Although not as exciting as the first round, the second round of the playoffs has brought us to one of the most interesting Conference Finals in recent memory. The championship is now up for grabs. This year might be the most wide-open for any team to win the Stanley Cup in the past five years. There have been so many exciting series so far and have been one of the most enjoyable playoffs in a while.
This Second Round has proven any team left can win the Cup for a variety of reasons. Teams who were originally counted out slowly started becoming favorites. Top teams had to truly contend and be pushed to their limits to prove they are the best. No other sport brings the same energy as the NHL in the playoffs, so it’s time to recap the series of the Second Round that brought us joy.
Dallas Stars (C2) vs Seattle Kraken (WC1):
In another compelling seven-game series, the Seattle Kraken extended their first run to the playoffs as a franchise. And although they were ousted by the Stars 2-1 in game seven, The Kraken set the blueprint for their bright future. The groundwork laid out by Ron Francis has Seattle in a prime position to build on the contender they’ve proven to be. Seattle has built an incredible team with an already die-hard fan base ready to cheer them on. At 20 years old, Matty Beniers proved how much of a versatile and important player he truly is. The team’s reliance on him in the playoffs was partially their downfall but also shined the light on him as a cornerstone of this team. Going forward, their depth along with the development of Beniers and hopefully Shane Wright, the Kraken will be back and stronger.
As for Dallas, they were handed another tough test and passed it. They continue to show how resilient they are against teams of different molds and battled through adversity. Oettinger showed dinks in his shining armor during this rough and tough series with the Kraken, but he has a lot more to prove. As much as the depth of the Seattle Kraken proved to be a worthy opponent, Dallas’ depth with the mix of their star power gave them the edge. Joe Pavelski has proven once again that even at the age of 38, he is a key player that performs in clutch moments. Not to mention the importance of Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz in these playoffs with their ability to log tough minutes, score when needed, and play responsibly on both ends of the ice.
Vegas Golden Knights (P1) vs Edmonton Oilers (P2):
The Vegas Golden Knights eliminated Canada from the playoffs. Vegas with their tactics and skill managed to take apart the Oilers and figure them out. At 5v5 the Golden Knights played spectacularly. It was what gave them the true edge against the Oilers at the end of the day. Their defensive structure and ability to shut down McDavid and Draisaitl on their respective lines in key moments put them in the position to win. Not to mention, with all the different goalies Vegas has had to deal with this postseason, they came up big when they had to.
As for Edmonton, they remained competitive all series but never capitalized on their chances to get ahead in the series. When Alex Pietrangelo was suspended, arguably the best defensive player in the series, the Oilers didn’t take their chance and even the series. In game six when they went up 2-1 in the first period, they didn’t capitalize on their momentum and gave life to Vegas in a key moment that would have extended the series to game seven. The Oilers have a ton of talent still on this roster but they truly don’t have as much time as they think anymore. McDavid has three years left on his contract. Leon Draisaitl has two. These two players have accomplished so much for the Oilers and unfortunately haven’t gotten much back in terms of playoff success. Sooner or later the Oilers will have to give everything they’ve got if they want to win while those two world-class players are in the Oilers’ colors.
Toronto Maple Leafs (A2) vs Florida Panthers (WC2):
With the first round demons exorcised, Toronto finally had something to believe in. Until they didn’t. For what was an achievement for the first time in decades, the Leafs just couldn’t keep that momentum going. They were just truly beaten by a hungrier team that plays a brand of chaotic yet punishing hockey. Toronto’s core players didn’t perform to their pedigree in this series and it cost them big time. Still, despite the series loss, this team should take this season as a win. But with this very small win, they have a lot of work to do if they wish to live up to their Stanley Cup aspirations. With Dubas looking to stay in Toronto, the clock is ticking for them to go all-in on building the team that will win the Leafs their first Stanley Cup since 1967.
For the Panthers, they’ve become the Underdogs turned favorites. From beating the best team in hockey the Boston Bruins, to taking down the very-talented Leafs, the Panthers have really made themselves a team no one wants to play against. After making the playoffs and realizing they had a chance against Boston, the Panthers realized they can play freely. They are playing with house money. Matthew Tkachuk has solidified himself as the best player in the playoffs to no fail. His presence as a matchup nightmare partnered with his excellent skill with the puck, makes him the scariest player to go against right now. As much of a star as Tkachuk is, Sergei Bobrovsky really takes the cake for the Panthers. He stepped up to be the Vezina inning goaltender of the past and has put the Panthers in a position to win every game. You need timely goaltending to win in the playoffs and to win the Stanley Cup, and Bobrovsky has done just that and more. Assuming both Tkachuk and Bobrovsky continue to perform at this elite level, they can prove to be a nasty opponent against Carolina.
Carolina Hurricanes (M1) vs New Jersey Devils (M2):
The Hurricanes shut down one of the fastest teams in hockey. Rod Brind’Amour put on a coaching master class and learned how to beat the Devils. Carolina’s ability to neutralize the Devils’ transition offense while making them pay in their defensive zone won them the series. Carolina’s blueline showed us just how versatile they can be on both sides of the ice. They showed us that they can get scoring from anyone on the roster at any time even when missing key offensive p[layers. And to New Jersey’s credit, toward the end of the series, they went down fighting. And although this series ended in just five games, this gave us a glimpse into the future of the Metropolitan Division.
The Devils have a lot of great pieces in place to build a contender for years to come. They have a lot of roster decisions to make and a ton of cap space to maneuver through it. What let them down in this series was their goaltending, but that future remains bright. This young and fast team proved they can bring winning hockey back to New Jersey with a style of play that can make the league pay. Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier are key building blocks and superstars that will be the cornerstones of a potential champion one day.