Previewing Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Eight teams down, eight teams to go. Needless to say, the first round did not go as predicted by literally anyone. This year featured some of the greatest upsets in NHL history, creating an unlikely elite eight. Here's who's still standing.
The Matchup: New York Islanders (103 PTS, 2nd in Metro) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (99 PTS, 4th in Metro - 1st Wild Card)
Recent Meetings: This is their first matchup since the Canes moved from Hartford.
The Last Time They Were Here: New York was beaten handily in 5 games in the Conference Semifinals by the Lightning in 2016. Carolina beat Boston in 7 games back in 2009 - but only 9 players who participated in that game are still active in the NHL.
Season Series: New York took three of the four meetings (one in overtime), though two of those wins (and Carolina's lone victory) were by just one goal.
The Journey: Defying all storylines that their dream season was about to come to an end, the Islanders surprisingly stomped all over the Penguins in a clean four-game sweep. Their vaunted defense came to play, but it was Robin Lehner (.956 save percentage) and Jordan Eberle (4 goals) that stole the show.
It's been just as much of a dream season in Carolina. After qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2009, this lovable bunch of jerks slayed the dragon of the defending champion Capitals. They dominated each of the three games on home ice, but got the job done in Game 7, as Brock McGinn tipped home a feed from ex-Capital, Mr. Game 7 (former Flyer) Justin Williams in double overtime. Carolina doesn't have the star power as most teams in the playoffs, but they play very well as a team, and that's what they're going to need to do if they want to keep going.
Who's Got the Most Confidence: Both of these teams are on the rise and just took down a traditional Eastern Conference Playoff juggernaut. The Penguins may be slower and older than usual, but you can never take Sidney Crosby lightly. Had this been last year, we would've dismissed it as another great Capitals choke, but they shed that label last summer. You have to give the Canes all the credit in the world for making sure the defending champions are defending no more. Both teams must be sky high right now.
The Pick: Islanders in 6
Oddly Specific Prediction: Regardless if my prediction is right or not, there's unfortunately going to be a significant injury on one side that might just swing the series.
The Matchup: Boston Bruins (107 PTS, 2nd in Atlantic) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (98 PTS, 5th in Metro - 2nd Wild Card)
Recent Meetings: This is their first meeting in franchise history.
The Last Time They Were Here: This is Columbus' first trip to the second round in franchise history. Boston was here last year, but were dominated by the Bolts in 5 games. They also made it here in 2013 en route to a Finals appearance and 2014, when they lost to the Canadiens in a home Game 7.
Season Series: Boston took two out of three games, but one was in overtime.
The Journey: Through sorcery or/and some deal with the hockey demons, the Blue Jackets didn't just beat the Tampa Bay juggernaut - they destroyed it. After giving up 3 goals in the first period of Game 1, the Jackets outscored the Bolts 19-5 the rest of the way. Every line and pairing was playing on the top of their game. Sergei Bobrovsky shedded his own playoff demons with an outstanding performance. For Bob and the Jackets, it was their first ever series win.
For the third time in their last four Eastern Conference Semifinals trip, they are coming off a Game 7 win against the Maple Leafs (I'm so sorry, Toronto). Just like the prior two, it was a battle, though this time Boston had to come back from a 3-2 series deficit, winning the final two games. Their top line has been clicking as always, Tuukka Rask was pretty good, and oh yeah, they're the Bruins, perhaps the most battle-tested team still standing.
Who's Got the Most Confidence: Without a doubt it's Columbus. Not just beating but murdering the President's Trophy winners will do that to you. Columbus could easily get overconfident and flame out, but for now, you have to think they're on the top of the world. Boston has the edge of playing more recently, but their playoff record since 2014 against teams not in Toronto is a bit spotty.
The Pick: Blue Jackets in 7
Oddly Specific Prediction: Charlie Coyle leads the Bruins in scoring this round.
The Matchup: San Jose Sharks (103 PTS, 2nd in Pacific) vs. Colorado Avalanche (90 PTS, 5th in Central - 2nd Wild Card)
Recent Meetings: None since 2010, when the Sharks recovered from an OT own-goal from Dan Boyle to beat the Avs in 6 games.
