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Well folks, the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs concluded Sunday with the elimination of the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Second Round of the playoffs has been set and commences on Wednesday out west. It was a bit of a weird First Round: there was not a single Game 7, but it was still very close, as 18 of the games went to overtime. Overtime, in general, is a coin flip, so the games truly could have gone either way.
You might think I’m setting this up to protect myself from criticism regarding my First Round picks, and you’d be right! You see, I was smoked in the First Round. I truly thought my bracket had legitimate picks and even accounted for randomness — in my head, anyway — and yet, the only series I guessed completely correctly was Washington-Toronto (having picked the Capitals in 6).
I correctly picked Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Nashville to move on, so I’m proud of that, but I picked each of those series to go 7 games. The Penguins only needed 5 to dispatch the Blue Jackets. The Oilers only required 6 games to knock off the Sharks. And, in the biggest surprise of the First Round, the 8th-seeded Predators swept the Western Conference’s top seed in Chicago.
The ones I got wrong? Well, I had the Habs over the Rangers in 6, but the reverse occurred. The other three, though, oh my did I bomb them.
I thought Boston was going to make quick work of the Senators in 5, but the Senators did almost the opposite (and the man, the myth, the legend Erik Karlsson played the whole series on a broken foot!). My Western Conference winner, the Minnesota Wild, were nearly swept by the St. Louis Jake Allen’s (the Blues were outplayed, though obviously not in goal), but at least managed to force Game 5 before losing again. And I thought the Flames and Ducks would play a 7-game thriller that Anaheim would yet again lose, but the Ducks had the brooms out. Oof.
So you see where we stand going into Round Two, and basically, I’m not to be trusted. But if you’re feeling risky and daring, then I’ve got just the collection of words for you!
Ottawa Senators (A2) vs. New York Rangers (WC1)
Is there a more monotonous division than the Atlantic? The two most boring teams in the playoffs managed to get out of the First Round and earned themselves a date with each other in the Atlantic Division Final. Both teams play pretty boring systems (Ottawa especially, if you recall head coach Guy Boucher’s 1–3–1 set-up from Tampa Bay and the weird game they played against the Flyers a few years back). Both teams also lack top-tier forward talent. So, as you can imagine, watching this might be laborious, though I’ve clearly been wrong before.
The Sens showed in the First Round that they can eek games out with the right amount of luck, but they beat a battered Bruins bunch, and the Rangers are a bit more healthy. The Rangers also have a very handsome man named Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes and he can win a playoff series all by himself, even at 35.
Erik Karlsson is a superstar in his own right, and he dominated Boston even with a broken foot — I seriously can’t get over this — but I can’t imagine he’ll be able to keep that high level of play with such a critical injury, especially now that New York knows about it and will almost certainly target it. Pains me to say it, but I think the Rangers win this in 6 games.
Washington Capitals (M1) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (M2)
As if we needed any more affirmation that the NHL’s current playoff format is trash, the top two teams in the league, in terms of standings points, meet up in the Second Round. These two teams played in the Metropolitan Division Final last year as well, and they were also the top point-getters in the conference. Realistically speaking, the winner of the series likely goes to the Cup Final as the Penguins did last year, but it should really be the Eastern Conference Final.
Alas, here we are. The Penguins won last year’s match-up in 6 games, despite Evgeni Malkin not playing and Sidney Crosby not recording a single goal in the series. This year’s Pens team is pretty much the same as last year’s, though they are without the services of Kris Letang this year, and after him, their defensive corps are pretty weak. Marc-Andre Fleury has played admirably thus far, but Matt Murray is likely the better performer in net, and the difference between the two may not have been felt against Columbus, but Washington may reveal it (if Murray can’t go).
This series is definitely the hardest to predict, and will almost certainly be the most entertaining of the entire playoffs, but I think I’m settling on the Capitals in 7. The only surprising outcome of this series is if it doesn’t reach at least a sixth game.
St. Louis Blues (C3) vs. Nashville Predators (WC2)
Ah yes, the rare road-team-in-previous-round-becomes-home-team-in-following-round series — that’s a mouthful. But yes, St. Louis was the road team in the First Round and will be the host of the Predators in the Second Round. Such is life in this playoff format.
But anyway, the Predators looked fantastic against the Blackhawks, and Pekka Rinne looked like his old self again. He was their biggest question mark coming into the postseason and responded by putting an exclamation mark on Nashville’s sweep with two shutouts. The Blues are also riding the hell out of a goalie playing way above his head. Jake Allen has been on a tear since Mike Yeo took over, and that hot play stymied the Wild.
That being said, the Predators likely would have won their series even with average goaltending. They were that good. The Blues, on the other hand, relied very heavily on the goaltending of Allen, and had they not gotten that level of play from him, Minnesota probably would have won another game or two — who knows, perhaps we’re even sitting here debating Minnesota’s chances against Nashville instead of St. Louis’. I don’t think the Preds get the sweep again, but I do think they are ultimately victorious. I say Nashville in 6.
Anaheim Ducks (P1) vs. Edmonton Oilers (P2)
I gotta say, I have absolutely no idea how a Randy Carlyle-led team managed to pull of a four-game sweep. He actively hurts which ever team is under his eye. I sincerely thought we were gonna have ourselves a Battle of Alberta. Instead, we have a Battle of Cultural Futility in Anaheim and Edmonton.
These two squads have plenty of high-end star-level talent to offer on both sides. The Ducks still have Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, who, even at their ages, are still constant threats on the ice, and the Oilers of course have Connor McDavid. Anaheim’s defense is also quite excellent, though Carlyle has a lot of options from which to choose to dress on the back end, and he’s been known to defer to grit and veteran leadership in the past, and might very well shoot himself in the foot. Edmonton is very much lacking in depth both up front and on defense, and the Ducks’ depth could be what helps them advance.
But, the Oilers also have Cam Talbot, who has revealed himself as a truly elite goaltender since breaking out with the Rangers a couple seasons prior. The Oilers’ process also significantly improved toward the end of the season, with head coach Todd McLellan properly utilizing the talent he was given. This is another close call, but I’ll stick with my bracket and pick the Oilers in 7 games.