Lightning in 5
The Boston Bruins have survived a seven-game series with the Maple Leafs, but they have to be concerned with how they finished the series. In the early going they were having their way with Toronto, building a 3-1 series lead as they outclassed the Leafs in every way. However, with Frederik Andersen dominated in Game 5, as Tuukka Rask struggled for Boston, while Patrice Bergeron battled an injury. The Tampa Bay Lightning meanwhile had no problem taking down the Devils in five games. After scuffling at times in the second half, the Lightning looked like a team that knows the time to win the Stanley Cup is now. Blessed with one of the best offenses in the league led by Nikita Kucherov, a strong defense led by probable Norris winner Victor Hedman and a solid goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy the Lightning have all the pieces at the right time. In their win over the Devils, Kucherov was dominant, setting a franchise record with ten points in five games. David Pasternak was terrific for Boston in their win over the Maple Leafs, but they will need more if they are to push Tampa to the limit. Look for Tampa’s athleticism to be the difference as they win in five.
Predators in 6
Spirits could not be higher in Manitoba as the Winnipeg Jets demolished the Wild in five games and won the first playoff series in franchise history. The second incarnation of the Jets had not even won a playoff game prior to this season. The first Jets won a series in 1987, but never reached the Conference Finals, so a win here would be uncharted territory for Winnipeg. The Nashville Predators meanwhile are hoping to get back to the Stanley Cup Final. They had their struggles with the Avalanche needing six games but seemed to find their game in Game 6 as they dominated the final game. Nashville won three of five regular-season meetings with the Jets, and have the experience edge. Winnipeg may have the best player on the ice, in Patrik Laine who had an outstanding first round. The fact these teams are meeting in the second round in an embarrassment to the NHL’s playoff format as they had the best two records in the regular season. The Predators have the advantage on defense, as Pekka Rinne is the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina Trophy, while P.K. Subban is capable of making plays on both ends of the ice. This series will be close, with the Predators winning in six.
Penguins in 7
There are a few certainties in life, death, taxes and the Washington Capitals will lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs. This will be the 11th time the two bitter rivals will be meeting in the playoffs since 1991. The Penguins have won nine of the previous ten postseason series with the Capitals, including winning twice when down 3-1. The Penguins have gone through Washington on the way to win winning the Stanley Cup in the last two seasons; they also beat the Capitals on the way to winning the Stanley Cup in 1991, 1992, and 2009. As the playoffs begin, the Penguins are shorthanded with Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin out for Game 1. These losses could open the door for the Capitals, but they have never shown an ability to win these games as Sidney Crosby has always risen to the occasion when called upon, while Alex Ovechkin has often shrunk when the playoffs pressure increased. Like last year, this series has all the makings of a seven-game battle, which is bad news for Washington with the Capitals holding a lifetime record of 4-12 in Game 7. With that much history against them, it seems like a repeat performance as the Penguins once again win the series.
Golden Knights in 7
There are eight teams left that can win the Stanley Cup. If your team is not one of those eight, chances are you are climbing aboard the bandwagon of the Vegas Golden Knights. Every game they win is more stunning, an expansion team that most expected to finish in last place as most expansion teams do. However, the Golden Knights after the tragic shooting in Las Vegas seemed to take the spirit of Sin City and become a new hope as they have filled T-Mobile Arena, proving professional sports can survive and thrive on the Vegas strip. They won their division and swept the Kings in the first round, as Marc-Andre Fleury the first player chosen in the expansion draft allowed three goals in four games. The San Jose Sharks who won the Western Conference in 2016 but had a disappointing exit last year jumped out quickly this year sweeping the Ducks. Martin Jones like Fleury had a strong first-round series, and the Sharks have the experience factor in their favor. Fleury who spend the last two seasons as the backup on the Penguins playoff run though looks like a man possessed and in Game 7 will be the difference as the Golden Knights go to the Western Conference Finals.