Bruins in 6
Before their surreal upset of the Lightning in the first round, the Columbus Blue Jackets in their franchise history had a total of five playoff wins in 18 seasons. Of course, that could be the most stunning result in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as Tampa won a record-tying 62 games in the regular season, only to get outscored by Columbus 19-7 in the four-game sweep. This after Tampa held a 3-0 early in Game 1. The Boston Bruins after the crazy first round full of upsets now have home ice for the rest of the playoffs, which should be good news as they posted a 29-9-3 mark at the TD Garden in the regular season and beat the Maple Leafs in Game 7 on Tuesday. A big reason for the Blue Jackets stunning success in the first round was the play of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. He has been good in the regular season, but this is the first time he has had any playoff success. Tuukka Rask is a seasoned playoff goalie, as he showed in his Game 7 win in Boston. The Bruins have a much deeper offensive attack, which should provide problems for Columbus. Compared to Toronto, the Blue Jackets defense is far superior to the Maple Leafs, but their forwards will not intimidate anyone. The question now is after their stunning upset in which they bottled up the Lightning, have the Blue Jackets caught lightning in a bottle. They have had a significant time to rest, and that can turn to rust. The Bruins finished strong needing a win in Toronto before their Game 7 win, look for David Pasternak to make the big plays as the Bruins win this series in six.
Blues in 7
Who could have imagined these two teams playing in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs? The St. Louis Blues at the start of the New Year, were the worst team in the NHL as they appeared to be set to focus of the future with a coaching change with Craig Berube replacing Mike Yeo and calling up rookie goalie Jordan Binnington. They also adopted the song, “Gloria” as their new anthem and went on an 11-game winning streak, becoming the best team in the NHL after the calendar turned. Binnington was the key to the Blues upset of the Jets, as they often needed late magic to win their games. Goaltending was also the key for the Dallas Stars in their upset of the Predators, as Ben Bishop showed why he is a Vezina Finalist, shutting down the Nashville attack, especially in the clinching overtime win. Dallas won the season series with St. Louis 3-1, with all four games coming after the Blues began to turn their season around. A good sign for the Blues was the emergence of Jaden Schwartz in their upset win over Winnipeg, as he scored the last four goals, starting with a dramatic last-minute score in Game 5 and finishing with a hat trick in the clincher. The Stars are much more defensive focused, though Tyler Seguin has been known to go on scoring streaks. If they are to reach the Western Conference Finals, Dallas will need Seguin to be a superstar. The Blues have a much deeper scoring team and are perhaps penning one of the greatest stories in a long time, all to the soundtrack of Laura Branigan. Look for this to go seven, with the Blues winning it in overtime.
Hurricanes in 7
The Carolina Hurricanes have dethroned the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals, winning a classic seventh game in double overtime. Now, they have to face the coach who beat led the Capitals to the cup, Barry Trotz who shockingly led the New York Islanders to the playoffs and a first-round sweep of the Penguins. One thing that could reflective negatively on the Islanders, is that they will be playing their home games at the Barclay Center as opposed to the Nassau Coliseum where they had a tremendous advantage over Pittsburgh. A key to the Islanders success was that throughout the series, they were the fresher team as the years of long playoff battles seemed to have worn down the Penguins. The Hurricanes are just as fresh as they are despite a seven-game battle as the Islanders rest could turn to rust, having not played in a week. New York won the season series 3-1, but all the games were earlier in the season, when each team was different. Each team is a mirror image of itself, solid goaltending strong defense and balanced scoring. A major key could be who is the finisher and who can make the big plays when needed. This could be Justin Williams, who has a habit of being in position for the biggest goals in the playoffs and had the assist on the Hurricanes series winning goal from Brock McGrin. The Islanders will need some to fill that role, in the first round Jordan Eberle had four goals in four games, they will need that output again. However, the mistake of playing n Brooklyn will take away the Islanders magic as the Bunch of Jerks will continue to haunt Don Cherry in the Eastern Conference Finals, winning in seven.
Sharks in 5
The San Jose Sharks were dead and buried twice during their series against the Golden Knights. First down 3-1, they needed a 58-save performance to steal Game 6 in double overtime in Vegas, then down 3-0 with just over ten minutes left in Game 7, they get the jolt of life from a five-minute major on Cody Eakin for cross-checking Joe Pavelski. During the power play, San Jose scored four times, taking the lead. While the Knights would force overtime, the Sharks emerged victorious with a goal by Barclay Goodrow. While the Sharks have moved on there has to be some concern for Pavelski who was bleeding after his head hit the ice and did not return. The longer the Sharks go in the playoffs, the more they will need their captain. The Colorado Avalanche are the young hungry team on the rise led by Nathan MacKinnon, as they showed some of their potential in their upset of the Flames as they got great goaltending from Philipp Grubauer and strong special teams, scoring five power-play goals. The Sharks have the edge in experience and have the most at stake, as time is nearly up for them with age and pending free agency, likely making this run for the cup the final one for this core group. Martin Jones who was criticized early in the series turned things around late. If San Jose is to win, he must carry the momentum from the end of the first round. Often when a team is given new life they go on a long run, and that is why I see the Sharks winning in five.