It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Typically that’s a phrase one would hear around Christmas. But for hockey fans, there’s no better time of year to enjoy the game than the playoffs. With storylines galore and the intensity at an all-time high, witnessing 16 teams battle for the right to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup is a sight to behold.
Throughout the postseason, From The 300 Level will provide you with series previews and predictions from the start of round one through the finals. Previews will become more in-depth as the playoffs roll along, but for now here is our analysis of the second round.
(1) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (6) New York Islanders
The Philadelphia Flyers have made and missed the playoffs in alternating seasons going back to 2012, but maybe – just maybe – the Broadstreet Bullies can start having consistent success going forward. Fresh faces like Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov and the emergence of Sean Couturier as an elite talent have taken the load off of veterans who have carried the Flyers in the past like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk and Shayne Gostisbehere – resulting in the Flyers having won a playoff series for the first time since 2012. Carter Hart may finally prove to be the long-awaited answer in Philly’s net after a strong start to his career.
After John Tavares’ defection to Toronto two years ago, most believed the New York Islanders would suffer a major downturn. Not so. Talents like Matthew Barzal, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson have turned in solid efforts and Ryan Pulock, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy have also been strong on defense. Veterans like Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Derick Brassard and Andy Greene were brought in by GM Lou Lamoriello to help out Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck play in Barry Trotz’s smothering defensive system, and Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss split the starting goaltender duties in the regular season (Varlamov has become the entrenched starter in the postseason).
PREDICTION – Flyers in seven. As effective as the Islanders’ defensive system is – and it will give Philadelphia fits – it won’t be enough to compensate what they lack in offensive gamebreakers.
(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (4) Boston Bruins
A powerhouse in the Eastern Conference over the last half-decade, the Lightning are deeper than they’ve ever been. Youngsters like Brayden Point, Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli and imports like Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman and Ryan McDonagh have joined Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Victor Hedman to build a juggernaut. Andrei Vasilevskiy is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s best goaltender. But the Lightning have been working through some adversity this postseason as Stamkos is dealing with an injury.
The Boston Bruins have a nice mix of veterans left from their title-winning team in 2011 and youngsters who have come into their own. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara remain from the old guard while David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Brandon Carlo have provided a shot in the arm. Jaroslav Halak has been a steady presence in net in the absence of Tuukka Rask.
PREDICTION – Lightning in seven. These two teams are among the best in the league and this one will go the distance. But for how much longer can Halak hold down the fort at a high level? We’re betting that it won’t be enough to get past Tampa Bay.
(1) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (5) Vancouver Canucks
The Golden Knights have followed up their first two seasons with another strong outing and are clearly one of the better outfits in the Western Conference. Led by William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, the Golden Knights have augmented their core group with experienced pros like Mark Stone, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty and are a team that relies on speed and a strong forechecking game. Pete DeBoer replaced Gerard Gallant behind the bench and has kept this team on course, while trade deadline pickups Robin Lehner and Alec Martinez have lightened the loads of headliners Marc-Andre Fleury and Shea Theodore.
Vancouver’s rebuilding efforts over the last five years have paid off with their first playoff appearance since 2015 and their first playoff series win since 2011. Paced by a young core at forward (Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser), defense (Quinn Hughes) and surrounded by battle-tested pros (J.T. Miller, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Alexander Edler, Chris Tanev, Tyler Myers, Jay Beagle and Loui Ericksson), this team is an interesting mix of young and old. However, the goaltending duo of Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko leaves a lot to be desired.
PREDICTION – Golden Knights in five. The Canucks have a bright future ahead of them, but shaky goaltending will hamper them against Vegas.
(2) Colorado Avalanche vs. (3) Dallas Stars
Few teams in the NHL had such a dichotomy on their team between their offensive and defensive talent over the last few years like the Colorado Avalanche did. Blessed with studs at forward like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, the Avs have certainly light up scoreboards. But Colorado didn’t have much on defense, nor much depth at forward. That has changed with Calder Trophy favorite Cale Makar and Samuel Girard arriving, pushing rearguards Nikita Zadorov, Erik Johnson and Ian Cole into ideal roles on defense and Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare becoming reliable secondary scorers. Philipp Grubauer is the Avalanche’s starter in net.
The Dallas Stars are an interesting case study. Goaltenders Ben Bishop and Anton Khubodin have performed well, as have defensemen Miro Heiskanen and John Klingburg, but the rest of the team was very inconsistent – leading to a coaching change midseason in favor of longtime assistant Rick Bowness. The Stars’ big guns – Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov – all saw their statistical outputs drop off, and free agent signings Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera didn’t provide much of a shot in the arm. Dallas was also so-so during the qualifying round and against the Calgary Flames, which leads to the question – which version of this Jekyll and Hyde team will we see against Colorado?
PREDICTION – Avalanche in six games. The Stars will give Colorado a run for their money, but their inconsistency will rear its ugly head a few too many times.