Stanely Cup 2nd Round Recap
After some pretty good predictions in round one, it was a totally different story in round two, as I only called one series correctly. No doubt I underestimated the Caps and the Lightning. Here is a quick recap of all four series.
Nashville Predators v. Winnipeg Jets – Result: Jets in 7; Prediction: Preds in 7. This was a wild and wacky series. The Preds never seemed to hit their stride during these playoffs, clearly feeling the pressure of being expected to get to and win the finals. That was never more apparent than the terrible habit they had of getting off to really slow starts and falling behind early, especially at home. And because of that they always seemed to be chasing the game and the series. That was apparent from game 1 where the tone of the series was set. Connor Hellebuyck was spectacular in net, making 47 saves and the Jets capitalized on all their chances to steal home ice advantage, which turned out to be meaningless in this series. Both teams will look back at game 3 as a turning point. With the series tied at 1, Nashville jumped out to 3-0 first period lead. Unfortunately for the Preds, they thought the game was over, stopped skating, and allowed 4 goals in the second, including three in the span of 3 minutes, and three more in the third, again displaying some of the poor defensive play they had shown in the earlier series against the Avalanche. In the end, it came down to game 7, which epitomized the series for the Preds. Rinne gave up two horrendous goals early, forcing the Preds to chase the game again, and Nashville was never able to recover. It always seemed that the Jets were the more dangerous team throughout this series, always seeming to be a hair faster than the Preds. Mark Scheifele was a sniper, collecting seven goals in just the four games in Nashville, including two in game 7, one being a late goal in the 2nd period giving the Jets a two goal lead heading into the third. Dustin Byfuglein was a beast on defense and offense the entire series, and the Jets’ team defense was superb. When the Jets’ defense faltered, Hellebuyck was always there, clearly outplaying Rinne, who was pulled in three of his four home games, and arguably the difference in this series.
Las Vegas Golden Knights v. San Jose Sharks – Result: Vegas in 6; Prediction: Vegas in 6. Everyone knew that Marc Andre Fleury was going to be great and he was, helped by numerous friendly goalposts and crossbars throughout the series. But Fleury was there every time the Sharks got anything going. Beyond that, Vegas’ depth, speed, and strength eventually wore down San Jose, whose already depleted lineup also had key players playing injured by the end of the series. The Knights’ top line completed dominated the Sharks, getting 25 points combined in the 6 game series and in most games Vegas got the early lead which just increased the pressure on the Sharks considering how well Fleury was playing. But give the Sharks credit. They had the series even at 2-2 before the Knights just wore them out, basically shutting them down over the last two games.
Tampa Bay Lightning v. Boston Bruins – Result: Lightning in 5; Prediction: Bruins in 7. Boston came out and dominated game 1, taking advantage of the all too frequent defensive lapses by the Lightning and stealing home ice advantage. From then on, Tampa Bay took over, winning the next four games. Tampa Bay’s defensive pairing of Hedman and McDonough effectively controlled the Bruins top line and Boston got absolutely no secondary scoring, being held scoreless 5-on-5 over the last three games. The Lightning, however, did get plenty of secondary scoring, while sometimes making the Bruins look ponderously slow with their speed. The Bruins will complain about a couple of horrendous calls, especially on a turnover that led to the tying goal late in the third period of game 4,a game that the Lightning won in overtime, but the reality is that Tampa was faster, deeper, and tougher than the Bruins over the course of the series. NY Ranger fans must be tearing their hair out, seeing McDonough, J.T. Miller, Dan Girardi, and Ryan Callahan, who was arguably the Lightning’s best player over the course of the five games, excel in this series.
Pittsburgh Penguins v. Washington Capitals – Result: Capitals in 6; Prediction: Pens in 7. The Caps finally got over the hump against Pittsburgh, and deservedly so. I had zero faith in Caps goalie Braden Holtby going into this series and that lack of faith was rewarded when he reverted to form, staying deep in his crease and giving up two third period goals to cost the Caps game 1. And it looked like history might repeat itself in game 2 when replays appeared to show a wrap-around clearly over the goal line to bring the Penguins within a goal halfway through the third period. But it was not ruled conclusive evidence and the Caps went on to win the game 4-1. After that, Holtby really seemed to settle down and was incredibly solid, outplaying Murray, for the rest of the series. All in all, the Caps were just too deep for the Penguins all series. The top lines for each team, with Crosby and Ovechkin, kind of canceled each other out, but the Caps second line of Backstrom or Vrana, Oshie, and Eller dominated every time they were on the ice. With Malkin either injured or far less than his usual self, the Penguins had no answer for the Caps depth in scoring. And on defense, Orlov had a great series for the Caps, while the Pens’ All-Star defenseman Kris Letang made egregious errors in both games 5 and 6 that sealed the deserved series win for Washington. What must make this win so gratifying for the Caps was that it was truly a team win. Ovechkin had another solid series but never needed to carry this team like he has in the past.
I’ll have predictions and analysis of the Conference Finals a little later today.