The first round of the NHL Playoffs is complete. To be honest, this wasn’t the best first round I have seen. Some powerhouses rolled through without much trouble but there were still some surprises, including a game 7. The second round has even more intriguing matchups.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins
Season Series: 3-1 Boston
The Tampa Bay Lightning will take on the Boston Bruins in the 2nd round. The Lightning rolled through the Devils while the Bruins struggled against the Leafs but still won the series.
The Lightning took care of the New Jersey Devils in 5 games. Despite a strong effort by the Devils led by Taylor Hall putting the team on his back, they were just unable to win enough against this loaded Tampa Bay team. A balanced attack from their group led by star Nikita Kucherov has propelled them to the next round.
The Boston Bruins took the Toronto Maple Leafs to 7 games and came home victorious. Both teams were victimized by poor goaltending but explosive offenses as evidenced by the 6-4 scoreline in game 7. David Pastrnak stood out as he is now tied for the league lead in playoff points with 13. Mitch Marner led the Leafs with 8 points but their star forward Auston Matthews had just 2 points in 7 games and their team just fell apart in game 7 after taking the lead twice.
The Bruins have arguably the best line in hockey and will definitely need them and the rest of the team to show up and compete with the Lightning juggernaut. Tampa Bay has multiple dangerous forward lines with stars Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Added to thatare strong defensemen like Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh and a great goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Bruins are no slouch however and you can never count them out based on their history in the playoffs as their depth always shines through when it matters most. That being said, the total firepower and depth of talent with Tampa Bay will likely lead them to the conference finals.
Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Season Series: 2-2
Another year, another playoff series between Washington and Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby is 38-26 all time against fellow superstar Alex Ovechkin and they both will look to carry the momentum from their first-round victories.
The Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers in a weird series. The lowest margin of victory in the first 4 games was 4 goals. The Flyers looked lifeless but stole game 5 on the road before falling in game 6 to a late collapse. Until Philly establishes a long-term solution to goaltending, their talented team will continue to fail. The Penguins scored 28 goals in 6 games. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel are tied for the lead in playoff points with 13 in this round.
The Capitals almost blew it this round against the Columbus Blue Jackets but won 4 straight to win the series. It took a solid, all around effort from Artemi Panarin, Seth Jones, and of course Sergei Bobrovsky for the Blue Jackets to win the first two games of the series in Washington. However, that slipped away as the Capitals, led by Alex Ovechkin, took over the series and won it largely due to their deadly powerplay. Braden Holtby probably should’ve started this series for the Caps but he still came in for game 3 and backstopped the team to the next round.
This is a true battle of special teams with the Capitals having the best powerplay in the playoffs and Penguins having the best powerplay this season. The injury of Evgeni Malkin could be potentially devastating to Pittsburgh if he misses multiple games, but deadline acquisition Derrick Brassard could step up and take over that role as he has been very good for the team thus far. The Penguins certainly have history on their side when it comes to this matchup, but the Capitals can only fall apart so many times in the playoffs before they finally burst through their invisible barrier. That time could be now…
Winnipeg Jets vs. Nashville Predators
Season Series: 2-2
This is the battle of the two best teams in the league this season. The Jets and Predators each have been led by a balanced attack, stable defense and strong goaltending this year.
The Predators certainly got a tougher fight than most would’ve seen from the Colorado
Avalanche. This series seemed the most likely for a sweep as Nashville had the best record in the league while Colorado had the fewest points for a playoff team. Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon did what they could but the class of the West couldn’t be stopped. Unexpectedly, its been Colton Sissons and Austin Watson leading the Preds in points so far, the team is getting contributions from everyone.
The Jets rolled through the Minnesota Wild in 5 games. The Jets looked like the most dangerous team in the first round with a balanced attack and strong goaltending from Connor
Hellebuyck. The Wild dealt with injuries throughout the series and their top defenseman Ryan Suter was already out for the playoffs. Mark Scheifele potted 4 goals while Dustin Byfuglien had 5 assists for the Jets.
A crucial factor in the Jets success has been the addition of Paul Stastny has surpassed expectations as he solidifies the line with young stars Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. The Predators have pushed through led by their defense core many consider as the best in the league featuring PK Subban (Norris Trophy finalist). Austin Waston may have led the team in PIMs this season but now he leads them in points after the first round. This is truly a powerful battle and while making a prediction is difficult, the Jets seem to have the stronger goaltending that will give them the edge in this series.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. San Jose Sharks
Season Series: 3-1 VGK
The wild and crazy season for Vegas takes its next stop in San Jose. Both these teams advanced with sweeps but still don’t get respect from the league as Cup contenders.
The Knights had one of the tightest sweeps ever as they beat the LA Kings. The Knights won each game by 1 goal and held the Kings to just 3 goals in the 4 games. The Cinderella story keeps on making history, cementing their status as the best expansion team in the history of sports. The Kings had no answer even with Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty coming off career years. Marc-Andre Fleury has been nothing short of outstanding and will look to carry forward this level to the next round.
The Sharks beat the Anaheim Ducks in what may have been the most surprising series. The Sharks and Ducks were fairly even teams so not a huge upset but not many could have foreseen a
sweep. The Ducks core is getting real old and their lack of offensive firepower hurt them this year.
Martin Jones was between the pipes for San Jose and only gave up 4 goals in 4 games to lock in the Sharks advancement.
The Knights continue to prove people wrong and fans everywhere are starting to take notice of their new stars Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith. The Sharks are another one of those teams always in the playoffs but can never win that Stanley Cup. This core is higher up in age but this has been supplemented with fresh and young talent. Martin Jones has been solid between the pipes along with Fleury bringing his highly successful experience to lead the charge of the Knights. This does seem like a tough matchup for Vegas but their style of play makes them a slight favourite here, never take them lightly.