Our “experts” are keeping score of how many series they predict correctly and incorrectly, though flipping a coin would yield better results than what they’ve had. A bonus is awarded for picking the correct number of games it takes for a team to advance. The current grisly standings look like this:
Telerski: 2 correct, 6 incorrect (1 bonus)
Roman: 2 correct, 6 incorrect (1 bonus)
Nathan: 2 correct, 6 incorrect
Will: 0 correct, 8 incorrect
Boston – Columbus (Telerski)
Telerski’s pick: A house of horrors. That’s what the TD Garden is for the Toronto Maple Leafs when it comes down to Game 7. And it was not the Best Line in the League™ that won them the big game, it was the grinders, the third and fourth lines that won the game. Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari, and Joakim Nordstrom shut down the Leafs’ top line and brought some offense of their own.
This is the answer to the grand problem the Bruins have faced in the last few seasons. While being home to the Best Line in the League™ (Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak) when they have had trouble scoring the team has not fared well. But there is true depth scoring showing itself this year. Tuukka Rask had a huge game in the clincher, shutting up the haters. People forget that he is the active goalie with the highest career save percentage (.9212).
The Bruins did play some very bad games, but when they were on form, like in games 2 and 7, they absolutely dominated the Leafs. They are more physical than their opponents, they can score as much as anyone, and they still have Jaroslav Halak waiting in the wings if Rask needs a break.
Columbus stunned Tampa Bay in the last round, but I think it was a pyrrhic victory. Icarus has flown too close to the sun, and despite avoiding lightning strikes, will crash back down to earth to be consumed by a bear. Too much emotional energy was spent on winning the franchise’s first ever playoff series against a far superior opponent. That is not sustainable, even with a goalie as good as Sergei Bobrovsky. With home ice for Boston, this series won’t be interesting if the Bruins come to play. Boston in 5.
Will’s pick: Columbus in 6 – The team that proved to me I know nothing about predicting playoff hockey just took down the supposed best team of the salary cap era. They can take down this Bruins’ team, who are playing on short rest.
Nathan’s pick: Boston in 7 – I was really leaning towards chaos but talent will win and I love Marcus Johansson.
Roman’s pick: Boston in 6 – Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak will refuse to be locked up like Kucherov, Stamkos, and Point.
Carolina – New York (Nathan)
Nathan’s pick: Disclaimer: The author of this prediction has not stopped sadboi-ing since 11:30 pm on April 24 when Carolina defeated Washington in double overtime.
Carolina showed its mettle in their first round series against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The biggest surprise of the series was Petr Mrazek, who elevated his team with timely stops and a higher level of consistency compared to what we saw out of Hurricanes goaltenders in the regular season. Less surprising was Carolina’s offensive prowess. Despite missing explosive forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Micheal Ferland (yes, that’s the correct spelling) for a significant portion of the series, Carolina was still able to exploit weaknesses in Washington’s defense and attack the net. The play of Warren Foegele stood out for the Hurricanes. Foegele tallied six points in the seven-game series, bringing much-needed depth scoring to Carolina – something that Washington simply couldn’t match. Winning Game 7 in double overtime on the road proved that the Hurricanes do belong in the playoffs, and their core will remain a threat for years to come.
However, they will not have such an easy time against New York. New head coach Barry Trotz has completely changed the culture for the Islanders, bringing his team-first, defensively oriented philosophy to a team that was badly in need of discipline. His players have responded in kind, mitigating the loss of captain John Tavares with a suffocating defensive structure and superb goaltending. When Trotz went to New York, he took assistant coach Lane Lambert and goaltending coach Mitch Korn with him. Korn has been an important factor in New York’s turnaround, as his coaching led Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss (!!) to the Jennings Trophy. New York has also demonstrated a secure second strike capability (I have an IR final in 8 days). Three times they allowed Pittsburgh to score an opening goal and three times they equalized within a minute. Offensively, Matthew Barzal, Josh Bailey, and a resurgent Jordan Eberle shined in their sweep of Pittsburgh. Defensively, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech have emerged as a true shutdown pairing.
At the beginning of the year, this second round matchup would’ve been unfathomable, as both teams defeated prohibitive favorites (Washington and Pittsburgh) to advance this far. For one of them, the magic will run out, and I believe that Carolina’s time is up. New York’s ability to quickly respond and their ability to shut an opponent down will allow them to prevail against an exciting Hurricanes squad that may be less disciplined defensively. It’ll be really weird to see Mr. Krabs in the Eastern Conference Finals two years in a row. New York in 6.
Will’s pick: New York in 7 – Another series where one team swept and one team had to gut out a seven-game victory. I’ll take the rested squad despite liking Carolina’s roster a lot more – I give Lehner the advantage over Mrazek in net.
Telerski’s pick: Carolina in 6 – Much to Nathan’s chagrin, I do think that Carolina’s is a much more dangerous offense. I’m not convinced yet that what could be bad luck isn’t an inability to finish though.
Roman’s pick: New York in 5 – The Islanders made me look so bad last round that I have been converted to the Church of Lehner.
San Jose – Colorado (Roman)
Roman’s pick: Disclaimer: The author of this prediction has not stopped smiling since 1:30 am on April 23 when San Jose defeated Vegas in overtime.
