Islanders in 6
Both of these teams have raised their game in the Eastern Conference bubble in Toronto. The Philadelphia Flyers went from the fourth seed to the top seed by winning all three games in the round-robin, while the New York Islanders who were struggling before the break, used the pause to get healthy. After beating the Panthers in the qualifying round, the Islanders dominated the Capitals in the first round, as Barry Trotz beat his former team in five games. The Flyers meanwhile had a hard fight against the Canadiens. The Canadiens at times outplayed Philadelphia but did not have the firepower to win the series. The Islanders do. Josh Bailey has become an expert playmaker, with eight assists. Anthony Beauvillier is among the leading goal-scorers in the bubble. Meanwhile, Semyon Varlamov has been stellar in goal. The Islanders have a shot at reaching the Conference Finals for the first time since 1993.
Golden Knights in 5
The champs are gone, and the road to the Stanley Cup is wide-open. The Vegas Golden Knights have been strong and steady, while the Vancouver Canucks have been young and hungry. With Bo Horvat’s speed and ability to break things open on the penalty kill, the Canucks were able to stun the Blues and advance to the second round. Jacob Markstrom also has been solid in net as the Canucks have gone further than anyone could have imagined. The Vegas Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final two years ago as an expansion team. After a first-round exit last season, the Knights appear poised for another long run as they are healthy, deep, and experienced. All of those factors will be the deciding factor, as the young Canucks will eventually hit the wall and fall. Vegas’ depth is best shown in the fact they have seven players with five or more points in eight games.
Lightning in 6
The President’s Trophy is often a curse. Since first awarded after the 1985/86 season, just eight teams have won the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season, the Chicago Blackhawks being the last team to do it in 2013. The Blackhawks are also the last team to reach the Stanley Cup Final after posting the best record in the regular season. The Boston Bruins this year’s President’s Trophy champion have had their struggles in the bubble as they lost their top seed in the round-robin. The won the first-round series over the Hurricanes despite Vezina favorite Tuukka Rask opting out. Last year the Tampa Bay Lightning won the President’s Trophy and were swept by the Blue Jackets. This year the Lightning got revenge as a five-overtime win in Game 1, spurred them to win the series in five games. Often President Trophy failures lead to success the following year. This could be the best series of the second round, with the winner becoming the Eastern favorites. Look for the Lightning to get the win, as the Bruins loss of Rask catches up to them.
Avalanche in 5
No team has been more impressive than the Colorado Avalanche, who buried the Coyotes in five games, winning the last two games by identical scores of 7-1. Nathan MacKinnon has 13 points in eight games. MacKinnon is a finalist for the Hart Trophy and has played at an MVP level in the Western Conference bubble in Edmonton. The Dallas Stars meanwhile rallied to beat the Flames in the first round, as they stared a 3-1 deficit in the face when the tied Game 4 late and won in overtime. In Game 6, the Flames jumped out to a 3-0 lead, only to see the Stars storm back and win 7-3. This was highlighted by five goals in seven minutes. The Avalanche are too strong to allow that to happen. Look for continued strong play from Nathan MacKinnon as Colorado quickly buries the Dallas.