The NHL field has been trimmed from 8 teams down to 4 as the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs wrapped up last night. The Second Round saw all four series at 3-1 entering game 5, but only one team was able to finish their opponent out in that fifth game.
The other three series went the full seven games and provided some of the most entertaining hockey in recent memory. Both conference finals matchups will be in the Edmonton bubble as the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning will leave the Toronto bubble and head West. The Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights get the luxury of not travelling but will have to play game one a day before the East.
Western Conference Finals
#3 Dallas Stars vs #1 Vegas Golden Knights
The Stars jumped out to a 3-1 lead against the Colorado Avalanche scoring an absurd 19 goals in the first four games of the series. Although they slowed down in games five and six, Dallas still managed to put up a staggering 28 goals in the seven-game series.
The Stars have been able to get production from their entire lineup as defenseman Miro Heiskanen is tied for second in 2020 Playoff points at 21. Bottom six forward Denis Gurianov and veteran Joe Pavelski are tied for fourth in goals this Postseason finding the back of the net 8 times each.
The Golden Knights were cruising along against the Vancouver Canucks until game five when the Canucks made a change between the pipes. Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko shut Vegas down in games five and six, but the Golden Knights finally figured him out late in game seven.
Vegas has been an extremely hot-and-cold team this Postseason. They have been extremely inconsistent on a nightly basis but have still been able to muscle out key wins as they are 4-2 in one-goal games inside the bubble.
The Golden Knights have been led offensively by Shea Theodore with 16 points and Alex Tuch with 8 goals. Robin Lehner’s 1.99 goals against average and three shutouts have also helped propel the Golden Knights to the Western Conference Finals.
This should be a heavyweight matchup between two high-powered offenses. On paper, the Golden Knights appear to have the advantage in the series, but the Stars’ unexpected scoring depth makes them a dangerous opponent.
The key to Vegas making their second Stanley Cup Finals appearance in three years is for them to play consistent and finish their scoring chances. The key for Dallas to win the series is both consistent goaltending and a continuation of production from their depth players. The Stars are looking for their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals since 2000 when they were defeated by the New Jersey Devils in six games.
Prediction: Dallas wins in 7 games
#6 New York Islanders vs #2 Tampa Bay Lightning
The New York Islanders play a different style of hockey compared to the vast majority of teams in today’s game. The Islanders look to get the lead and then sit back and play a constricting defensive game to hold that lead. This style of play was on full display in their second-round victory against the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers.
New York is 8-2 in games this Postseason in which 5 or less goals are scored. Despite being an extremely solid defensive side, the Islanders have shown that they can score from time to time. Josh Bailey has 17 points in the bubble which is good enough to be tied for eighth in the NHL. Anthony Beauvillier is tied for fourth in goals this Postseason and leads the Islanders with 8.
Could this finally be the year that the Tampa Bay Lightning get over the hump? The Lightning are missing their captain, Steven Stamkos, but have been able to overcome the adversity and reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Both of the Lightning’s 4-1 series wins in the first two rounds were extremely hard fought and this team is battle tested.
10 of Tampa’s 13 games inside the bubble have been decided by one goal. In those games the Lightning are 9-1 with 5 overtime victories in 5 tries. Brayden Point has tallied 18 points for the Lightning, while Nikita Kucherov is second on Tampa with 16 Postseason points. In between the pipes for the Lightning is Andrei Vasilevskiy who boasts a 1.91 goals against average this summer.
The winner of this series will be the team who is able to play their game more throughout the series. If the scoring stays low in the series, then the Islanders should benefit more but Tampa Bay’s defensive game is severely underrated. If the series becomes higher scoring, then the high-flying Lightning should cruise to victory.
The key to the Islanders making their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1984 will be to score first and play their defensive style of game. The key to the Lightning getting back to their second Finals in the last five years is to stretch the Islanders’ defense, while not allowing New York to capitalize on most of their good chances in transition.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins in 6 games.
Predicted Stanley Cup Finals Matchup: Tampa Bay vs Dallas