New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
How the Islanders got here:
In the “coin-flip” showdown in the first round against the Florida Panthers, the Islanders ultimately got more bounces at the right time. They won all three overtime games over the Panthers, which proved to be the difference in the series.
Why the Islanders will win:
John Tavares scoring the series-clinching goal in overtime could do loads to his and his team’s confidence moving into the second round. Tavares is also playing to his potential as he leads the entire playoffs with nine points. They will need to utilize the depth advantage they have against the Lightning, who rely heavily on the top of their roster. There are also really no expectations for the Islanders after finally getting that 23-year-old monkey off their back. Playing with confidence and almost a nothing-to-lose mentality, it could be just what the Islanders need to make it to the conference finals.
How the Lightning got here:
The Lightning, who have been riddled with injuries as of late, did just what they needed and made their first round series quick, beating the Red Wings fairly easily in 5 games.
Why the Lightning will win:
They utilize the nearly week-long rest they got to their advantage over the Islanders whose first round series saw three games go into overtime and two of those go into double overtime. Ben Bishop was strong in net in the first round and, if their first line three-headed monster of Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Nikita Kucherov can keep producing, then they should be just fine. The three combined for 20 points, which is more than the rest of the team combined (14 points total).
Who will win:
I really don’t know what to make of the Islanders yet. Even though I watched all six of their first round games, I still feel like I don’t know enough about them. Tavares is certainly one of the best players in the world and is playing like that right now, and if he continues to play like he has then he could be the difference. With that being said, however, the Lightning will win even though they are exceptionally top heavy, because of the significant goaltending advantage they have with Bishop between the pipes.
Number of games: 6
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals
How the Penguins got here:
The Penguins defeated the New York Rangers in 5 games after their offense caught fire. Although Henrik Lundqvist, who is arguably one of the best goalies in the league, missed part of Game 1, scoring 21 goals and getting Lundqvist pulled twice in only five games is pretty damn impressive for the Penguins.
Why the Penguins will win:
Their offense keeps on the track it has been on and continues to get decent enough goaltending from Matt Murray, who had a good start winning his first three playoff games of his career going 3-0 in the series with a 1.33 GAA and .955 save percentage.
How the Capitals got here:
After jumping out to a 3-0 series lead, they ran into a hot goalie in Michael Neuvirth, which allowed the Flyers to jump back into the series and bring it to Game 6. Then, the Capitals figured it was time to stop giving their fans a heart attack and close out the series by winning Game 6 1-0.
Why the Capitals will win:
The scary thing is that the Capitals really haven’t even played their best hockey yet. They struggled with a Flyers team they easily should have swept, but their offense struggled in the last three games. Was it because they got unlucky with facing Neuvirth playing out of his mind or is their offense getting cold at the wrong time? Luckily for the Capitals, even if their offense continues to sputter (I don’t think it will), they can surely lean on Braden Holtby, who posted absurd first round numbers of a 0.84 GAA and a .968 save percentage.
Who will win:
As much as the NHL and their marketing team want Ovechkin and Crosby to score a hat trick every game, it isn’t going to happen. There is so much riding on this series because there is basically a 99.999% chance the winner goes to the Stanley Cup final. The Penguins are cruising into this series having won 18 of their last 21 games and the Capitals seem to be having some struggles. The single player that will decide the outcome of the series will be Holtby. I love to stick to the golden rule that goaltending wins championships BUT the Penguins are simply too hot right now and I’m not sure the Capitals will be able to help Holtby enough.
Number of games: 7 (the NHL marketing team rejoices)
St. Louis Blues vs. Dallas Stars
How the Blues got here:
The St. Louis Blues got here by dispatching the defending Stanley Cup champions in an epic seven-game series. The Blues showed playoff toughness and composure by holding on to win the series after the Chicago Blackhawks gave their very best punch down 3-1 to take it to seven games before the Blues ultimately prevailed.
Why the Blues will win:
The Blues will win if Brian Elliot outplays Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi (which shouldn’t be hard), and they continue to get balanced scoring all while rolling four lines. Utilizing the “know how to win” cliché I’m sure won’t hurt either.
How the Stars got here:
The Stars struggled with the Minnesota Wild much more than most anticipated in the opening round. The Stars would eventually close out the series in game 6.
Why the Stars will win:
The Stars need this series to become a run-and-gun track meet. There is no other way for them to win this series. Their offense is incredibly high-powered, but their struggles between the pipes negate that, with both their goalies getting considerable time in the opening round series.
Who will win:
Any time you can defeat the defending Stanley Cup champions who have won 50% of the Stanley Cups the last six years, you instantly become the favorite in a series. The experience the Blues now have, not just from this year but past years of playoff heartbreak, will prove to be a useful tool to have. The Stars and their goaltending carousel will certainly not help their cause and that combined with the Blues playing consistent hockey at the right time is why the Blues will win this series.
Number of games: 6
Nashville Predators vs. San Jose Sharks
How the Predators got here:
The Predators just concluded a lengthy seven-game series that was back and forth right until the end when the Predators inked themselves as the fourth team in as many years to beat the Ducks at their own arena in a Game 7.
Why the Predators will win:
The Predators are definitely a team that relies heavily on their defense and not so much scoring as evidence by their star defenseman Shea Webber having the most points on their team in the playoffs thus far. Pekka Rinne has also yet to play his best hockey as he was merely good by his standards in round one posting a 2.45 GAA and .915 save percentage. He will need to step up his game and the Predators will need their top defense pairing of Weber and Roman Josi to shut down the Sharks’ top line much like they did against the Ducks’ top line.
How the Sharks got here:
The Sharks jumped out to a 3-1 series lead over the Los Angeles Kings and were able to lay to rest the demons of the 3-0 collapse against the Kings in the playoffs from a couple years ago by closing out the series in Game 5.
Why the Sharks will win:
The Sharks have been playing exceptionally well at the end of the year and into the playoffs, as is evident by dispatching a team like the Kings. They’re getting balanced and consistent scoring from their top two lines, as well as their defense, which will be crucial because Shea Weber and Roman Josi will have their hands full with the Sharks’ top line. Goaltender Martin Jones won’t have to out-duel Pekka Rinne, he just needs to play good enough to not hurt the Sharks.
Who will win:
One wild card factor that could play a huge difference in this series is the travel, which benefits the Sharks significantly. In the opening round, the Sharks merely had to travel to nearby Los Angeles, while the Predators had to take long flights to Anaheim three different times, which will surely take its toll as they have to take a similar flight to San Jose this series. The Sharks are rested, and it will be crucial for them to jump out to an early lead on the Predators, who will be getting just one day’s rest before Game 1. Rinne will certainly have to steal a game or two for the Predators to prevail, but with the Sharks playing exceptionally well and fatigue ready to kick in for the Predators as the series goes on is why the Sharks will prevail.
Number of games: 6