It was an exciting first round of the NHL playoffs, where a record number of series went a full seven games. With the second round starting tonight, the HabsWorld writers share their predictions on how the series starting on Tuesday will finish.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Florida Panthers
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Panthers in 6 games
Allan Katz predicts: Panthers in 7 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Lightning in 7 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Panthers in 6 games
Ken MacLeod predicts: Lightning in 7 games
Naqeeb Shaikh predicts: Lightning in 6 games
(Norm) The Battle of Florida continues this postseason, as the Lightning face the Panthers for the second year in a row. Tampa prevailed over the Panthers last year in six games. In the first round this season, the Lightning were down three games to two versus Toronto, then came back to win the series. Superstar Nikita Kucherov had a very strong series against the Maple Leafs, scoring eight points in seven games. Brayden Point was injured late in the series, and although he will not start the series against Florida, it’s not known if he will be healthy to return at any time.
Florida defeated Washington in six games for their first-round match. The Panthers were one of the best teams in the NHL in the regular season, with a league-leading 122 points, and the highest team goal-scoring rate. Against the Capitals, their offence was not as dominant, but left winger Carter Verhaeghe turned up his offensive game by scoring twelve points in six games. Defenceman Aaron Ekblad returned from a lower-body injury that caused him to be knocked out of the lineup since mid-March. His return was a welcome addition, and he chipped in six points in the series against the Capitals while leading his team in ice time. Both teams have strong goaltending, with Russian-born Andrei Vasilevskiy and Sergei Bobrovsky in the nets. I believe the Panthers will be extra motivated to seek vengeance for last year’s playoff defeat by Tampa and will prevail this time.
(Allan) The battle of Florida would make sense if it was College Football but, as incongruous as it seems on the surface, the NHL has an exciting all Florida series in their Final 8. Tampa Bay has the goaltending and experience, both world-class. They might be missing Point and that could have negative consequences. Tampa defeated the hapless Maple Leafs in 7, while Florida took only 6 to get rid of Putin’s best friend. I think we should all bow our heads in silence as we ponder the Maple Leafs… on second thought let’s just pick a winner. With Barkov, Giroux, and Verhaeghe (coming off a 12-point series) Florida wins in 7 as Huberdeau leads the way. [Distance between teams: 278 miles or a 4-hour drive]
(Brian) The Panthers didn’t exactly inspire much confidence with their series victory over Washington and it’s not as if their path gets any easier. Their goaltending also scares as Sergei Bobrovsky wasn’t particularly sharp in the first round. But neither was Andrei Vasilevskiy for most of the series against Toronto. On paper, I give Florida the edge but will they have the killer instinct that, quite frankly, was lacking against the Capitals? A rivalry series certainly doesn’t hurt in terms of helping to elevate their intensity but Tampa Bay’s experience will win out, especially with Brayden Point being expected to return at some point in the matchup.
(Kevin) Of the eight teams advancing to the second round, the two Florida teams ranked seventh and eighth in save percentage. In fact, Tampa Bay ranked fifteenth of the sixteen teams playing, with Toronto being the only team ranking below them. The only problem for the two-time defending champs is that they’ll face a team just as capable of scoring as the Leafs in the Panthers, but a team that has the players able to defend better than the Leafs. Whether or not they do it appears to be the big question.
Vasilevskiy played better in games 6 and 7 while Bobrovsky can play better than he has. The Lightning looked like a tired group for long stretches in the opening round, but the Panthers didn’t exactly look invincible in their series against the Capitals. One team appears to have all the desired pieces in place while the other has all the big-game pedigree needed to come out on top. I think the big swing factors will be Point’s ability to play at any point in this series, and Bobrovsky’s ability to provide acceptable goaltending in the pivotal moments of the series. Tampa wins if it goes the distance, but I’m thinking (maybe hoping is the better word?) that Florida can close it out before that point.
(Ken) The Lightning will win because they have the playoff experience and toughness that comes with winning back-to-back Cups.
(Naqeeb) Battle of the sunshine state, it’s gonna be a mean, fast-paced, and penalty-filled series I think. Not expecting any blowouts, but Vasilevskiy’s the x-factor and trump card in this series.
Colorado Avalanche vs St. Louis Blues
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Avalanche in 5 games
Allan Katz predicts: Avalanche in 5 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Avalanche in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Avalanche in 5 games
Ken MacLeod predicts: Avalanche in 5 games
Naqeeb Shaikh predicts: Avalanche in 6 games
(Norm) Colorado had the highest number of points in the Western Conference despite some of their stars missing games to injuries at different times of the regular season. They quickly dispatched the Nashville Predators in four games. Superstar forward Nathan MacKinnon had five goals while superstar defenceman Cale Makar had ten points.
The Blues managed a bit of an upset by defeating Minnesota in the first round. The Wild were ahead of St. Louis in the standings but only by four points. Ville Husso struggled in the first round, which gave 2019 Stanley Cup winner Jordan Binnington a chance to redeem himself. He did so by winning his three games with an impressive .943 save percentage. David Perron led the team with five goals and nine points. Although the Blues will put up a strong fight, I expect Colorado to extend their winning ways by moving on to the third round.
(Allan) Colorado’s Makar and MacKinnon are just too good. The Blues have some talent but Colorado is ready to go for the big prize. Colorado in 5.
(Brian) Colorado didn’t exactly do anything to prove that they’re not the favourites coming out of the West with a quick dismantling of Nashville last round. St. Louis is certainly a better team than what the Avs faced but they have goaltending questions and a back end that can’t go back-to-back games without someone getting hurt. The Blues have enough firepower to get a couple of games and make this a pretty good matchup but it would be surprising to see the Avalanche not moving on when the final buzzer sounds.
(Kevin) While the Avalanche are sure to get a better test against the Blues than the Preds provided, this remains a series that I can only see headed one way. The Avalanche have better scoring, better depth forwards, and better defence, while the goaltending might favour the Blues but only if Binnington can play like he did in the second half of the first round. It’s either that, or I’m grossly overlooking the Blues, which is possible considering they were the one team to contradict my Western Conference predictions in Round 1.
The one thing the Blues do have that the Avs don’t is experience coming through and getting it done in pivotal games. I am taking the Avs in what I think will be the shortest series of the second round, but the Blues become a far more interesting choice the longer the series goes.
(Ken) The Avs will win because they have the best balance in the league on offence and defence, along with the biggest stars.
(Naqeeb) Expecting a hard-fought series, tilting the ice towards the Avs because it’s Cup or Bust mode. I think Artturi Lehkonen’s acquisition will come in handy and pay dividends in this series.