NHL Conference Semis in Full Mode

By on August 25, 2020

           

TRAVIS FAILEY PHOTO

With the NHL playoffs well under way, it has been a dream for any sports fan. The games have all been phenomenal so far. The intensity has been at a high level and the players are once again showing why the Stanley Cup is toughest trophy to win in sports. There have been overtimes, fights, and plenty of upsets. More importantly, the NHL in coordination with the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto have done a tremendous job of keeping players safe.

            As round one concluded on Friday night, it certainly provided some memorable moments. After the conclusion of the first round, there are now only four teams remaining in each conference.

Colorado Avalanche vs Dallas Stars

After dominating the Arizona Coyotes in 5 games in the first round, the Avalanche are going to have a much tougher task on their hands when they take on the Dallas Stars. Dallas had an eventful series against Calgary that saw them winning in 6 games. That series was highlighted by Denis Gurianov’s legendary 4 goal performance in the series clinching game.

The Stars took it to the Avalanche scoring 10 goals in the first two games for 5-2 and 5-3 wins.  Alexander Radulov has found the back of the net 3 times.

Although history doesn’t matter in the postseason, it is worth noting that the Stars swept the Avalanche 4-0 in the regular season. The Avs did avenge those losses by shutting them out 4-0 in round robin play. Both teams pride their selves on defense, but Colorado has a much stronger scoring punch. If Dallas wants to have a chance in this series it is going to come down to whether or not they can stop the Avalanche first line of Landeskog, Mackinnon and Rantanen. This line has the ability to takeover a series but Dallas is going to rely on one of its top defensive pairings that are headlined by Miro Heiskanen and John Klinberg. Dallas is going to want to clog the shooting lanes and force shots from the outside. Keeping the puck out of the net should not be an issue for the Stars, but for them to win the series, someone is going to need to keep the offense going.

The Avs have a hill to climb and the Stars’ Benn, Seguin, Radulov line does not look like they will be slowing down.  But look for the Avs to push they will not lay down.

Vegas Golden Knights vs Vancouver Canucks

Travis Failey Photo

In one of the biggest upsets in the first round, the Vancouver Canucks advance to play Vegas after knocking off the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues. The Canucks were able to advance by stellar goaltending from Jacob Markström. Vegas beat the Chicago Blackhawks in 5 games and were the better team in every single part of the game. This young Vancouver team was able to overcome blowing a 2-0 series lead by winning games 5 and 6 and ending the series.

This series is going to feature a lot of skill and the potential is there for some high scoring games. After knocking off the defending champs in the first round, Vancouver is essentially playing with house money at this point. Quinn Hughes is making teams that passed on him on draft day regret it as he is on a crazy run right now. If Markström can keep playing at the level he has throughout the playoffs so far, Vancouver has the potential to be in this series from the start and have a chance to move on.  Markström  start was not what the Canucks were looking for as the Knights lead the series 1-0 as they jumped on the Canucks for a 5-0 blowout in the series opener.

Travis Failey Photo

The Golden Knights are going to look to rely on their defense structure and not let Vancouver open the game up. At least to start, I do not expect them to take many chances. Instead, they are going to stay within their systems and try to win that way. Goaltender Robin Lehner had a good series against Chicago, and he is going to need to do that again.

I do expect this to be a good series, but I think Vegas is just going to be too much for the young Vancouver team. If Vancouver is going to win this series, they will need a strong goaltending performance and to win the special teams battle. I do expect the Canucks to steal one game in this series, but I do not see them winning it.

Philadelphia Flyers vs New York Islanders

Moving back to the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Flyers are taking on the New York Islanders in what should be a great defensive battle. The Flyers took down the Canadiens in 6 games in a series that was much closer than many expected. The Islanders advanced after defeating the Capitals in 5 games and they were the better team throughout.

This should be a low scoring series overall as these teams like to focus on defense and not giving up leads. The Isles did open up in game one winning 4-0.   In the first series, if the Flyers had the lead, they would clog up the neutral zone and make it difficult for their opponent to get pucks deep and create scoring opportunities.  The Islanders were able to overcome that in game one. The Flyers were able to advance despite limited production from their top scorers. That is going to have to change for them to beat the stingy Islanders. Carter Hart has been tremendous in goal for the Flyers so far and he is going to have to keep that up because there will not be room for mistakes in this series.

The Islanders are also a defense first team. They will not take chances and they will rely on Semyon Varlamov to make saves for them. Despite having trouble scoring goals in the second half of the season, has not been an issue so far in the playoffs. So far, they are playing a good team game and could arguably be playing the as the best team in the league right now. Throughout this year’s postseason, the Isles have relied on a balance of scoring contributions from players like Matthew Barzal, Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

This should be a fast, physical series and every game should be close. The biggest question is going to be which team can find ways to score. Although that sounds cliché, the Flyers had trouble scoring in the first round, and the Islanders have been plagued by goal scoring issues all season. This series does have the potential to go the distance, but the Islanders are playing too well for that to happen.

Prediction: New York Islanders in 6

Boston Bruins vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Travis Failey Photo

In what many hoped would be the Eastern Conference finals, these two teams will face off in a much-anticipated semi-finals matchup. The Bruins defeated the Hurricanes in 5 games, but the series was much closer than the final result indicated. Tampa Bay defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets in 5 games but required overtime in 2 of the games.

Despite Tampa Bay beating Columbus in 5 games, they did not look great in the series. Some of that could have been fatigue from the 5-overtime win in game 1, but they will need a better team effort to beat the Bruins. Led by Vezina finalist Andrei Vasilevsky, the Lightning will look to use their speed to beat the Bruins. The Lightning will look to get back to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2018.

The Bruins lead the series 1-0.  In game one the Lightning, often slow starters, got behind early as Charlie Coyle scored on the power play.  Victor Hedman for the Lightning took an early penalty setting up the Coyle goal less than two minutes in.  The Bruins scored two more goals, one in the next two periods to take what would like a commanding lead.  The Lightning made it interesting with Hedman scoring twice, once even strength and then with the net empty with 1:14 left.  Too little too late, as time expired.

The biggest storyline surrounding the Bruins has been the opt out of Vezina Finalist and former Stanley Cup champion, Tuukka Rask. He left the bubble to be with his family. There are bigger things than sports and the Bruins are going to try to rally for their winningest goalie in franchise history. Taking over in goal has been journeyman Jaroslav Halak. Despite being a backup, he has been great in the regular season and thus far in the playoffs. The Bruins have a tremendous amount of post season experience and that can be the x-factor in this series.

This series is going to be a battle and I would not be shocked if it goes 7 games. I expect this to be the best series of this round. This Lightning team probably has more skill but that does not mean anything come NHL playoffs. Boston is going to look to frustrate them and get under their skin. I expect this to be a great battle and continue to show why the Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy to win in sports. I just think the physicality and experience of the Bruins will show.

Prediction: Boston Bruins in 7

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