After a memorable opening round in which we saw a record amount of overtime games, we set our sights on round two of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. The eventual champion will now come from this pool of eight remaining teams — St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals.
One strange thing is, we didn’t see a single game 7 in the entire opening round. How many might we see in round two?
Here is a look inside each series and a prediction on the outcome of each:
St. Louis Blues / Nashville Predators
Pekka Rinne vs. Jake Allen
The two best goaltenders, statistically, in the entire first round of playoffs will go head-to-head in the second round. Pekka Rinne led all goaltenders with an amazing 0.70 goals against average and .976 save percentage, helping the Preds shut down and sweep the Chicago Blackhawks; while Jake Allen had a 1.47 goals against average and .956 save percentage in the Blues 4-1 series win against Minnesota.
You can definitely expect to see more of the same in this series, as both goaltenders and defensive groups are playing at their higest level at the moment. Both teams also carry the ability to let their offenses control the play and scoreboard. Vladimir Tarasenko (STL) and Filip Forsberg (NSH) are premier scorers in the NHL who are due to break out.
Look for low scoring games with great plays when goals do happen. These goalies have only been getting beat when their opponent makes skilled plays to beat them, so whoever can possess the puck and make cleaner passes will have the advantage in this series.
One thing to look at is how St. Louis ran into penalty issues toward the end of their series against Minnesota. The Wild used their power play to climb back into that game five and force overtime. If St. Louis continues to go to the box, they could be in trouble against what can be a dangerous Predators power play led by PK Subban. The relentlessness of both of these groups could force more than a few overtime games in this series, especially when goals will be at a premium.
Prediction: Predators in 6
Anaheim Ducks / Edmonton Oilers
Veteran group of Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler vs. Young guns McDavid, Draisaitl
In the other great match-up in the Western Conference, the Ducks led by a veteran group of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler will look to take charge against the high-flying Oilers.
Connor McDavid has burst onto the scene in his first two NHL seasons, capturing the league’s scoring title and most likely MVP in just his second year. It will be very interesting to see the stout defensive pest Ryan Kesler face-off against McDavid all series long — and at the same time see how that opens things up for Getzlaf and Perry to do their thing.
On the blue line, we have to give the advanatage to the Ducks because of their depth and puck moving ability, but don’t sleep on the Oilers group who had their way against the Sharks’ top forward lines. Adam Larsson is the real deal, and Oscar Klefbom is a force all over the ice.
In goal, both goaltenders are inexperienced when it comes to the playoffs, but both were instrumental in how their teams got past the first round. John Gibson took over as the full tiem starter in goal for the Ducks this season, and is ready to mark his legacy as a premier goaltender in this league; while Cam Talbot has been quite the find for Edmonton since coming over from New York where he backed up Henrik Lundqvist for a while. I don’t expect to see shutouts every night, as these teams carry so much fire power on offense, and the defensive groups are prone to give up chances, but this series could be decided by which team’s goalie steps up the most.
Ultimately, the factor could be Connor McDavid and his linemate Leon Draisaitl taking over at the right times. When the series was still in limbo against San Jose, these two young guns rose to the occasion and started to score for Edmonton. If that starts happening, Anaheim could find themselves in trouble.
Prediction: Oilers in 7
Ottawa Senators / New York Rangers
Trade pieces face-off against each other in Brassard and Zibanejad
Probably the biggest surprise in the playoffs to date is seeing these teams match-up against each other in the second round. Close to nobody chose the Rangers to beat the Montreal Canadiens, especially in the fashion that they did; and at the same time, a lot of people expected to see the Boston Bruins cruise past the Sens in round one because of how hot they finsihed in the regular season.
So, here we have it — Ottawa vs New York in round two. Craig Anderson has played admirably this season, leading the Senators to the playoffs and past a strong Boston team this far, but his task of taking down the deep Rangers squad backstopped by The King in net is very daunting. We talked about Rinne and Allen being the two best goalies in round one, well Henrik Lundqvist was third among all goaltenders in the opening round in goals against average (1.70) and save percentage (.947).
Don’t expect to see a lot of pucks past Henrik in this round, even though the games will still be very close. The Rangers can score in bunches, but at the same time they can be held quiet for a while. This will be a back and forth series, but New York should rise up and take the series in the end.
Prediction: Rangers in 6
Washington Capitals / Pittsburgh Penguins
Ovechkin vs. Crosby
This is what we all want to see every year, and we get it for the second year in a row! Ovechkin and Crosby, the two biggest super stars in the game over the past decade, will take their teams to battle against each other once again. Believe it or not, this is only the third time these two teams have played each other in a playoff series since these stars came into the league, both of which the Penguins came out on top and eventually won the Stanley Cup in that same year (2009 and 2016). In fact, all four times the Penguins have won the Stanley Cup, they have beaten a Washington Capitals team on the road to the Final (1992 and 1993 as well).
After Crosby and Ovechkin, these two teams are still stacked. The Penguins have the NHL Playoff’s leading point scorer to this point in Evgeni Malkin (11 points) and the leading goal scorer in Jake Guentzel (5 goals). Pittsburgh also has Phil Kessel who has found himself a new home over the past few season. On the other side, Washington has the likes of Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
This should be a high scoring series, and whoever takes it in the end will be the Stanley Cup favorite moving forward. Will the Penguins march on in pursuit of back-to-back Cups? Or will the Capitals finally prevail over their arch-rivals?
Prediction: Penguins in 7