With the second round of the playoffs underway, the HabsWorld writers share their predictions on who they expect will advance among the remaining eight teams and why.
Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Penguins in 6 games
Craig Scharien predicts: Capitals in 7 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Penguins in 7 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Penguins in 6 games
(Norm) Could this be the year that the Capitals finally get past Pittsburgh?? There were some very positive signs to take out of their first round victory against Columbus. Alex Ovechkin was very productive, scoring 8 points in the last 5 games versus the Blue Jackets. Defenceman John Carlson was amazing, leading the Capitals with 9 points in 6 games. With the man advantage Washington was superb scoring on 33.3% of their opportunities. Even though starting goaltender Braden Holtby struggled during the end of the regular season and did not start in the first round, he did rebound nicely when given a chance to play and has resumed the #1 role.
Pittsburgh came through with some dominant games to finish off Philadelphia but not without cost. Evgeni Malkin is doubtful to start game 1 and may be out longer; forward Carl Hagelin is also expected to miss some playing time due to injuries. Jake Guentzel was amazing in the first round with 6 goals and 13 points to tie for the league lead with linemate Sidney Crosby and Boston’s David Pastrnak. .
Although Washington has home ice advantage that factor is not likely to be a big difference maker against Pittsburgh. Washington lost their first two home games against Columbus before rebounding to take the next four games. These two teams have faced each other each of the previous two seasons with the Penguins winning both times and advancing to win the Cup. The expectation is that Pittsburgh team style and experience will prevail to get past Washington, again.
(Craig) I may be crazy, but I think this may be the year that the Caps get past the Pens and advance to the Conference final. Pittsburgh had a tough matchup against the Flyers and come into the series with some injury concerns – primarily the health of Evgeni Malkin. Meanwhile the Capitals stormed back against the Blue Jackets and look about as strong as we’ve seen them in recent years. While Crosby in particular was tremendous in the first round, I like Ovie and the Caps to pull it off.
(Kevin) The “Capitals are choking again” whispers came out early after the Blue Jackets won the first two games of the first round. However, it happened early enough to give the Caps the required time to breathe, get organized, and overcome their usual demons. Can the Caps ride the positive wave and finally get through the Pens? For the Penguins, they lived up to the hype in the first round as they simply had too much skill and experience for the Flyers. Can Pittsburgh find the extra gear now that they face a Capitals team that comes in already firing on all cylinders? Can the Penguins remain healthy enough to maintain their dominance over the Caps? While I honestly prefer the Capitals on the blue line and in goal, I think there is only two possible outcomes to this series. Either the Capitals keep rolling and take out Pittsburgh quickly, or else Pittsburgh’s big game experience wins out in a decisive game 7. Seeing as how I just can’t see Pittsburgh being eliminated in such short order, I’ll bet on them winning a long hard-fought battle.
(Brian) Neither team played all that well in the first round so this one is more wide open than usual. Ultimately, I like Pittsburgh’s depth (assuming they stay healthy) over the course of a full series and with the Caps being so top-heavy, I suspect they will start to fatigue as the series gets deeper. After the season Braden Holtby had (one that saw him relegated to backup to start the postseason, I wouldn’t be shocked if he struggles for a game or two which could be the difference. Besides, history has to repeat itself, doesn’t it?
Boston Bruins vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Lightning in 6 games
Craig Scharien predicts: Lightning in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Lightning in 5 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Lightning in 7 games
(Norm) This could be the best second round series this year with two great teams going up against each other. Boston came back in their game 7 match against Toronto to dominate the third period and take their first round match. Their top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were impressive overall in the series. Together they scored 30 points. Starting goalie Tuuka Rask was shaky a few times but clutch when the team needed him most.
Tampa eliminated the upstart New Jersey Devls in 5 games to earn some well deserved time off to rest for round 2. Nikita Kucherov was dominant with 10 points to lead the way. Goalie Andrei Vasilevski was excellent with a great save percentage, especially considering Tampa’s defence in front of him allowed the highest amount of shots of all sixteen playoff teams in round one.
The Bruins are a walking wounded squad with a few of their key people playing hurt. That may be enough of an edge to help Tampa move on to the third round.
(Craig) It’s one tough test after another for the Boston Bruins this year. After just barely pulling it out against a strong Maple Leafs team, a date with the Lightning is the just about the last thing we need. While Boston may boast the best line in hockey at the moment, the Lightning have one of best forward groups in the NHL and a far better defensive unit than Toronto, who just about pulled off the comeback. Unless Tuukka Rask can get his game together (he had an .899 save % in the first round), the Bruins are in trouble.
(Kevin) I had chosen the Lightning in 5 regardless of who they were facing, and I’m resisting the urge to choose them in four after Wednesday’s poor performance by both the Leafs and Bruins. If the Bruins had that many problems with the Leafs, how will they handle the Lightning who are light years ahead defensively, are better in goal, and outscored both Toronto and Boston by a wide margin in the regular season? The only chance the Bruins have is to play the Big Bad Bruins as the one loss Tampa had against the Devils showed that they have issues with sportsmanship. Start getting the Lightning off-focus and emotional and Boston could surprise. Of course, that’ll require much improved play from Rask which seems unlikely at this point. Lightning dispatch the Bruins quickly.