The Last Time They Were Here: The Joel Quenneville led 2007-08 Avalanche were swept by the eventual champion Detroit Red Wings. The Sharks were here last year, beaten in 6 games by the same Golden Knights team they just knocked out in Round 1.
Season Series: San Jose took all three meetings, two of which were decided by one goal.
The Journey: They may not have looked quite as dominant as the Blue Jackets did in their upset, but the Avalanche were a well-oiled machine after a 4-0 shutout loss in Round 1. Colorado won two blowouts and two tight OT matchups, ensuring that both conference champions would exit in the first round for the first time, well, ever. Their top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen needs no introduction. Mike Smith was actually pretty good for the Flames, but was no match for the German God Philip Grubauer in goal.
Despite being the higher seed in their series, a lot of people (myself included) went against the Sharks. We all seemed right when the Sharks went down three games to one, with Martin Jones .898 regular season save percentage not improving much. However, they won Game 5 on home ice, and Jones stopped 58 of 59 shots in Game 6, won short-handed in the second overtime by Tomas Hertl. But they were down three goals midway through the third, a deficit only one team in NHL history had ever overcome.
But then Cody Eakin took a controversial major penalty for cross-checking Joe Pavelski. San Jose proceeded to score four times on the ensuing 5-minute power play, turning a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 lead. They nearly had their hearts ripped out when Jonathan Marchessault tied the game in the final minute. But after a back-and-forth overtime, Barclay Goodrow ended things one and for-all with an absolue beauty, putting the Golden Knights to bed.
Who's Got the Most Confidence: Both teams are coming in sky high. Colorado just beat the Western Conference regular season champion, and the Sharks just pulled off a historic comeback that had only happened once before (2013, when the Bruins did it to the Maple Leafs). However, since there's no separate category for pressure anymore, we'll note here that the Avs are probably just happy to still be playing. On the other hand? We've been saying this for a while, but this might be the Sharks last, best chance to go for the Cup with their current core.
The Pick: Sharks in 5
Oddly Specific Prediction: Aaron Dell starts at least one game in this series.
The Matchup: St. Louis Blues (99 PTS, 3rd in Central) vs. Dallas Stars (93 PTS - 4th in Central, 1st Wild Card)
Recent Meetings: The last time Dallas was in the playoffs, they lost in 7 to the Blues in because Kari Leht-a-ton-in gave up 3 goals in the first period of Game 7 and the Stars couldn't recover.
The Last Time They Were Here: St. Louis lost a hard-fought 6-game series to Smashville two years ago. See above for Dallas.
Season Series: Dallas took 3 of the 4 meetings, all of which were decided by two or more goals.
The Journey: It really has been a journey for the Blues to get here. Last in the NHL as recently as January, the Blues continued their massive run up the standings in Round 1 with a 6-game win over the talented Winnipeg Jets. 9 different Blues scored a goal in the first round, though Jaden Schwartz deserves a shoutout for his last-minute game winner in Game 5 and hat-trick in the series clinching Game 6. Jordan Binnington didn't put up amazing numbers, but was more than good enough to take the Blues to Round Two.
Dallas was facing some adversity around the same time. Just before the turn of the calendar year, CEO Jim Lites called captain Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin's performance, and I quote "f*cking horsesh*t." Usually, you'd expect that comment to send a team spiraling into the basement. But instead, the Stars top two players looked like it in the first round, scoring 6 points each. On the backend, Miro Heiskanen looked like a legit Calder candidate, while John Klingberg had the series winner in OT in Game 6. Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson gave the Stars much needed depth. And Ben Bishop topped it all off with an impressive .945 save percentage.
Who's Got the Most Confidence: Both the Blues and Stars were viewed as underdogs on paper against two talented and battle tested Central division juggernauts, but both prevailed in 6 games. As a result, both have to be feeling pretty good about themselves. We'll lean towards Dallas since they come in with 3 straight wins (including a dramatic OT winner in Game 6 to clinch the series), but the margin here may just be non-existent.
The Pick: Blues in 7
Oddly Specific Prediction: We get at least one game where one player on both teams has a hat-trick.