Now that the first round has come to a close thanks to the Game 7 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings last night, the second round of this year’s NHL playoffs look to be taking a turn for the better.
Teams like the Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames, Washington Capitals, and Tampa Bay Lightning are all still alive and all have their own respective series against the powerhouse teams.
The opponents of these underdogs include the Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers.
This is the perfect scenario for a postseason because the contrast clash will be present in every single divisional semi-final series. What these match ups mean is that no matter the winners for each of those series we will either see all the powerhouses battling it out in the conference finals, all the underdogs digging into each other in that round, or a healthy mix of both.
Any way the wind blows is fine by me.
Here’s a look at the four matchups we have to look forward to, starting tonight with the Rangers-Capitals.
1. (1) NY Rangers vs. (2) Washington Capitals
So the good news for Washington is that they have finally had success in the first round, particularly in Game 7s. Alex Ovechkin is starting to get his flow going on the goal this year (no pun intended) is to get a Stanley Cup and nothing less.
Leaving the postseason in this round or the conference would be a major disappointment for the Caps for obvious reasons.
On the flip side, New York is looking for a return to championship form as they won’t have to deal with the Los Angeles Kings this time around — in other words, the coast is clear.
But don’t sleep on the Capitals.
The Islanders exposed plenty of issues in their first round match up and although they weren’t able to emerge victorious, the defensive woes of the Capitals and the spotty play may be an issue against Henrik Lundqvist and company.
Prediction: New York 4, Washington 2
2. (1) Montreal Canadiens vs. (2) Tampa Bay Lightning
Wow Tampa got a break.
Not only did the Detroit Red Wings seriously have the Bolts on edge, but they almost pulled away with another Game 7 win for their franchise and were ready to add to the Lightning’s nerve-wrecking season before things fell from the sky.
By that I mean that the score was still 0-0 after two periods in Game 7, and with the given unfortunate home record of Tampa Bay it was not looking like things would go their way.
But the offense came through.
Clutch goals, even in low scoring affairs, will be what determines if Tampa Bay will get a shot to represent their division in the Conference Finals.
And after seeing the trouble that the Ottawa Senators gave Montreal, even late in their series after falling down 0-3 in games won, Tampa Bay could easily be Montreal’s new Achilles’ Heel.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 4, Montreal 2
3. (1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (3) Calgary Flames
The Ducks are going to have to be historically good in this match up to even think about staying in the championship conversation.
After Calgary completely dismantled the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, the Flames will stand as Anaheim’s biggest challenge in this year’s playoffs — and there’s a big reason why.
The winner of the Calgary-Vancouver match up has gone on to be present in the Stanley Cup Final every single time that pairing has taken place. Last season, Anaheim was the top seed (as they are this year) and coughed up a 3-2 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings in what could have very well changed the Stanley Cup Final outlook from there on out.
But maybe this year, things will be different?
Either way, the Flames are playing with youthful confidence that is huge in professional hockey and are operating much like the spirit and influence with which Los Angeles plays.
Lastly, Jonas Hiller, who’s now with the Flames, used to play for the Ducks. He’ll be ready for anything the Ducks think they might have coming with a third-round berth on the line.
Not to mention the swagger factor.
Prediction: Calgary 4, Anaheim 3
4. (3) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (4) Minnesota Wild
This is a rematch of the same round last season.
That time around, Minnesota struggled to really contain the fiery offensive weapons of Chicago. Complications with their goalie play and a lack of goals in open scoring opportunities cost the Wild dearly and Chicago advanced with room to breathe.
But this Wild team is different.
Towards the conclusion of the regular season, Minnesota went on a winning rampage and became a road dominant team. For a squad like Chicago that struggled at home in the first round against Nashville, this could be the determining factor in a series like this.
Either way, though, this will provide us the most hard-hitting and fundamental hockey.
Prediction: Minnesota 4, Chicago 2