And then…there were eight.
With the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs complete, the playoff field has been trimmed down to eight teams in four matchups. Some teams were expected at this stage, while others have been pleasant surprises.
With another postseason round comes another preview. After scoring on some matchups and whiffing on others (if you need a good laugh, well, here you go), I will again preview all four matchups and predict how each one will play out.
Well, enough out of me. Here is each matchup preview of the Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round.
(1) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (5) Vancouver Canucks
While the Golden Knights dismantled the Chicago Blackhawks as expected, the Canucks surprised pundits and usurped the reigning Stanley Cup Champions in the St. Louis Blues. The Golden Knights, through their line production brought forth by Mark Stone and Reilly Smith (who combined for five goals on nine points against Chicago) and goaltending by Robin Lehner (who started four out of five games against Chicago) simply overwhelmed the Blackhawks. Vancouver, meanwhile, threw away the mantra of inexperience and utilized their youth to outskate, outmaneuver and outshoot the Blues. Two of Vancouver’s young bucks in Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes spearheaded the youth movement into the second round, as both combined for 13 points against the Blues (three goals and 10 assists).
Although St. Louis was a slower skating team that emphasized more on zone-to-zone puck movement, Vegas will bring a faster style of play closer to Vancouver’s fast-break skating philosophy. The verdict of this collision of speed will eventually come down to overall depth and how the goaltending will hold up. As a result, Vegas will come out ahead due to their experience and goaltending depth in Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury.
(2) Colorado Avalanche vs. (3) Dallas Stars
This matchup will kick off the second round, as Game 1 will begin Saturday, August 22 at 8:00 p.m. EST. Colorado’s firepower on offense was too much for the Arizona Coyotes to diminish during the opening round, as the latter was forced to bench Darcy Kuemper for the last period of the final two games after he allowed 10 total goals during the two-game stretch. If causing a team to bench a top-tier goaltender is not enough to understand the magnitude of Colorado’s offense, then listen to this – 12 skaters scored at least one goal during the series. The series only went five games. On the flipside, the Stars shined and took advantage of leaky goaltending and defense to overtake the Calgary Flames in six games.
Although the Stars’ offense does not stand out as vibrantly as Colorado’s, they can still score when needed. 36-year-old Joe Pavelski and 23-year-old Denis Gurianov have given Dallas a unique blend of experience and youth this postseason, after all. Even still, Colorado’s offense in combination with goaltender Philipp Grubauer (who allowed four goals combined in four games against Arizona) puts Colorado on top. It is simple calculus – what Dallas does, Colorado does better.
(1) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (6) New York Islanders
The persistent and pesky Montreal Canadiens were able to take Philadelphia to six games. The Islanders, meanwhile, were able to dispose of the star-studded Washington Capitals in five. Who would have thought? Regardless, Philadelphia’s usually high-octane offense squeaked by against Montreal (the Flyers scored 11 goals combined during the series). The Islanders’ offense, usually seen as more of a supplementary factor behind the team’s main go-to strength (defense and goaltending), scored 17 goals in a shorter series. Again, who would have thought?
The comparison I wrote about these teams earlier in the year is practically null and void, as both teams have shown to be much different now than during the regular season. To keep it simple, this will be a hard-nosed battle of checks and stops between opposing defenders. To make it even more basic than that – this will be a nasty series. Then, of course, there is the goaltending matchup. Expect this series to go the full duration or close to it. When the smoke clears, however, Philadelphia’s offense will show its face just a bit more, as Claude Giroux and/or Sean Couturier (who have combined for only nine points dating back to the round-robin tournament) will make their playoff presence known.
(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (4) Boston Bruins
Signal the alarm. This is no drill. Tampa Bay did it. After notoriously getting swept in last season’s opening round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Lightning exacted revenge and bombarded the Blue Jackets in five games this postseason. On the other side of the matchup, the Bruins (despite injury issues with several of their top skaters) were able to propel themselves to victory against the Carolina Hurricanes in five games. If you are a fan of either team, be thankful for Brayden Point (Tampa Bay) or David Krejci (Boston), as both skaters were prominent on offense during their respective series (Point collected two game-winning goals and seven total points against Columbus, while Krejci tallied at least one point during every game against Carolina).
This series will be a classic rivalry matchup. If you love star power and goals, then this series is for you. With Steven Stamkos still unavailable for Tampa Bay and David Pastrnak for Boston getting healthy, the pendulum on offense could shift toward Boston if the Lightning are not careful. Despite this, Tampa Bay will utilize Point and Nikita Kucherov to their fullest potential. Tampa Bay got past Columbus, yes, but they still have something to prove. They will continue to prove it against Boston during this series.
Prediction: Tampa Bay