Second Round Preview
Officially, the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the Divisional Finals.
Eastern Conference Atlantic Division Finals
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders (Islanders lead 1-0)
Game One of this series was last night, which the Isles won 5-3. However, because the Preds and Ducks had to finish up their first round series last night as well, I made the decision to post this preview once ALL the matchups were set. This is the second playoff matchup with Tampa Bay winning the first in 2004. The Lightning rode a strong power play and penalty kill past the Red Wings in five games. Offensively, Tampa has been riding Nikita Kucherov and his nine points through their six playoff games. Defensively, goalie Ben Bishop had be solid for the Lightning, only allowing eight goals in the first round. He was pulled last night after being lit up for four goals, but Bishop will still be the powerhouse goaltender we’ve come to know. However, the Islanders have John Tavares and he has been on fire in the playoffs including a two-point night in Game One. New York took down the chilling-off Panthers, winning in six games. The Isles seem to be bouncing out of their rut I alluded to in the first round preview. I tweeted out my pick before the game last night and I’m sticking to it:
Metropolitan Division Finals
Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
I have been a fan of the new playoff format seen the beginning. The Divisional style allows for rivalries (both real and NBC-created) to be showcased in the postseason more frequently. It seemed like there was one rivalry in particular the NHL wanted this to apply to and now in the third year of this format, we finally get our matchup. Ovechkin vs. Crosby. This is it folks, the heavyweight one-on-one bout. There aren’t too many times a matchup in a team sport outshines the teams themselves and this is hockey’s. The two teams have met eight times already with Pittsburgh winning seven of the eight, including the only Ovi/Crosby matchup in 2009. The Caps clearly have the goalie advantage in Braden Holtby but he will be tested against a Pittsburgh offense that is white hot. The Caps have the defenders who could shut down the Pens forwards and reduce the shots that reach Holtby. Where the Caps have the true advantage is in Special Teams. As shown in the Flyers series (as bad as the Flyers were on the PK), the Caps first power play unit is DEADLY. In fact, it is probably one of the more deadly power play units I’ve seen. Caps in Six. Game One is Tonight at 8pm on NBCSN.
Western Conference Central Division Finals
Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues
Another great playoff series featuring two longtime division rivals. While they’ve split the previous twelve series, Dallas and St. Louis haven’t played each other in 15 years! Dallas had to work a little harder than most people thought to put away the Wild in the first round while the Blues had an epic full seven-game series against the Blackhawks. The Stars’ offense (1st overall in the NHL, 4th on the Power Play) is powered by both Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza while the Blues (15th overall, 6th power play) have been able to get offensive help from across their lineup with Jaden Schwartz leading the charge. Both squads have solid defensive play that will push this series to the limit, both in terms of overtime periods and games needed to close out. In a series between the best offense (Dallas) and one of the best defenses (St Louis is 4th overall, 2nd on the penalty kill), I’m going to go with the offense: Stars in seven. This series begins Friday night at 8pm in Dallas on NBCSN.
Pacific Division Finals
San Jose Sharks vs. Nashville Predators
The Preds did the unexpected; they not only forced a game seven against the Ducks, but won it! Nashville’s Pekke Rinne stonewalled the Ducks stopping 36 shots last night to advance the Predators into the second round. The Sharks took down the Kings in a dominate fashion winning in five games and only allowing 11 LA goals to their 16. The series is the third time San Jose and Anaheim have met in the postseason with the Sharks winning both of the previous two. Much like the Washington/Pittsburgh series, this series also boils down to special teams. San Jose has one of the best offenses in both even strength (4th in the NHL) and on the power play (3rd) while Nashville is no slouch either (12th/10th in those stats). More likely than not, whenever a team goes up on the mad advantage, expect them to score. Like the first round, Nashville’s defense will force the series to go far; but unlike the first round, Nashville won’t win: Sharks in six. CHOMP. CHOMP. CHOMP. Game One is tomorrow night at 10:30 in San Jose on NBCSN.
Disagree with my picks? Who ya got moving on to the Conference Finals? Let me know in the comments below.