So, the second round of the NHL playoffs will begin before the first one is over. That sounds about right. But while Nashville-Anaheim remains undecided, we’ll get a head start on our second round picks. If the Ducks pull out the win, I will have gone 5-3 in the first round, missing on the Kings, Panthers, and Blackhawks. Without further ado, here is round two:
Washington vs. Pittsburgh – This really should be the Eastern Conference finals, but it isn’t. That said, I firmly believe the winner of this matchup will represent the East in the Cup Finals. Alexander Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby is the headliner, but this series could come down to the goaltending. Braden Holtby figures to have the slight edge over Matt Murray, but Murray has caught fire of late. Home ice hasn’t seemed to help much in these playoffs, even for the Caps against Philly. Washington went 2-3 against Pittsburgh this season, and 1-2 at home. But really, if the Caps don’t do it now, it’s fair to ask when and if they ever will. The franchise hasn’t been past the second round since 1998. Pittsburgh is scalding hot, but this may finally be Ovechkin’s time. Prediction: Capitals in 7.
Tampa Bay vs. New York Islanders – Tampa Bay is without two of its stars in Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, but had no problem disposing of Detroit for a second straight year. Last year’s postseason run instills a lot of confidence in Jon Cooper’s group, and it’s fair to wonder if the Isles are a little drained from a six-game series that felt like a 10-game set after a pair of double-overtime finishes. An upset is certainly possible, but not probable. Prediction: Lightning in 6.
Dallas vs. St. Louis – The Blues overcame a massive hurdle by clearing the first round and the defending champion Blackhawks. Now, they will face a Stars team that they beat four times in five regular-season matchups. St. Louis can win defensive struggles, which isn’t quite Dallas’ forte. The Stars score plenty of goals, but can Kari Lehtonen hold up against the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz? The Blues appear to be a slightly more balanced team. Prediction: Blues in 6.
San Jose vs. Anaheim/Nashville – Okay, so we don’t even know this matchup just yet, but I’ll give a prediction anyway. Should the Ducks complete their comeback from a 2-0 deficit, it might just be their year after rallying from a dreadful 1-9 start. The Sharks went 1-2 in the regular season against both of these clubs, but Anaheim will be much more dangerous coming in with momentum. The interesting thing is that the Sharks, who were the NHL’s best road team in the regular season, would get more road games in a series with Anaheim than Nashville. Prediction: If Nashville wins – Sharks in 5; If Anaheim wins – Ducks in 6.