Tampa Bay defeats New Jersey 4-1
Pittsburgh defeats Philadelphia 4-2
Boston defeats Toronto 4-3
Washington defeats Columbus 4-2
Tampa Bay – Boston
Tampa Bay faces the Boston Bruins in the 2nd round after handling a scrappy Devils team in 5. Per usual, Nikita Kucherov has been incredible with 5 goals and 10 points in those 5 games. Vasilevskiy has been great between the pipes but he now faces a much better offense with Pastrnak, Bergeron and Marchand playing really good hockey. The Lightning are rested which they can use to their benefit or there could be some rust that the Bruins can take advantage of to steal a game down in the Sunshine State. The Bruins went through a grueling 7 game series, don’t get too much of a break, have a less steady goalie (at the moment) and although they scored a ton in the Toronto series, they have a little less scoring depth. It will be a really good series between the two best regular season teams in the East but Tampa has the edge.
XFACTOR: Rask’s performance
Prediction: Tampa in 7
Pittsburgh – Washington
Ahh, it wouldn’t be playoff hockey if the Pens and Caps didn’t meet. Three years in a row now, and the first two times saw the Penguins roll through the Caps and on to consecutive Cups. Well, it’s another season and we get to see the two most exciting players of our generation in one of the better rivalries in the game today. Pittsburgh had a strange series against Philly but got the job done and their offense is so scary. Matt Murray continues to prove that he’s a great playoff performer along with Crosby and Guentzel. One thing that could hurt the Pens is that Malkin and Hagelin will both miss at least Game 1. Ovechkin had 5 goals in 6 games against the Blue Jackets and their offense averaged 4 goals a game. Braden Holtby was incredible in round 1 but I think the Pens and their playoff experience gets them to the Conference final against the Lightning. Death, Taxes, and the Pens ruining the Caps Cup run…
XFACTOR: When will Malkin be back?
Prediction: Penguins in 6
Nashville defeats Colorado 4-2
Winnipeg defeats Minnesota 4-1
Vegas defeats Los Angeles 4-0
San Jose defeats Anaheim 4-0
Nashville – Winnipeg
In my eyes, the best series we will see in the Playoffs. Similar teams in that they both have elite goaltenders, a great backend and good depth in scoring. They both boast incredible home ice atmospheres but we start in Nashville. Pekka has been great all season and is having the best year of his career. Their scoring depth is the best in the NHL because on any given night you don’t know who the hero will be and that is what makes them so likable. A great top 4 D has a tall task in trying to stop a few meatwagons in Wheeler, Laine and Scheifele. Winnipeg plays the right way, plays fast and big and also has a Vezina candidate in Connor Hellebuyck. They had no trouble finishing off the Wild but the Predators are a MUCH different roster. This series is a toss up and hopefully it gets rough in Games 1 & 2 to set the tempo for the rest of the series.
XFACTOR: Home Ice Advantage
Prediction: Nashville in 7
Vegas – San Jose
Both teams swept round 1 but neither of them think this series will go the same way. You just don’t sweep your way to the Conference Finals. Vegas did it against a Kings team with a ton of Stanley Cup experience. Marc-Andre Fleury was unbelievable in round 1 and helped his team sweep having scored just 7 goals in the whole series. No one on their team had more than 1 goal but they didn’t need to since Fleury posted 2 shutouts and a .977 Sv%. Vegas needs to find a scoring touch against a team who arguably had the best first round of any team in the Playoffs. The Sharks absolutely body bagged the Ducks in 4 games outscoring them 16-4. San Jose is quiet scary (maybe because they play on the west coast). Pavelski, Couture and Burns have been here before but newcomers Evander Kane and “rookie,” Marcus Sorensen had great opening rounds. Joe Thornton is out but has been skating which would be a huge help to their lineup/down the middle. Don’t sleep on Martin Jones who has a career .931 playoff Sv%. Interesting series to say the least. Can Cinderella keep dancing into the Conference Final?
XFACTOR: Depth scoring against good goaltending
Prediction: Vegas in 7