NHL Playoffs : Second Round Wrapup/Conference Final Preview

After a fantastic first round of the NHL playoffs, the second round came around and was just as entertaining. Tampa Bay showed they are still a heavy cup contender by blowing the Boston Bruins out in five games. We saw the continuation of a Cinderella story in the Vegas Golden Knights. We also witnessed the Capitals finally getting the best of the Penguins and advancing past the second round. Winnipeg and Nashville gave us an incredible fight that we all anticipated and was the most competitive series of the second round. Let’s break it down.

Nashville VS. Winnipeg

This series was close from the beginning. It really could have gone either way. What it really came down to was goaltending and Winnipeg clearly had the advantage there.

Pekka Rinne was really bad in these playoffs after a Vezina caliber season. Despite their blueline being the best in the league, it wasn’t enough to cover up for his mistakes. The Forsberg-Johansen-Arvidsson line was great once again and really drove the teams offense for most of the series. The rest of the offense was fairly quiet. Their second line of Fiala-Turris-Smith was very underwhelming in this series and also played apart in their downfall.

Connor Hellebuyck was fantastic for the Jets and gave them the ultimate advantage in the series. Their offense is much better than the Predators as well. Wheeler, Schiefele, Connor, Stastny, Laine, and Ehlers make for an amazing top 6. Dustin Byfuglien was incredible on the back end for Winnipeg and was a huge reason for their success.

Vegas VS. San Jose

I decided to finally bet in favor of the Golden Knights. Of course, they did not let me down.

Martin Jones really faltered against Vegas after he had a stellar first round against Anaheim (still posted a .928% save percentage in 10 games). The usual suspects played quite well for San Jose in Burns, Pavelski, and Couture. I was very impressed with the play of Timo Mier, Tomas Hertl, and Marcus Sorensen as well however. San Jose continues to run into the “magic” team in the playoffs and this time they fell victim to Vegas.

Vegas once again displayed that speed kills in this league. Marc-Andre Fleury being a .951 goalie also helps. There is something I’ve noticed while watching Vegas during these playoffs. You look at their blue line and think ; “how is this a serviceable d core?”. Guys like Nate Schmidt and Colin Miller are great, don’t get me wrong. But Deryk Engelland on the second pair? Dressing Luca Sbisa? It’s really not ideal. The thing is, the best defense you can play is simply keeping the puck in the oppositions zone. That is exactly what Vegas did all series. They didn’t lay off, they continued to attack and keep the pressure on San Jose.

Tampa Bay VS. Boston

I picked Boston to win this series in 7 and they made me look very silly. I feel like many fans (myself included) have underestimated Tampa due to their rocky end to the season. They proved that they are still a top contender for the cup.

You had to think Rask was going to be better against Tampa than he was against Toronto but that just simply wasn’t the case. Rask was just a .903 goalie in his 12 starts for the Bruins. The Bergeron line that Boston lives and dies by, wasn’t as lethal as they were against Toronto. Boston is a very deep team up front but Tampa is just much deeper as a whole. I think if Rask were better, this would’ve been a seven game series.

Tampa Bay continues to have the best second line in the playoffs. This years’ edition is the Palat-Point-Johnson (holy shit is Brayden Point good). Even their third line of Killorn-Cirelli-Gourde has been great for them.Their power play is one of the best in the league. Vasilevskiy has returned to form and has put up a .927% save percentage in 9 games after a rough end to his regular season. Victor Hedman continues to make Dan Girardi look like a serviceable NHL player (if Hedman doesn’t win the Norris we riot). Tampa is hot again and it couldn’t come at a better time for them.

Washington VS. Pittsburgh

Wow, the Caps finally did it. I was totally expecting to eat crow when I picked Washington to win this series. They came out and were the better team in all six games against the Penguins.

So uh, what happened to Kris Letang? He reminded me of Jake Gardiner but to a much worse extent. He was a turnover machine and made bad passes on plays that looked fairly easy for an NHL player. Matt Murray was no good all playoffs (.908% goalie in 12 games). He really seemed to have a tough time in terms of shots on his glove side. Overall, I just thought Pittsburgh looked very flat. Crosby and Guentzel were fantastic once again for them, but it wasn’t enough to capture their third straight cup.

Of all the Caps teams in the Ovechkin playoff era, this is the team that makes the deepest run? Don’t get me wrong, they have looked great all playoffs. But after shedding all of those pieces in the offseason, I’m just very surprised. Holtby earned his net back after a very tough season for him personally. John Carlson is still playing an elite level of hockey. Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, hell, even Tom Wilson has 7 points in 9 games for them! Despite him running out there and trying to kill everyone, he has been a very effective player. Oh, and that Ovechkin guy is pretty good too. 8 goals in 12 games? Greatest goal scorer of all time.

Winnipeg VS. Vegas

This series is crazy interesting. Two teams that have never made it to the cup final before. This is probably the most fascinating Western Conference Final in recent memory.

Vegas is still running high on their magical expansion season. No one can bet against them at this point. They just continue to prove everyone wrong. Everyone knows how fast they are and that is how they plan to beat you. Marc-Andre Fleury is obviously a huge factor in Vegas’ success and has the possibility to steal you a series.

The Jets are going to score goals. As mentioned before, their top six is among the best in the NHL. The Jets have managed to keep pucks out of the net this year as well and that is why they are in the position they are currently in. Connor Hellebuyck has been the main guy to thank for this as he has been consistent all year for the Jets.

I said I was going to stop betting against Vegas but I think I need to here. The Jets offense is just too good for Vegas to handle. As cool as it would be to see Vegas in the final, I have to take Winnipeg in this series in 5 games.

Tampa Bay VS. Washington

Gosh, this series is going to be fun. Both teams are division winners. Both teams are stacked with elite scoring talent and solid blue lines. Each has an elite level goaltender. On one end you have a team who is going to be upset with anything less than a Stanley Cup victory. On the other you have a team who is playing with “house money” so to speak. This very well could be considered Tampa’s year to win. Washington has had that already for multiple years up until this one.

These teams aren’t too different in my eyes. Tampa finished with a better record in terms of points, but I wouldn’t consider them too much better than Washington. Washington plays in a much tougher division and won it. It’s really hard to give a huge advantage to any team on paper.

Backstrom is out for Washington which is a huge blow. They will be getting Tom Wilson back from suspension, who is a solid player when he is playing with his head screwed on straight. Washington still has Alex Ovechkin who continues to prove himself as an unstoppable force. Braden Holtby is always great in the playoffs and could be tough to beat for the Lightning.

Tampa has so many ways they can beat you. Shall they use the Stamkos/Kucherov tandem? Or hit you with the waterbugs in Point/Palat/Johnson? Yanni Gourde? J.T. Miller? Good luck finding a way to contain that potent offense. Oh yeah, Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh are at their back end as well. Vasilevskiy is hot again as well. I really think Tampa is the best built team in the NHL. I still can’t believe I picked against them in the second round against Boston.

I am taking Tampa in 6 games. The Lightning are just way too hot right now and are the most well constructed team in the NHL.

 

Posted in NHL

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