season series by nabbing three of the five contests played. Nashville got a bit of a smack to the face when they took on the Colorado Avalanche and played to six games, but maybe getting a challenge in the first round might help prepare them in their second round matchup with Winnipeg. The Jets might be the colossal matchup that the Predators didn’t want as they can play any type of game whether its a defensive struggle or scoring onslaught. They seem to matchup with anyone. This is also a matchup that shouldn’t happen as not only did both these teams have the best records in the Western Conference, but across the entire league. However, that’s how the system is and that’s what we are going to see. Though because of that, we might see one of the most exciting playoff series in recent memories. The Predators have an advantage with Pekka Rinne as their goalie, but the Jets have a great offense that might even shake up Rinne a couple of times. This might be an absolute classic.
James: Winnipeg. I had a tough time deciding who I thought would win, but after watching Winnipeg play different types of games in their series with Minnesota, I just think they are more well prepared and matchup really well against Nashville.
Tali: Nashville. This is one potent team, firing on all cylinders. Pekka Rinne is a class netminder, and the Predators boast a formidable defence.
Vegas Golden Knights vs San Jose Sharks
The Golden Knights made history as they became the first expansion franchise to win a playoff series in their inaugural season as they swept the Los Angeles Kings. Their reward? The San Jose Sharks who came out of nowhere and swept the Anaheim Ducks. So both teams have had a lot of time to prepare for this series and no one really knows how it will play out. Vegas surprised many this year as no one gave them a chance at being a serious contender. The Sharks added Evander Kane over the offseason, but they basically are the same squad that has been consistently making the playoffs every year except twice since 1997-98 (though obviously not all the same players). However, Kane might have been the answer they needed. How the matchup will be is still a mystery as Vegas has a great offense, but San Jose has awesome depth and defense. Will the magical season for the Golden Knights continue or will the Sharks show off their experience?
James: San Jose. I really want to see the magical run continue for Vegas, but realistically, they are about to play a really good Sharks team who I think was instantly better because of Evander Kane. He just seems to be dynamic and that’s what San Jose needed. Plus, there are a lot of questions about the Golden Knights for this series.
Tali: Vegas. They have been consistently strong at all phases of the game for the entirely of the season.