The first round of the 2017-18 NHL second season was in a word – different. There were two sweeps in the Pacific Division. Columbus and Washington went to the extra session(s) in four of their six games. Pittsburgh showed they could win a series on the road and Colorado made a nice playoff showing before bowing out.
While the first round may have been underwhelming for some, it finished with a fury on Wednesday night as there was one Game 7 between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. That was great to see, and the expectation is to see more of those in round two.
The first round is in the books and admittedly Vegas sweeping Los Angeles and San Jose sweeping Anaheim had to be considered big surprises. Washington and Pittsburgh facing off in round two is not so much of one. However, Winnipeg and Tampa Bay mostly cruised to first round victories behind a relentless offense and some timely goaltending.
Here’s a recap of all eight first-round playoff series with an eye toward each of the second-round battles.
FIRST ROUND RECAP
Tampa Bay Lightning def. New Jersey Devils to win series 4-1
In the East, things went mostly as expected.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, the top team in the Atlantic Division, was awarded one of the top perches in the East and came out firing against the New Jersey Devils.
Tampa Bay went toe to toe with a scrappy New Jersey team that could match their firepower but not their depth. Depth was a key thing in the series along with the Tampa power play. Their man advantage was a strength all season and would strike five times in the first 2+ games. The second and third lines did the damage early with Nikita Kucherov delivering at the finish. His nasty hit of Sami Vatanen changed the entire series. Kucherov’s four points after the Vatanen injury finished off New Jersey for good.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was a little shaky early, was at his best for most of this series. His 40+ save performance in Game 2 stood out, along with clutch efforts in Game 4 and Game 5. The road is expected to get tougher for Tampa in round two.
Related: New Jersey, New Series – – Game 3
Boston Bruins def. Toronto Maple Leafs to win series 4-3
One of the hottest teams entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Bruins continued to dictate play with a strong puck-possession game to send the Maple Leafs home in seven games.
Boston’s top line was a key part of the series win and punctuated that fact with seven points combined in the seventh game. It truly was an up and down series, but the Bruins found a way to advance once again over Toronto.
The Bruins were stronger at even strength than Toronto, with 35% more slot shots, more high danger scoring chances, and an knack for hemming the Maple Leafs in their zone just enough. Boston’s injuries and lack of finish in Game 5 made this more of a series.
Tampa will be an even more stiff challenge with their depth on offense. The wildcards will be the goaltending and the respective penalty kills.
Pittsburgh Penguins def. Philadelphia Flyers to win series 4-2
The champs are alright.
While it wasn’t quite the fireworks most expected, Pittsburgh nonetheless found a way to win a series where they were not so good at home.
The Penguins only won one game at home, but stole all three games on the road, including the wild 8-5 clincher that was Game 6. Philadelphia was banged up and yet provided problems for Pittsburgh. Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux were a formidable tandem, but nothing could match Jake Guentzel, who punctuated the series with a four goal outburst in the finale.
This series was odd in that not a single game went into overtime. There were a few blowouts and every game Pittsburgh won, the Penguins scored five times or more (just like in the regular season). Matt Murray was just steady enough in net, particularly on the road in this series. Sidney Crosby and Guentzel led Pittsburgh with 13 points in the series. Both just like playing together in the postseason.
Center depth reigned supreme as Pittsburgh could easily go three and four lines deep while Philadelphia often struggled to keep up. Philadelphia’s transition game was a mess all series as Pittsburgh dominated when it came to converting odd-man rushes and man advantage situations.
Pittsburgh will face a foe familiar to many next.
Washington Capitals def. Columbus Blue Jackets to win series 4-2
This was supposed to be the Blue Jackets’ season but the playoffs were anything but.
Backed by the stellar play of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus went on a 15-1-1 run to end the regular season but the success did not transfer into the post-season as the Washington Capitals unleashed an offensive onslaught. The Capitals scored three or more goals in every single game of the series.
Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Kuznetsov had nine goals between them as Washington turned a heartbreaking start (losing two games at home in overtime) into a six game series win. Also, Braden Holtby was stellar when he had to be. Once he entered late in Game 2, Columbus found opportunities hard to convert. The goalie was able to shut the door and improve on his playoff career save percentage of .932, which is second all time among postseason netminders in the last 25 years.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway, however, was Columbus and their lack of discipline. For a team that was among the lead leaders in least penalties taken, the Blue Jackets were shorthanded 27 times in the series and that proved to be fatal in the later games.
The Penguins are up next for the Capitals, a team they have lost in the playoffs in nine of the past ten series.
