With the manner in which the most compelling, chaotic and unpredictable Round 1 in NHL history unfolded, only a mug would make a bold prediction for how the rest of the playoffs will turn out. So, of course, here goes: The Stanley Cup is the Boston Bruins’ to lose.
That’s because the vast majority of the heavy lifting has already been done for them by the team they’re going to face in the second round, the Columbus Blue Jackets. And along with their ousting of the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1 and Carolina defeating the Washington Capitals, the biggest threats to them getting through the Eastern Conference have been dispatched. The Bruins have the requisite experience, they’re a heavy team with skill and they have secured home-ice advantage through the remainder of the post-season. They had 61 of their 107 points at the TD Garden, which is by far the highest number of any team left in the playoffs. And they’re relatively healthy.
Of the eight teams remaining in the post-season, the Bruins were the best game-in and game-out during the regular season. Of course, that meant bupkis during the first round of the playoffs, but you have to remember that the longer the playoffs go, the likelihood of mayhem and upsets and chaos decreases with every passing round. You could argue that right here and right now, the Bruins have the best player (Brad Marchand), the best goalie (Tuukka Rask) and the best No. 1 line (Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak) of the teams remaining. And for all the talk of how dominant the Bergeron line is, the Bruins got goals from 13 different players in their first-round triumph over the Maple Leafs.
It’s really laid out for Boston in a way that could not have been more advantageous to them if they drew it up themselves. They’ll play Game 1 of the second round on one day’s rest, while the Blue Jackets will have not played any meaningful hockey in nine days. That has got to be an advantage for the Bruins early in the series and gives them an opportunity to jump out into a lead before the Blue Jackets even get their feet back beneath them. Columbus feasted on the power play in the first round, scoring on half of their advantages against a team that came into the playoffs with the best penalty-killing in the league. Is that going to happen again? Probably not.
These are clearly not the Blue Jackets that floundered for much of the season and took their sweet time getting their act together after their trade deadline acquisitions. There is a chance this could be a redux of the 2012 Los Angeles Kings and if that’s the case, then nobody has a chance against them. But the feeling here, and in much of the hockey world, is that the Bruins just have too many weapons and are two well-rounded to stumble against the buzz saw that is the Blue Jackets. And Columbus won’t be able to lean on the Bruins, either.
So I’m going to say Bruins in six games. The experience will be the deciding factor. The Bruins have five key players – Marchand, Bergeron, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Rask – who have won a Stanley Cup and the Blue Jackets have one in Artemi Panarin. And much of their team just found out what it’s like to win a playoff series.
Armed with my 4-4 mark in the first round, here’s how I see the rest of the series turning out. (These views don’t necessarily reflect those of THN.)
New York Islanders vs. Carolina Hurricanes
This is the series predicted by nobody ever. On paper, the Islanders are the better team, but the Hurricanes have something magical going on. The Islanders were the league’s stingiest team in both the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. Neither team has done much on the power play, so special teams might not even factor into the result.
Prediction: Islanders in 6
San Jose Sharks vs. Colorado Avalanche
This could be the most compelling matchup of the second round, pitting the experience and savvy of the Sharks against the youthful enthusiasm and quick feet of the Avalanche. You really have to wonder how much the Sharks have left in the tank after their emotional Round 1 series against the Vegas Golden Knights. Much depends on whether the Martin Jones who won the last three games of the first round shows up.
Prediction: Avalanche in 7
St. Louis Blues vs. Dallas Stars
The Blues are deeper, more talented and more explosive than the Stars and even though Jordan Binnington was very good in the first round, he wasn’t the same lights-out player he was during the regular season. And the scary thing is the Blues did much of their damage with their secondary players. Vladimir Tarasenko contributed nothing five-on-five and that’s not a trend that’s likely to continue.
Prediction: Blues in 6
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