While it was a common theme in the first round, Colorado shocked the NHL with a thrashing of the top seed in the Western Conference, the Calgary Flames. I certainly did not see this coming: I predicted a Calgary sweep. It was my mistake. There are two things necessary to win a series as an underdog. A dominant line and a hot goalie. The Avs had both. Philipp Grubauer and the Colorado blue line locked down Calgary, holding them to two goals or less in each of the last four games, uncoincidentally, Colorado’s four wins. Grubauer finished the series with a .939 save percentage, which demonstrated carryover from his dominant final nine starts where he went 7-0-2 and had a .953 save percentage. On offense, the team was unsurprisingly led by its stars Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. MacKinnon delivered his usual all world play, scoring 8 points with 3 goals, and caused Flames Norris Trophy finalist Mark Giordano to say MacKinnon might be the best player in the NHL. Rantanen has been hampered with an injury since before the playoffs began but that did not slow him down in the slightest. Rantanen spent time on the first and second lines and showed his usual production on both, while also raising the games of teammates Colin Wilson, Carl Soderberg, and Alexander Kerfoot. He has nine points in the playoffs with five goals, and will likely soon overtake the eliminated Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty for league lead in playoff points. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention 20 year old defenseman Cale Makar who was added to the team for the playoff run and immediately produced offensively, and raised the play of his teammates on defense.
On the other side of ice sits the San Jose Sharks, a team whose season appeared to be over when down 3-0 against the Vegas Golden Knights. Instead, a controversial major penalty on Cody Eakin changed the course of events when the Sharks scored four goals on the ensuing five minute power play. After Vegas tied it up, fourth line center Barclay Goodrow scored in overtime for the Sharks to advance. The Sharks ended the season as the team with the second most points in the Western Conference and have finally began to play like it in the last three games of the Vegas series. The Sharks were led on offense by a healthy Erik Karlsson (9 points) and the top two goal scorers in the playoffs so far, Logan Couture (6 goals) and Tomas Hertl (6 goals). Their blue line got a huge boost with the return of shutdown defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who left Game 2 with injury, but returned in Game 5. The Sharks went 4-0 in the series when Vlasic played the whole game. In net, the Vegas series saw the best and worst of Martin Jones. He was pulled in two of his first four games and seemed to be the sub .900 save percentage goalie we saw in the regular season. However, he stepped up big time, and none were bigger than in Game 6 when he set a Sharks postseason record with 58 saves in a 2-1 victory.
This is a tough series to predict. The Avalanche will be well rested and healthy, while the Sharks just endured a 7 game slugfest that entailed overtime games and the loss of their captain Joe Pavelski to a head injury. Fresh legs make a difference, and Colorado’s top line is one of the best, if not the best (Telerski has something to say about this I think), in the league. While tired, San Jose still has plenty of firepower and gets production up and down the lineup, unlike the top heavy Avalanche. Plus, I have to believe in what I saw in Martin Jones to end that Vegas series. But Colorado will not make this easy. Rantanen and MacKinnon will get theirs, but I think the Sharks overwhelm them in the end. San Jose in 7.
Will’s pick: Colorado in 6 – The Flames are (were?) more complete than this San Jose team. Colorado dismantled them in 5 with ease. Martin Jones will stop masquerading as a competent goaltender in this series.
Telerski’s pick: San Jose in 5 – Much the same as Columbus, Colorado spent too much to get here.
Nathan’s pick: San Jose in 5 – Drake took a photo with Colorado so it’s curtains on their season.
St. Louis – Dallas (Will)
Will’s pick: A dark truth – I went 0-8 in our first round predictions. The piece I championed, my baby, the picks I pored over Corsi figures, expected goals statistics, line combinations, minute storylines for. Went oh-fer. Not only would I have done better flipping a coin, I would have done better rolling a six-sided dice where two sides touted the logos of the teams actually playing in the series and the other four showed non-playoff teams. So if you want to stop reading this blurb here because I know nothing about predicting playoff hockey then I won’t be offended.
When I wrote the preview for Dallas and Nashville’s series in that aforementioned piece, I didn’t write the Stars off. I touted their resolute defending top to bottom through the lineup, their decent expected goals and power play conversion figures, Ben Bishop’s prowess in net, and I hypothesized that Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn would put their best foot forward after CEO Jim Lites’ challenge to the Stars forwards in the winter. But I couldn’t find it within me to pick the Stars, opting for Nashville…in 7 games…in double OT.
I should have pulled the trigger. Dallas dispatched Nashville in 6 and outscored the Preds 18-12 in those games. Those games didn’t take shape as I expected, however. What many thought would be low-scoring alley brawls saw Dallas score the second-most goals per game of any playoff team, while conceding the fifth-most. Seguin, Benn, and linemate Alexander Radulov dominated from start to finish, while Bishop took care of business in the crease.
The Blues are quite obviously the deeper team, as evidenced by their six-game victory over the Winnipeg Jets despite their top line getting outscored 5-1, and rookie sensation Jordan Binnington put in some excellent goaltending performances along the way there. The Blues are pouring their hearts out for first-year head coach Craig Berube and their sellout crowds at the Enterprise Center.
That said, I’m not picking against Dallas twice. The Stars’ scoring will almost certainly regress, but I contrarily expect their defensive corps, led by John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen, to really pick it up on the back end this week to give Bishop some help. St. Louis tied a Winnipeg team that had been struggling for weeks 16-all in the goal department in Round 1; Dallas shoved aside an experienced Nashville team that was surging. Dallas in 6.
Telerski’s pick: St. Louis in 7 – The lights will get to Binnington, but he is too good to have that happen four times.
Nathan’s pick: St. Louis in 7 – Experience and a hot goaltender will propel St. Louis to the Western Conference Finals, a goal that their previous core reached only once.
Roman’s pick: St. Louis in 6 – Jordan Binnington is the hottest goalie in these playoffs and won’t be stopped.