(Editor’s note: This story has been updated with predictions for the Winnipeg Jets-Montreal Canadiens series.)
This is going to be fun.
The second round of the NHL playoffs begins Saturday with matchups that promise to be among the best we see all postseason.
After knocking off the top two seeds in the East, the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders get together to kick off the second round in a series where home ice could play a big factor.
In the Central, the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning take on the top-seeded Carolina Hurricanes in a series that should bring plenty of fireworks.
Out in the West, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche meet the Vegas Golden Knights in a battle of the NHL’s two best regular-season teams.
And in the North, the Winnipeg Jets will play Montreal after the Canadiens stormed back from 3-1 down in the series to upset the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau and the New York Islanders will square off with Charlie McAvoy and the Boston Bruins in the second round.
NHL schedule: Complete schedule and results
USA TODAY Sports’ NHL staffers make their predictions for the second-round series:
Boston vs. New York Islanders: Bruins in 6. There is no doubt that Barry Trotz’s Islanders win with structure and defense, on the heels of a team-wide effort over top-end talent. The problem is that the Bruins can play this way, too, and do so with a top-six that will just be too hard to quiet over a series. The X-factor is Islander goalie Ilya Sorokin, who took over the No. 1 job in net against the Penguins and stopped 150 of 159 shots in four starts.
Carolina vs. Tampa Bay: Hurricanes in 7. This will be the treat of the second round, and it’s only fitting it will go seven games. The Lightning have been idle since Wednesday, while Carolina had two days off after playing four consecutive overtime games (two of which went to double-OT). The closeness of those games, however, were more to do with the play of Predators goalie Juuse Saros than a lack of chances for the Hurricanes. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is also capable of stealing games and even if Carolina generates more chances, the Lightning are potent enough to make their chances count. But I like how the Hurricanes have played all year; their depth can match the Lightning’s and Andrei Svechnikov is ready to have a huge series (one goal on 23 shots vs. Nashville) and lift Carolina in Game 7.
Colorado vs. Vegas: Avalanche in 6. The Golden Knights will make this a tougher series for the Avalanche after their four-game sweep of the Blues, whom they outscored 20-7. Giving the Golden Knights two wins here is more about the fact it’s nearly impossible to expect any team to not have an off night. The Golden Knights continue to create chances without enough scoring. The Avs are just too dangerous, with too much offense; 11 players scored in Round 1, including six from Nathan MacKinnon.
Winnipeg vs. Montreal: Jets in 6. Montreal showed in its first-round series win against the Maple Leafs that its recipe for success is to keep scoring low and get timely goaltending from Carey Price. While the Jets do not have an explosive offense, their top forwards seem to excel in a more north-south, physical game that Montreal will lean into during this series. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck is also coming off of a series in which he gave up eight goals on 159 shots and can outshine Price.
Boston vs. New York Islanders: Bruins in 7. The Islanders won the first five games of the season series, but the Bruins won the three after the trade deadline. New York plays a tight defensive game and might be able to hold Boston’s potent top line in check, but the Bruins are deeper since the deadline. Goalie Tuukka Rask will be tougher to beat than Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry was in the first round.
Carolina vs. Tampa Bay: Lightning in 6: Rod Brind’Amour’s Hurricanes are impressive, but the Lightning have a lot of firepower. Nikita Kucherov is leading the postseason in scoring despite missing the regular season, and they have five players averaging a point or more a game. The Hurricanes played a fair amount of overtime in the first round.
Colorado vs. Vegas: Avalanche in 7: The Golden Knights-Avalanche series is the one everyone had been anticipating, and it will be fun to watch. They’re evenly matched in net and have impressive defenses. Game breaker Nathan MacKinnon gives the Avalanche the edge. So will having home-ice advantage. Colorado picked that up with a big win against Vegas in the final week. The key will be goalie Philipp Grubauer staying healthy. His injury last season contributed to Colorado getting knocked out in the second round.
Winnipeg vs. Montreal: Jets in 6. The Jets are deep down the middle, which will create matchup issues for the Canadiens. The Jets also are well-rested after sweeping the Edmonton Oilers. Price might steal a game or two, but Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy in 2019-20 and had a great first round against a team with the top two scorers in the league.
Boston vs. New York Islanders: Bruins in 7. Though the Islanders can bottle teams up like few can in the NHL, it’s also true that they were outplayed for large stretches against the Penguins. Unfortunately for New York, Tuukka Rask is a significant step up in competition from Tristan Jarry. I think the Islanders will make things difficult — especially at the raucous Nassau Coliseum — but the Bruins are fresh and looked like a team that has what it takes to make a deep run in their series against the Capitals.
Carolina vs. Tampa Bay: Lightning in 7. I picked the Hurricanes to win the Central ahead of the playoffs but watching the Bolts in the first round has changed my mind. Nikita Kucherov did not miss a beat upon his return to the Tampa Bay lineup, recording an incredible 11 points in six games, and Andrei Vasilevskiy put up a .929 save percentage against a potent Florida team. I think Tampa’s experience and skill wins out, but it won’t be easy.
Colorado vs. Vegas: Avalanche in 6: The Avs are well-rested thanks to their four-game demolition of the Blues, while the Golden Knights are coming off a hard-fought series with the Wild that went the distance. Could the absence of Nazem Kadri make a difference in this series for Colorado? Possibly, but I’m of the mind that the Avalanche’s forward depth is too great and that their back end is more dynamic than Vegas’. The Knights are a great team, but when the Avs play their best — like they did in the first round — they’re almost impossible to beat.
Winnipeg vs. Montreal: Jets in 6. The Canadiens showed incredible heart in battling back from their 3-1 series deficit – gutting out two overtime wins in the process – but I think the Jets will get a big boost from all the time they’ve had off after they swept the Oilers. Winnipeg brings a more dynamic offense to the table, though Price and Hellebuyck could always turn this one into a goalie duel.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL playoff picks: Second round predictions as postseason rolls on
Published: 2021-06-02 00:41:26
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