(Brian) Boston looked quite good against Tampa late in the season when the games had some meaning and they outplayed Toronto for good chunks of the first round. Meanwhile, the Lightning got through New Jersey early enough to the point where rust may be a concern at the start. This is a coin flip series – especially since the Stamkos line can match the Bergeron one in terms of taking over the game – but I’ll give the nod to Tampa as they’ll have home ice advantage (not to mention Tuukka Rask’s Game Seven issues).
Nashville Predators vs Winnipeg Jets
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Predators in 7 games
Craig Scharien predicts: Jets in 7 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Jets in 7 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Jets in 6 games
(Norm) Winnipeg is Canada’s last team still in the playoffs and many non-Manitoba based fans across the nation will reroute their cheering to the Jets. There is a lot to cheer for on this team. They have a good mix of exciting young players with a decent number of veterans handling important roles. Depite their talented scorers, the team did not have anyone really step up and produce a high amount of offence. Mark Schiefele and Dustin Byfuglien shared the team lead with 5 points in 5 games.
Although Nashville had their hands full at times in the first round with the Colorado Avalanche, they still managed to win their series in 6 games. Bottom 6 forwards Austin Watson and Colton Sissons surprised many by stepping up and scoring 7 points to lead their team.
This year’s Predators team is such a complete team with few flaws when considering their forwards, defencemen and goaltending. I predict the Jets will really push the Predators hard during this series, but in the end the depth and experience of the Nashville squad will help them to prevail.
(Craig) While the Predators looked rather ordinary against the tenacious Avs in the first round, the Winnipeg Jets were dominant aside from an off Game 3. I fully expect this series to be one of, if not the best series of the playoffs with two entertaining, well-supported clubs going head to head. It’l; be tight, but if Connor Hellebuyck can match up with Pekka Rinne, the Jets’ high octane talent squeaks it out.
(Kevin) Winnipeg came out in the first round and showed the hockey world why they were second place in the regular season. Big, physical, fast, skilled, and smart are all qualities that were on full display in their victory over the Wild that was never really in doubt. Unfortunately for the Jets, the current playoff format has them facing the Presidents’ Trophy winning Nashville Predators. Nashville had much more difficulty in handling the Avalanche than I expected, but this only adds fuel to my belief that Nashville is buying into their own hype and are ripe for an upset. Considering that Winnipeg adds depth and size to the skill and speed shown by the Avalanche and I think this is the perfect storm. This may well be the most entertaining series we’ll see all Spring, if it doesn’t go 7, I (along with many other hockey fans) will be disappointed. For the outcome, I’m going with the heart on this one and choosing the Jets.
(Brian) This may wind up being the best series of the entire playoffs. Winnipeg made short work of Minnesota while Nashville surprised me by not dominating the Avs as much as I expected. The Jets are also a rare team that can come close to matching the defensive depth that the Predators have which should be a factor as well. I also like Winnipeg’s forward unit with three particularly dangerous lines. If Connor Hellebuyck gets vastly outplayed by Pekka Rinne, then I like Nashville’s chances but as long as Hellebuyck plays relatively well, I think the Jets can pull this out.
Vegas Golden Knights vs San Jose Sharks
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Golden Knights in 5 games
Craig Scharien predicts: Golden Knights in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Sharks in 6 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Sharks in 6 games
(Norm) The Vegas arena seems to be the most intimidating home rink in the playoffs so far. It is an impressive place to be a fan right now with their new expansion team breaking all league records for a first year franchise, and obliterating critics expectations. The Golden Knights are a well coached team who managed to sweep their first round opponent; Marc-Andre Fleury was excellent in all four games, two of which were shutouts.
San Jose was equally dominant against their first round opponent the Anaheim Ducks. Especially in goal, with Martin Jones pitching a shutout in game one versus Anaheim, then allowed a mere four more goals in the remaining three games. Up front their offence exploded for eight goals by different scorers in game three, Young veterans Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture both lead the team with 5 points.
I give up expecting Vegas to hit a wall, and am starting to embrace their excellence. Their team play based on rolling all 4 lines, their speed and goaltending will be the deciding factors to help eliminate the Sharks this round.
(Craig) I was one of many who picked the Golden Knights as a prime upset candidate in the first round – was I ever wrong on that one. Watching them dismantle the veteran Kings made me think that they may have what it takes to make even more noise in the offseason. The Knights have tremendous scoring depth that matches up well with the Sharks and though San Jose may have the edge on defense, no goaltender has played better that Marc-Andre Fleury in the post-season thus far.
(Kevin) The reward for sweeping your opponent in the first round is to face the other most rested team in hockey. I guess it’s better than facing the best teams in the league (Jets, Preds). The Knights continue to defy all logic and the Sharks were perhaps beneficiary to a Ducks team that simply looked out of gas once the post-season started, so this series the hardest to predict for me. I think the Knights face another team that could be exploited through their team speed. However, they also face a team far more capable of exploiting their own defensive lapses in the Sharks. These are two teams that look alike on paper when looking at the regular season too. I’ll take the experience of the Sharks over the youthful exuberance of the Knights, but not if it goes to 7 games.
(Brian) Well, Vegas certainly proved me wrong last round as they got through the Kings pretty easily (despite Jonathan Quick’s heroics). Things won’t get easier for them between the pipes with Martin Jones on tap after he played well against Anaheim. The Sharks are doing well to exorcise their playoff demons and Joe Thornton should be back at some point as well which helps. I still have some concerns about the Golden Knights’ top players being able to maintain this much longer – all good things have to come to an end, don’t they?