Following last night’s frantic finish to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we are down to eight teams left in the chase for the Stanley Cup. As the second round commences tonight in Washington and Las Vegas, it’s hard not to imagine what’s ahead in the next few weeks after how unexpected the preliminary round turned out. In the East though, there are familiar faces and rivalries that will take to the ice in the second round for a chance to move on to the Conference Final. But before the games get underway, here’s a preview of what’s on tap in the East in round number two.
Tampa Bay Lightning (1) vs. Boston Bruins (2)
What a bloodbath this series is going to be between these two teams. Both teams don’t like each other, and in every regular season game this year, the hatred grew stronger and stronger. Only one point separated these teams in the Atlantic Division this season. This will be the first time since the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals that the two teams have met in the playoffs.
The Lightning disposed of the New Jersey Devils in five games in the first round. Their depth and physicality overwhelmed the Devils, while their superstars — Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos — shined when called upon.
Trade deadline addition, J.T. Miller, was a force in the first round for Tampa. Depth-wise, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Brayden Point, and Yanni Gourde make up just a small portion of a very productive forward corps.
Defensively, the Lightning are loaded on the backend starting with Norris nominee Victor Hedman. Behind Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev is an emerging stud and got his money’s worth in his first playoff experience, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, and Braydon Coburn provide plenty of experience.
In between the pipes, Vezina Trophy candidate, Andrei Vasilevskiy, was a beast in the first round after a rough stretch to end the season. Vasilevskiy wasn’t challenged in round one like the Bruins will do to him, where he only allowed ten goals.
Tampa Bay’s opponent, the Boston Bruins, were in a dogfight in the first round. It took a wild seven games to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs. Experience won out in the series with the B’s Big Three, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, carrying the torch.
The Bruins got contributions from up and down the lineup through the first seven games of the playoffs. Forward Jake DeBrusk had a phenomenal series, while his teammate David Krejci, did damage to the Leafs as well. Beyond DeBrusk and Krejci, David Backes, Sean Kuraly, and Danton Heinen all played their roles and had an impact in the series at one point or another. Veteran acquisition Rick Nash had a quiet first round (two points in seven games), but he found ways to make his presence felt. One of their other depth forwards, Ryan Donato, could get the call if things begin to turn for the B’s offense.
Boston’s top defensive pairing, Zdeno Chara, and Charlie McAvoy were solid in the opening round, but a whole new challenge awaits in the high-powered Bolts. Torey Krug was fantastic in round one, and he will have the task of trying to shut down many of Tampa’s dangerous forwards. Kevan Miller, Matt Grzelcyk, and Adam McQuaid got all they could handle against Toronto’s speedy forwards. They should expect the same in the semis.
Tuukka Rask had an up and down first round but came up clutch when his team needed it the most. Rask did well against the Lightning in the regular season, but with the playoffs being an entirely different animal, it will be interesting to see how Rask goes about the task at hand.
Advantage: Offense: Even. Defense: Lightning. Goaltending: Lightning.
Washington Capitals (1) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (3)
Pittsburgh vs. Washington. Crosby vs. Ovechkin. Malkin vs. Backstrom. The headlines are endless when these two teams meet in the postseason. And in the Crosby-Ovechkin era, it seems whoever comes away victorious in this series, goes on to win the Stanley Cup. The Penguins have won nine of the ten playoff series between the two teams in their histories. Washington is trying to advance to the Conference Final for the first time since 1998 and stop the Pens work for a three-peat.
This will also be the third straight year, the Capitals and Penguins will play each other in the second round.
Speaking of the back-to-back champs, the Penguins took care of their in-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, in six games. Jake Guentzel and Pens captain Sidney Crosby just tortured the Flyers and led the way the entire series.
For the Penguins, it all starts with Crosby. He takes it to another level in the playoffs, and the first round was no different — six goals and 13 points. But, if it’s not Crosby, Evgeni Malkin is a workhorse and just dominates offensively. Following that twosome, the Pens are stacked with the aforementioned Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Derick Brassard, and Riley Sheahan. This forward group is laden not only with playoff experience, but they all find to give the team a chance to win.
Pittsburgh is just as packed with experience on defense, as they are on offense. Veteran Kris Letang was dominant in the opening stanza with seven points. Brian Dumoulin found a groove all season and has continued it into the playoffs. Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta have played fittingly well. Big Jamie Oleksiak, who was acquired from Dallas early in the regular season, found his niche on the Pens blueline and has played exceptionally rounding out the defense.
Goaltending wise, Matt Murray is already a two-time Cup winner and seems to take his game to new heights in the postseason. His regular season was forgettable, as was his first round. But it’s hard to argue that Murray isn’t clutch when he needs to prove it.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is it for the Capitals. For them to finally get over the hump, they must beat the Penguins.
The rug looked like it was being pulled right from beneath Washington when they went down 2-0 to Columbus in round one. But, the Caps reeled off four straight wins, led by their big guns — Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin — to set up another must-see matchup with the Pens.
Just like Pitt, the Caps attack starts and ends with Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin, tore up the regular season as he usually does. And after a slow start against the Blue Jackets, he went off with eight points in six games. Alongside The Great 8, Evgeni Kuznetsov was just as potent in the opening round. T.J. Oshie finally seemed to awaken from his fog, while little known Chandler Stephenson surfaced.
Missing Andre Burakovsky hurts, but Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson, Jay Beagle, Lars Eller, Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana round out a robust offense for the Caps.
Defensemen John Carlson was a monster in the first six games, totaling nine points. The Capitals number one d-man was brilliant all season long and has kept that going heading in to round two. In addition to Carlson, Dmitry Orlov is was effective against Columbus, while Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen — who have been on both sides of the rivalry — bolster the Caps blueline. Rookies Christian Djoos, Jakub Jerabek, and Michal Kempny are the last pieces of the Washington sextet, and there’s no doubt they will get everything they can handle.
Braden Holtby exercised one demon in beating Columbus. But if he wants to be defined as a playoff caliber goalie, he must outduel Matt Murray. The former Vezina winner will be the reason if the Caps finally move on to round three.
Advantage: Offense: Penguins. Defense: Even. Goaltending: Capitals.