Eastern Conference Finals
Washington Capitals vs Tampa Bay Lightning
The Washington Capitals have finally advanced to a conference final for the first time since 1998 after finally beating the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their reward? The best team in the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning. After losing the first game of their series against the Boston Bruins, the Lightning came back to win it in five games. Tampa Bay might be the most complete in the entire conference as they are both physical and very fast. Their goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has one of the best save percentages in the conference, but the Capitals also have an elite netminder in Braden Holtby and has been playing very well of late. Both defenses have been very good in the playoffs as that could be the difference in this series. While the Lightning are physical, so are the Capitals including getting their enforcer Tom Wilson back from suspension and actually matchup well in that department. The biggest question will be if Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky for Washington will be healthy enough to play in this series as those are key contributors to a potent offense for the Capitals. Tampa Bay also boasts a lot of fire power with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov leading the offense. The Lightning won two of three games in their regular season series this year.
James Rowe: Tampa Bay. As great as it was to finally see the Capitals exorcise their demons, this magical journey sadly ends here as Tampa Bay is really freaking good. Even though the Capitals match up well in the physicality part of the game, they tend to struggle against speed and the Lightning have more of that than even Pittsburgh has. Though it could go seven games
Tali Raphael: Capitals. With the justification that the Capitals have a huge monkey off their back and a confidence surge.
Ryan Corbin: Tampa Bay. The Tampa Bay lightning come into this series after handily smothering any attempt at offense by the Boston Bruins. Tampa boasts the deepest and most talented blueline in the NHL featuring the likes of Victor Hedman, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, and Anton Stralman in their top 4. Not have they smothered the life out of opposing offenses, they have one of the most productive lines in hockey headlined by Nikita Kucherov, and captain Stephen Stamkos. To make things worse for the Washington Capitals, this is a well-rested Tampa team having dispatched both the New Jersey Devils, and Boston Bruins in 5 games each, where as Washington had a tough 1st round match-up with the Columbus Blue Jackets, as well as extremely physical, hard-fought 7 game series with the reigning champs in Pittsburgh. It’s nice to see Washington finally break into a conference final round, however I believe the train stops here.
Western Conference Finals
Vegas Golden Knights vs Winnipeg Jets
Not many would’ve seen this series coming especially seeing the Golden Knights make it this far. They keep surprising, but they are also riding a hot hand on Marc-Andre Fleury’s performance so far minding the net as he is putting up a historic like performance this postseason. The Jets have been playing extremely well however as they have Connor Hellebuyck guarding the net and faced off against a potent Nashville offense. They seem to play any type of game that is thrown at them and it might hurt Vegas in this situation. However, the Golden Knights have been surprising everyone and have momentum going into the series, so Winnipeg cannot take them for granted. On paper, it may not seem like an even matchup, but once they begin playing, it will be seen what type of series we are in store for. Vegas won two of three games played in the season series between the two. Also, whoever wins this series will be making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
James: Winnipeg. Watch me be wrong for a third straight time, but after watching Winnipeg this past round, they really impressed me enough to say that they are going to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Sure Fleury maybe having a historic like performance in the playoffs, but Hellebuyck has been awesome too and faced a better offense than Fleury did. I just think this incredible season for Vegas ends in this round.
Tali: Vegas. They have an immense amount of talent and a hit netminder in Fleury.
Ryan: I have been waiting for this matchup since the beginning of the playoffs. In my opinion these are the two most well-rounded, versatile teams in the Western Conference bracket. I have been naïve in the past and have continuously doubted the Golden Knights and wrote them off as a cute Cinderella story that had overachieved. Cinderella no more; these guys are for real. I am a firm believer that a hot goaltender can not only steal you games, but entire series, and that is the type of netminder that Marc-Andre Fleury has been this postseason. The last of this caliber that comes to mind is Tim Thomas who won the cup for the Boston Bruins in 2011 with a historic run of his own. Both teams have similar high-octane offenses that are capable of scoring at a moments notice, and Winnipeg goaltender Connor Hellebuyck has been on a brilliant run of his own, and that is what this series will come down to. My prediction is Vegas in 7, but if Hellebuyck matches or exceeds the play of Fleury, it could go either way.