The third round of the 2018 postseason is now upon us and our writers offer up their analysis and predictions for the final four.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Washington Capitals
Brian La Rose predicts: Lightning in 6
Kevin Leveille predicts: Lightning in 6
Craig Scharien predicts: Capitals in 7
(Brian) I was impressed with how quickly Tampa Bay got through Boston last round. I know the Bruins had a lot of injuries but I was expecting that to be a closer series than it was, especially since their top line was relatively quiet. It’s unlikely that Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are going to be held in check for a second straight series.
The Caps exorcised a big demon last round by getting through Pittsburgh. Their top players are producing and Braden Holtby looks a lot more like the All-Star he has been compared to the below-average performance he put up during the regular season. I can’t help but wonder if getting over that hurdle results in a bit of a letdown though. If that happens, that could swing things right then and there.
I expect Tampa’s top players to rebound this round and assuming their supporting cast keeps it up, they’ll be able to move on to the Stanley Cup Final.
(Kevin) This matchup is intriguing in that both teams are essentially facing a mirror image of themselves. Both teams have solid goaltending that tends to lack in consistency from time to time, they both rely mostly on their offence to win games, and both have displayed the ability to rely on their defensive tactics to win games so far this playoff season. Here are the differences between the clubs that explain my choice of Tampa Bay making it out of this matchup.
Firstly, Tampa Bay has a better offence than Washington outscoring them 296-259 in the regular season while maintaining similar defensive numbers. Furthermore, Tampa Bay has played two fewer games in the playoffs and has played lesser opponents in my mind, meaning they should be relatively fresh. Washington comes in on a high after their emotional win against arch-rival Pittsburgh, and it’s not uncommon to see a team come out flat after such a win, giving Tampa Bay just enough of a head start to make them my choice to win this series.
(Craig) Finally! Ovie and the Caps slayed the dragon and advanced past the second round, setting up a date with an excellent Lightning squad that has made it look pretty easy so far. This series figures to be an entertaining one as well with plenty of high octane offensive stars on both sides of the puck to drive both goaltenders crazy.
With Hedman and McDonagh, I think the Lightning have the edge on defence, but it’s not enough to stop Washington now that they’ve gotten past the Pens. Ovechkin is the difference and the Capitals pull it off.
Winnipeg Jets vs Vegas Golden Knights
Brian La Rose predicts: Jets in 6
Kevin Leveille predicts: Jets in 6
Craig Scharien predicts: Jets in 6
(Brian) Well, Vegas just keeps proving me wrong. They didn’t dispose of San Jose as easily as they did the Kings but they still looked strong. They’re showing no signs of having their bubble burst but once again, I’ll be predicting that this is the round they go out.
Winnipeg just took out one of the prohibitive favourites to go all the way in Nashville and looked really strong in the process. They’re fully healthy, have strong depth up front and on the back end, and Connor Hellebuyck has looked sharp in net so far.
For the Golden Knights to win, I think Marc-Andre Fleury will need to steal multiple games. He has shown himself to be capable of doing that already but I don’t think he’ll be able to here. I don’t trust the defence for Vegas and with Winnipeg’s forward depth, they’re going to get worn down eventually and Fleury won’t be able to bail them out.
(Kevin) I’ve claimed since the start of the playoffs that the winner of the second round matchup between Winnipeg and Nashville was lifting the Cup this season; no point in changing that pick now. Despite Vegas proving me wrong twice already, one has to admit that their overall team speed was their gigantic advantage over both the Kings and Sharks. They now lose that advantage in this series, so maybe they can rely on skill? Nope. Maybe they can rely on playing defence? Nope. Maybe they can outwork the Jets? Doesn’t seem likely.
The only chance I give Vegas here is if Fleury can steal two games in the first four. In reality, I think Fleury steals one early but Vegas gets outplayed by a wide margin for the duration of this series. I’ll give Vegas some credit for making it this far as an expansion team, and so I’ll go as far as giving them two wins. But I surely don’t see them proving me wrong against the Jets, a team who will punish the smaller Golden Knights throughout the series. I think the Cinderella story ends, and Canada has a legitimate chance at their first cup since 1993.
(Craig) Vegas and Winnipeg battling for a spot in the finals? Pretty sure no one saw that coming at the beginning of the season. This has all the makings of a fast-paced, entertaining series with the likes of Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and William Karlsson just to name a few of the high end players involved. Not to mention that the series features two of the best goalies from this year’s playoffs thus far in Fleury and Hellebuyck.
While Vegas has solid depth both up front and on the back end, they don’t pack the offensive punch of the high flying Jets and think the run ends here for the Knights. It won’t be easy, but the Jets use their size and speed to wear down Vegas and advance.