Eight teams have been sent home, while eight remain and keep the dream of a Stanley Cup alive. Tonight, just 24 hours after the opening round came to a close, the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins. Four teams in each conference remain, and for most this is new territory.
It’s the first time ever that the Columbus Blue Jackets have made the second round, while the Carolina Hurricanes are here for the first time since 2009 and the Colorado Avalanche for the first time since 2008. In fact, only the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks return to this stage from a season ago. Yeah, it’s been that kind of year.
So who is moving to the Conference Finals? I’ll try and tell you but please be warned, I didn’t do so hot in the first round. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that I only got two of the eight series correct, successfully picking Boston and St. Louis.
A 2 Boston Bruins Vs. WC 2 Columbus Blue Jackets:
Outside of our pal Jimmy Murphy, no one saw this series coming. Columbus not only beat Tampa Bay in the first round, they swept them. The Jackets smothered the Bolts all series long and used stellar goaltending and timely scoring to stun Tampa. They won’t catch the Bruins off guard, who are more than prepared for Columbus after seeing what they did last round.
These two teams are similar in the sense that they both have some extremely skilled players but also play a more physical, defensive style. This will be a slower series I believe, and it will likely come down to goaltending. I thought both Tuukka Rask and Sergei Bobrovsky were great in round one, and I think whoever is better in this series will push their team over the edge.
Boston is going to need David Pastrnak to step up here, he simply wasn’t good enough in the opening round while all of Columbus’ star players showed up. I think he rebounds nicely this series.
Prediction: Bruins in six
M 2 New York Islanders Vs. WC 1 Carolina Hurricanes:
The Islanders enter the second round for just the second time this decade, having lost to Tampa Bay in 2016 in this spot. Carolina, meanwhile, hasn’t been here since 2009 when they knocked off the Bruins. Both of these teams are vastly different from the last time they made the second round, however.
The Islanders have done it on the strength of defense and goaltending, with players like Jordan Eberle, Matt Barzal, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey stepping up in the aftermath of John Tavares’ departure. The Canes, meanwhile, finally got steady goaltending this season and it helped propel a team that most people knew was good into the playoffs. Carolina snagged a Game 7 victory in double overtime last night to reach this point.
This is a hard series to predict because you don’t know which Islander team will show up. New York was terrific against Pittsburgh in the opening round, while Carolina was up-and-down against the Caps. I actually think these two teams have similar talent up front, with guys like Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter and Jordan Staal leading an underrated Carolina attack.
In the end, even after their sweep, I’m not sold on the Islanders. To me, they are a great story but seem like a team waiting for the percentages to catch up. Carolina, meanwhile, passes the eyes AND numbers test.
Prediction: Hurricanes in seven
P 2 San Jose Sharks Vs. WC 2 Colorado Avalanche:
What Colorado did to Calgary in the opening round of the playoffs was similarly shocking to what Columbus did to Tampa Bay. The Avalanche dominated that series, using their speed and skill to overwhelm the Flames. They won’t get away with that this series.
The Sharks are battle tested and have a deeply skilled team themselves. Martin Jones got some confidence and played really well in the final three games of the opening round, while the Sharks’ defense is one of the most skilled in the league. Colorado lacks the depth of other teams, and I think that will be their undoing.
Yes, the Avs have a terrific top line, but outside of that there isn’t a spot in this series where they hold the advantage. I’m not sure they’ll be able to handle San Jose’s transition, which for my money is the best left in the west. Calgary was a stiff test, but I think San Jose is a better team and a worse match-up for the Avs. Colorado is going to need its depth players to really step up if they want to have a chance.
Prediction: Sharks in six
C 3 St. Louis Blues Vs. WC 1 Dallas Stars:
Back at the start of the season, I picked the St. Louis blues to win the west. Why? I loved what they did in the off-season, thought they were extremely deep up front and that their defense was enough to push them over the hump. I didn’t factor in the struggles of Jake Allen, and it looked like I was dead wrong through the first half of the season.
The Blues have turned it around, however, and are arguably the hottest team in hockey right now. They disposed of Winnipeg in six games and now enter the second round for the first time since 2017. The Stars, meanwhile, are trying to shake a reputation for being a run-and-gun team.
The thing that impresses me about Dallas is that while they still have the top-end skill, the Stars play a strong defensive game and have great goaltending. You really haven’t been able to say that since the days of Marty Turco and Sergei Zubov.
That being said, I think the depth of St. Louis is going to be the difference in this series. The Blues have four lines that can score and play responsible hockey, and Dallas simply cannot match that. Although the Stars have the edge in goal, St. Louis has them up front and on defense.
It’ll be a long series, but I have to stick with my preseason selection to represent the west.
Prediction: Blues in seven