It’s time for part 2 of our preview of Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the energy surrounding the remaining eight NHL teams continues to build. With zero top seeds remaining, Round 2’s matchups feature few of the pre-postseason favorites. We’ve already previewed the series that begin on Thursday night (Columbus vs Boston, Dallas vs St. Louis), so this will preview the two that begin on Friday.
We begin in the Western Conference, where the San Jose Sharks went from the brink of elimination (three times) to the highest-remaining seed in the entire Conference. The Sharks had to win Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights to stay alive, with the final two games both needing overtime periods. San Jose has plenty of offensive firepower, with two amazing offensive defensemen in Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, as well as forwards like Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, and Joe Pavelski. Pavelski, the Sharks’ Captain, was injured during the third period in Game 7 of the Vegas series, with his injury resulting in a 5:00 power play for San Jose (which the Sharks used to go from down 3-0 to holding a 4-3 lead). Martin Jones started the series with the Golden Knights as a bit of a question mark, given his history of inconsistent and poor performances against Vegas. However, Jones was able to sharpen back up in Games 5 and 6 and held his own in Game 7 to get the Sharks into the next round.
The Sharks’ Round 2 opponents had to take down the Western Conference’s top team in Round 1, and the Colorado Avalanche needed just five games to pull it off. This marks the first time since 2010 that Colorado has won a Playoff series. Coincidentally, a Round 1 series win in 2010 led to Colorado falling to San Jose in Round 2.
Colorado is a very talented team at the top. Nathan MacKinnon may be one of the NHL’s most underrated (or underappreciated) players, and his 99-point season in 2018-19 is proof of his skill level. In addition to MacKinnon, the Avs also lean on young forwards Mikko Rantanen (5 goals, 4 assists vs Calgary) and Gabriel Landeskog (1 goal, 3 assists vs Calgary). It’s those forwards that will provide the biggest challenge for San Jose in this series.
The Sharks struggled with Vegas’ top line of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny early in Round 1, but seemed to figure out a way to slow them down in the final games of the series. I think that San Jose will be able to do the same to the Avalanche and pick up the win in Round 2. The Avalanche (+120) aren’t terrible value at that Money Line, but it’s not a big enough payout for me to go against the Sharks (-140) in this matchup.
In the Eastern Conference, the Carolina Hurricanes were the final team to punch their ticket to Round 2. It took a Game 6 win at home and a Game 7 win in double overtime in Washington, D.C., but the Canes managed to take down the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, making Wild Card teams a perfect (4-0) in opening round series. In Round 1, Jaccob Slavin led the Hurricanes with 9 points (0 goals, 9 assists), and Petr Mrazek starred in-net. Mrazek finished the series with a Goals Against Average of just over 2.50 and considering Washington’s roster that’s really quite impressive.
In addition to Slavin and Mrazek, keep an eye on Warren Foegele, Jordan Staal and Dougie Hamilton for Carolina. Each of those three players posted 6 points across the 7-game series.
Carolina’s Round 2 opponent is well-rested, as the New York Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in their Round 1 series. Not only did the Isles win every game of the series, but they trailed the Pens for just 4:51 in total, and never trailed by more than a single goal at any point. In those four games, Jordan Eberle led New York with six points (4 goals, 2 assists), and Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each finished the series with three goals. Mathew Barzal led the team in assists, picking up five helpers in the series.
But the big story in Round 1 for the Islanders, at least for me, was in-net. Robin Lehner didn’t just pick up wins against Pittsburgh, he dominated the always-dangerous Penguins. Lehner allowed just six goals in total, posting a save percentage of .956 for the series. Considering he was up against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and others, that’s even more impressive.
From a betting perspective, the Islanders are slight favorites entering Game 1. Carolina is riding a wave of energy from back-to-back wins when they had their backs against the wall, while New York is rested. Lehner has been outstanding in-net, and the Islanders have played very well in front of him. Carolina’s run has been amazing so far, and I love the energy that they bring. But in an unpredictable postseason, I’m looking to the benches for the difference maker. Barry Trotz coached the Capitals to a championship just one year ago, and with no disrespect to the 2018 Blue Jackets, Washington’s run truly kicked into gear when they beat the Penguins. Whether with New York, Washington, or Nashville beforehand, Barry Trotz always gets more out of a team than a normal man could, and that’s why I’m picking the Islanders (-128) to beat the Hurricanes (+108) and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Drew has been covering sports professionally since 2007, covering sports of all kinds in the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Conference USA. In addition to covering college sports, he also spent two seasons working with the NHL's Florida Panthers as part of their TV broadcast team, as well as reporting and anchoring for AT&T SportsNet and FOX Sports affiliates, CBS Sports Network and ESPNU. Drew has also ...
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