Nashville Predators def. Colorado Avalanche 4-2
The top team in the West and the league had a little trouble with a pesky Colorado Avalanche squad. Nashville was able to survive the first two games at home. Then, Colorado showed their teeth with a resounding Game 3 victory. After that, Nashville put the hammer down early in Game 4 then Pekka Rinne held down Colorado to win 3-2. Colorado was able to steal Game 5 behind an incredible Andrew Hammond performance. Game 6 was Nashville’s best of the series as they routed Colorado in Colorado by a score of 5-0.
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne was excellent turning aside 78-of-82 shots during the final three games of the series. Rinne looked more like the Vezina caliber goaltender while “The Jofa Line” of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Victor Arvidsson dictated play. The trio combined for several highlight reel goals but the real surprise was the Austin Watson line. Along with Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons, the trio produced 19 points. Winnipeg will have their hands full with Nashville’s immense forward depth, though Winnipeg can run just as deep.
Nashville’s lack of discipline was evident throughout the Colorado series, but their penalty kill was able to keep the damage to a minimum. Winnipeg has a bit of the same problem. However, the Jets are not a “one-line team”.
Speaking of Winnipeg…
Winnipeg Jets def. Minnesota Wild to win series 4-1
Paul Maurice was given an easier road with Minnesota’s injuries while Bruce Boudreau was shown the door again as the Jets sent the Wild packing in a quick playoff series that was decided in five out west.
Maurice was able to roll his four lines against a depleted Minnesota team. Ryan Suter was injured along with a less than 100% Jared Spurgeon. Matt Dumba was banged up a bit. Ultimately, Zach Parise’s malady was arguably the final dagger.
This was probably one of the easier series to predict. Minnesota had one good game at home and then Winnipeg scored the last seven goals of the matchup. Connor Hellebuyck, a Vezina Trophy candidate, stopped the final 60 shots of the series. When Winnipeg spent a little too much time in the box, Hellebuyck stood up and delivered.
Winnipeg’s top six performed well, and Mark Scheifele led the way with three goals and an assist in Games 4 and 5. Joe Morrow found a way to win Game 1. He topped the team with four goals in the series. Dustin Byfuglien was the defensive playoff force that most expected. It was not just his offense, but his ability to deliver timely hits. Scheifele and Byfuglien will be key players against Nashville. Also, Winnipeg’s balance is four lines deep like Nashville. This makes for one hell of a second round war.
San Jose Sharks def. Anaheim Ducks to sweep series 4-0
It was quick — and for the San Jose Sharks— relatively painless.
The Sharks limped a bit into the playoffs while Anaheim won five of their final six games to gain home ice advantage for Round 1. It mattered little as San Jose carved up Anaheim down the middle. San Jose was able to score three times in the second period of Game 1. They never looked back. Evander Kane’s two goals set the tone.
After that, the Sharks gave up the first goal in Game 2 then rallied for three straight goals, then held on to win. Once in San Jose, Game 3 featured an eight goal outburst for the Sharks as they laid down the hammer in the series. Martin Jones was phenomenal in the sweep with a quality start (allowed two goals or less in every game).
Even the specter of facing a hot John Gibson mattered little as Gibson was pulled in Game 3 and Anaheim’s offense never could get enough pucks past Jones to scare San Jose much. Marcus Sorenson and Tomas Hertl had three goals each alone with Kane. It truly was a balanced effort that Anaheim could never overcome.
With Vegas looming, the expectation is that San Jose may have a tougher time against a team that moves the puck faster. Vegas from defense to offense is far less rigid than Anaheim. How San Jose adapts along with the play of Martin Jones will be paramount to how they fare in the second round.
Vegas Golden Knights def. Los Angeles Kings to sweep series 4-0
Well, to say this was an upset would be an understatement.
The Vegas Golden Knights continued its amazing run behind the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 127 of 130 shots in a sweep. Los Angeles did hold the vaunted Vegas offense to just seven goals. However, every time the Kings pushed, the Golden Knights found an answer. Their speed and ability to produce odd man rushes along with slot shots was just too much for Los Angeles to overcome.
After failing to qualify for the postseason, Los Angeles was poised to make a run in the playoffs with an offense that nearly scored three goals a game and gave up less than 2.5 per contest. Little of that mattered. Vegas cratered even the Anze Kopitar line in this series much like they did during the regular season at times. No player for Vegas scored more than once.
Fleury posted shutouts in Games 1 and 4 to bookend the series. His finest moment may have come in Game 3 when he held a late charge from Los Angeles. It was not just the 39 shots faced but for the first time in the series, Los Angeles showed that it could tilt the ice. Fleury was able to hold the Kings off. An expansion team of mostly cast-offs took down one of the more dangerous teams in the West.
Perhaps that is the Golden Knights biggest strength — too young, too naive to dwell on the past, only the ability to look toward the future.
SECOND ROUND PREVIEW
Welcome to the Elite Eight.
The Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins on Thursday of this week with a host of intriguing match-ups on paper. Here’s a brief look at the second-round bouts with schedule and television broadcast information:
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins
Saturday, April 28, 3pm: Bruins @ Lightning | NBC, SN, TVA Sports
Monday, April 30, 7pm: Bruins @ Lightning | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 2, 7pm: Lightning @ Bruins | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Friday, May 4, 7pm: Lightning @ Bruins | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Sunday, May 6, TBD: Bruins @ Lightning | TBD
*Tuesday, May 8, TBD: Lightning @ Bruins | TBD
*Thursday, May 10, TBD: Bruins @ Lightning | TBD
The Skinny: Boston managed to take three out of the four season meetings against Tampa Bay. However, they did lose the final match-up. That was significant as Tampa was able to eventually clinch the division and conference from that victory. While Tampa was able to weather the storm of New Jersey, Boston had a difficult seven game battle with Toronto that exposed some gaping holes. The Bruins’ defense. At 5 on 5, Boston has a slight advantage over Tampa and that verified based on the season matchup. Does the extra rest help or hurt Tampa Bay? They will have been off a week between games. That gives time for players to get healthy. Tampa cannot get into a lot of penalty trouble or this could be a short series. The same could be said about Boston. Special teams will be a significant factor. The winner of this series projects to be Boston, but do not be surprised if this series goes the distance.
PREDICTION: Boston in 7
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals
Thursday, April 26, 7pm: Penguins @ Capitals | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 29, 3pm: Penguins @ Capitals | NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 1, 7:30pm: Capitals @ Penguins | NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2
Thursday, May 3, 7pm: Capitals @ Penguins | NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 5, TBD: Penguins @ Capitals | TBD
*Monday, May 7, TBD: Capitals @ Penguins | TBD
*Wednesday, May 9, TBD: Penguins @ Capitals | TBD
The Skinny: Can Washington finally overcome the ghosts of playoffs past? It must be mentioned that the Capitals have lost nine out of ten series to the Penguins. Washington does have an early leg up with Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin not available for Game 1. Braden Holtby is one of the best three goalie stats wise over the last 25 years without a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Matt Murray was up and down against Philadelphia but did win all three road starts. Will the Capitals be able to slow down Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel (both had 13 points in Round 1)? Can Washington’s depth stretch Pittsburgh thin? If Malkin comes back early, this easily tilts the edge towards Pittsburgh. History plays somewhat of a role but this match-up is even.
PREDICTION: Pittsburgh in 6
Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets
Friday, April 27, 8pm: Jets @ Predators | NBCSN, CBC, SN360, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 29, 7pm: Jets @ Predators | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 1, 8pm: Predators @ Jets | CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Thursday, May 3, 9:30pm: Predators @ Jets | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 5, TBD: Jets @ Predators | TBD
*Monday, May 7, TBD: Predators @ Jets | TBD
*Thursday, May 10, TBD: Jets @ Predators | TBD
The Skinny: It comes down to a battle of which depth is superior. Pekka Rinne versus Connor Hellebuyck is expected to be quite the clash. The one concern is that both teams are among the five highest penalty takers in the league. Between Paul Maurice and Peter Laviolette, line matching will be king in a series like this. Momentum swings should be frequent. Will the experience of Nashville be enough to overcome a young and hungry Winnipeg squad? That’s a great question. This series truly could go either way. There is a chance that it could go the distance.
PREDICTION: Nashville in 7
Vegas Golden Knights vs. San Jose Sharks
Thursday, April 26, 10pm: Sharks @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 28, 8pm: Sharks @ Golden Knights | NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
Monday, April 30, 10pm: Golden Knights @ Sharks | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 2, 10pm: Golden Knights @ Sharks | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Friday, May 4, 10pm: Sharks @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Sunday, May 6, TBD: Golden Knights @ Sharks | TBD
*Tuesday, May 8, TBD: Sharks @ Golden Knights | TBD
The Skinny: Vegas and their puck moving game goes up against San Jose’s top line and Martin Jones. The depth of both teams is intriguing. Vegas found a way to win two out of three meetings. Marc-Andre Fleury will face about as many shots as he did in Round 1. If he can stop anywhere near as many, Vegas stands a good chance of winning this series. The rust factor for both teams will be important. Whichever team overcomes that first, will have the upper hand. San Jose has the league’s best penalty kill among teams that are left in the playoffs. San Jose’s experience may be a bit too much for Vegas to overcome.
PREDICTION: San Jose in 7
Written by Chris Wassel / @ChrisWasselDFS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl (48) celebrates with his team mates after scoring the go ahead goal in the third period during game four of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks on April 18, 2018 at SAP Center in San Jose,CA (Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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