Penguins in 7
The marquee matchup of the second round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs features two old rivals, with the game’s biggest stars. Over the last decade no two players have thrilled fans more than Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is just the second playoff meeting for the two super star scorers. In their previous meeting the Penguins outlasted the Capitals in a classic seven game battle in 2009 on the way to winning the Stanley Cup. The Penguins have not won the cup since and the Capitals have yet to even reach the conference finals under Ovechkin. The Penguins and Capitals have a rich history in the playoffs, with nine previous postseason meetings. Pittsburgh has dominated those meeting, taking eight of nine, including three series that went seven games, overcoming 3-1 deficits twice. While the Capitals were the best team in the NHL all season, the Penguins were the best team in the second half and are continuing that surge in the playoffs thumping the Rangers in five games. The Penguins held the edge in the regular season, winning three of five, including the last two meetings. Momentum is in Pittsburgh’s hands as they once again win a seven game battle.
Blues in 6
After finally getting past the Blackhawks, the St. Louis Blues find another challenge in the high scoring Dallas Stars. This time however it is the Blues with the big upper hand. Despite their playoff failures in recent years the Blues have always had strong defense and goaltending, they just had the misfortune of playing the Los Angeles Kings of Chicago Blackhawks in the midst of runs to the Stanley Cup. In the regular season the Blues dominated head-to-head meetings with the Stars, taking four of five games, while allowing just ten goals to the best offensive team in the NHL. The key to keep good offensive teams off the board is defense and goaltending and that is the Blues biggest strength. In the first round Brian Elliott was terrific posting a .929 save percentage, while seeing more rubber than any other goalie in the first round. The Stars meanwhile were shaky on defense as they allowed four or more goals in the three of six games against the Wild. The Stars simply must get better goaltending if they are to beat the Blues. Offense is going to be there for Dallas as Jamie Benn already has four goals and six assists in the postseason. However, with Vladimir Tarasenko just as hot the Blues will get just enough offense to advance.
Islanders in 6
Despite limping into the playoffs the Tampa Lightning skated past the Red Wings with relative ease, winning their series in six games. The key to Tampa’s success once again was Ben Bishop, who was nearly perfect stopping 152 of 160 shots against the Red Wings. Bishop owns a 2.08 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in 30 career playoff games. However, he will face a much tougher task in young and energized Islanders who are coming off their first playoff win in 23 years. In beating the Panthers, the Islanders showed the ability to rally and win in the clutch, winning three times in overtime, including double overtime wins in Games 5 and 6. While Tampa was without leading scorer Steven Stamkos (recovering from a blood clot), and defenseman Anton Stralman (leg fracture), the Islanders played without Goalie Jaroslav Halak. Thomas Greiss has been outstanding in Halak’s absence, posting a 1.79 Goals Against Average and a .944 save percentage against the Panthers. If Greiss can continue his outstanding play the Islanders can go a long way. Tampa may get Stamkos back at some point, but even if they do the Islanders energy led by John Tavares, who had five goals in the first round will be hard to stop. The Islanders took two of three regular season meetings and win the series.
Sharks in 6
Both of these teams were road warriors in pulling of first round against teams from Southern California. Each team won three road games, including the Predators Game 7 win in Anaheim. The Sharks meanwhile just needed five games to trump the Kings. Fatigue could be a big issue for Nashville as the Ducks were physical and the Predators barely hung on at the end thanks to Pekka Rinne’s 36 saves. The Sharks have gotten superior effort all season from Martin Jones and have the bigger bodies led by Brent Burns, who dominated LA with a team high eight points while providing strong play at the blue line. The Sharks offense performed at a high level against the Kings, with Joe Pavelski coming through in the clutch with five goals. The Predators power play has to be a concern entering the second round, as they scored just once in 26 chances, compared to the Sharks who dominated their series on special teams with five tallies on the power play. The Predators won the regular season series, taking two of three meetings with San Jose. The Sharks however, look to have all the edges with stronger, bigger, fresher and a better overall team on both ends of the ice.