The second round of the 2017-18 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs was in a word – energetic.
There was a seven-game series between Nashville and Winnipeg. Washington dethroned the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Tampa Bay was able to suffocate Boston while Vegas and Winnipeg continued their deep postseason runs.
As expected, the second round was rather good. Maybe the Tampa series could have gone longer. However, Winnipeg and Nashville made up for it – albeit with an anti-climatic end Game 7. Home ice advantage was proven to be overrated in that series as five of the seven games were won by the away team.
The second round is in the books and admittedly Vegas is still a bit of a surprise but Washington even more so. What does Washington do next against Tampa Bay? It depends on the status of Nicklas Backstrom, for starters.
Here’s a recap of all four second-round playoff series with an eye toward each of the Conference Final battles:
Tampa Bay Lightning def. Boston Bruins to win series 4-1
The Tampa Bay Lightning, the top team in the Atlantic Division, played like it in the final four games of the series against the Boston Bruins.
Tampa Bay’s first act in the series was a train wreck. After that, their second and third lines were able to do major damage to Boston’s Patrice Bergeron line even. Depth was a key thing in the series along with Tampa Bay’s 5-on-5 play. Their man-advantage was a strength all season and would strike in key moments. The Lightning held Boston off the board at even strength for the final four games of the series. The injury to Torey Krug (broken ankle) was probably the fatal blow for Boston
Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was awful in the Game 1 loss, was at his best for most of this series. His clutch efforts in Games 4 and 5 showed us the goalie can handle the playoff load. Tampa will see an old rival of sorts in the Conference Final.
Washington Capitals def. Pittsburgh Penguins to win series 4-2
Washington finally did it! Consider that they had lost nine of ten postseason series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, little was expected. After blowing a two-goal lead in Game 1, the likelihood was even less.
The Capitals were able to bounce back in Game 2. They were able to survive Tom Wilson getting suspended for three games. Washington was able to exert its will, particularly in the third period. This series featured two key road wins for the Capitals – including the game series clincher by Evgeni Kuznetsov.
The Capitals were stronger at even strength than Pittsburgh, with more slot shots, more high danger scoring chances, and a knack for hemming the Penguins in their zone just enough. Washington switching to a 1-4 was a series changer. Alexander Ovechkin scoring clutch goals paved the way to his first career Conference Final appearance.
Tampa will be an even more stiff challenge with their depth on offense. The wildcards will be the depth and the respective penalty kills.
Winnipeg Jets def. Nashville Predators to win series 4-3
The top team in the league and the second-best team in the West squared off in one strange showdown. There were more turns in this series than many could count. However, Connor Hellebuyck was better in the key points than Pekka Rinne. Rinne’s road mastery continued at times but it was at home where Nashville’s season ultimately unraveled. Rinne was pulled in Game 7 after allowing two weak angle goals.
“The Jofa Line” of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Victor Arvidsson dictated play at times, but was held to zero shots at 5 on 5 in the deciding game. Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, and Paul Stastny were the three centers of attention and it was that depth (and their scoring) which was the decider of this series. It did not hurt that Hellebuyck had two third periods in this series where he stopped 20+ shots.
Nashville could not contain Winnipeg in the end because their defense and forwards from top to bottom were just more balanced. Winnipeg’s ability to play on the road was evident in Round 1 and was their salvation in Round 2. They match up pretty well against Vegas.
Speaking of Vegas…
Vegas Golden Knights def. San Jose Sharks to win series 4-2
Vegas blew the doors off in Game 1 of this series and some wondered if a sweep was in the cards. San Jose stole one in Game 2 as this series went back and forth for the first four games.
Gerard Gallant was able to roll his four lines against a banged-up team. Joe Thornton never played along with a less than 100 percent Evander Kane and Brent Burns. That was not a fatal blow, however.
This was not an easy series to predict. However, the top line of Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson decided it along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Vegas’s top line combined for 25 points in the series and at times there was no way San Jose could slow them down. The Golden Knights also were tenacious and physical. They were able to wear down the Sharks in Games 5 and 6. When a team can shut out and eliminate another in their building in a deciding game, that speaks volumes.
Fleury sported a .935 save percentage in this series with a series clinching shutout as well. His goals saved above average surpassed 12. Basically, Fleury was able to stop more than 1.2 goals per game greater than the normal playoff goalie. San Jose’s depth is nowhere near the level of what Winnipeg’s is, however.
Vegas has faced greater odds before.
Welcome to the Final Four.
The Conference Finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin tonight with Tampa facing Washington. Here’s a brief look at the bouts with schedule and television broadcast information:
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals
Friday, May 11, 8 p.m.: Capitals @ Lightning | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
Sunday, May 13, 8 p.m.: Capitals @ Lightning | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 15, 8 p.m.: Lightning @ Capitals | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
Thursday, May 17, 8 p.m.: Lightning @ Capitals | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 19, 7:15 p.m.: Capitals @ Lightning | NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
*Monday, May 21, 8 p.m.: Lightning @ Capitals | NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVA Sports
*Wednesday, May 23, 8 p.m.: Capitals @ Lightning | NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVA Sports
* if necessary
TBD = To Be Determined
The Skinny: Tampa matches up very well against Washington. These are the two top scoring teams in the playoffs (Washington – 3.58 goals per game, Tampa – 3.5 goals per contest). Braden Holtby’s .931 save percentage is the second best in the modern era (minimum 20 games played). However, not even Washington’s 1-4 defensive posture may be able to slow down a Tampa team that has three lines which can strike at times like a top line.
Washington needs Nicklas Backstrom at 100%. Anything less will result in a shorter series. The Capitals cannot funnel the Lightning like they did with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Expect there to be a bit more pace in this series. However, Tampa has shown an ability to bottle things up as well. They held Boston without an even strength goal in the final four games of their second-round series. Washington’s top line has been excellent in the first two rounds.
Can Tampa slow them down enough to let their overall balance take over? Better yet, do Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos break out in this series? They may be able to against a Capitals team that does take some huge risks defensively.
Prediction: Tampa in six.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Saturday, May 12, 7 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Monday, May 14, 8 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 16, 9 p.m.: Jets @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
Friday, May 18, 8 p.m.: Jets @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVA Sports
*Sunday, May 20, 3 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
*Tuesday, May 22, 9 p.m.: Jets @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVA Sports
*Thursday, May 24, 8 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVA Sports
* if necessary
TBD = To Be Determined
The Skinny: It comes down to a battle of which depth is superior. Winnipeg’s death on paper is more balanced and could strike against Vegas’s puck movement philosophy. Can Marc-Andre Fleury slow down Winnipeg the way he did Los Angeles and San Jose? Fleury will need to make a few key stops early as the feeling is the Jets’ top nine can hem in the Vegas defense. Between Paul Maurice and Gerard Gallant, line matching will be king in a series like this. Momentum swings could be frequent.
Will the Jets play a bit better at home? Vegas has nothing to lose and they will face their stiffest competition yet. If their special teams and Fleury come up big (Winnipeg will take penalties), the Golden Knights can make this a series. If Nik Ehlers gets going along with the Mark Scheifele line, then look out!
Prediction: Winnipeg in six.
Written by Chris Wassel / @ChrisWasselDFS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with his teammates after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 11, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. The Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning with a score of 4 to 2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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