Of the four predictions, three of them ended up being correct. It could have been a clean sweep, but Colorado couldn’t contain Dallas’ red hot offence. Only four teams remain in the hurt for Lord Stanley, and like last round, this one is sure to be a very exciting one. Let’s take a look at the matchups and pick some winners.
Tampa Bay Lightning Vs. New York Islanders
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 6
I really like the Islanders, and people around the hockey community should. They play some of the most complete hockey, and it didn’t surprise me to see them make it to the next round.
This round will be a challenge for them, because Tampa Bay just looks like this is going to be their year. They’ve made it this far without Steven Stamkos, and there’s a good chance we see him return in this series.
The Lightning are the better team on paper, but as mentioned earlier, the Islanders are a damn good defensive team, and that tends to frustrate good skating teams. In the end, this series probably comes down to goaltending.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has been lights out in this series, but Semyon Varlamov has been just as good. He didn’t get the start in game seven for New York, but the reality is, whoever starts for them, they’re going to be good. Having a capable backup goalie in the bubble has been a nice luxury for many of these teams.
I do think Tampa Bay has enough to get past the Islanders, but it certainly won’t be easy. New York has the ebay fourth line in hockey, and Barry Trotz has them playing a defensive system that just suffocates many offences. Tampa Bay has been getting a lot from their third line, and that will need to continue in this round if they want to advance. If Vasilevskiy can hold down the fort, Tampa Bay should have enough firepower to move on. I don’t expect a ton of goals in this series, but I do expect every game to be exciting.
Vegas Golden Knights Vs. Dallas Stars
Prediction: Dallas in 7
The Dallas Stars continue to remind everyone that they are a very good hockey team, and that we should be taking them seriously. I’m one of those people. They’ve convinced me that they can make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, but they do have some holes in their game.
The Stars death with a very beat up Colorado team, and they came so close to blowing a 3-1 series lead. They had a ton of trouble scoring on Michael Hitchinson, and it took a miracle performance from Joel Kiviranta to get them here. Now they have to deal with Vegas; a team who’s been to the Stanley Cup Finals, and that have two elite goalies. While Anton Khudobin has been good, he was average against Colorado. That’s not a knock on him– anyone would look average having to stop Nathan MacKinnon and company– but we know that he can play at an elite level, and that’s what he needs to do now.
Las Vegas needed seven games to get past Vancouver; a team that wasn’t able to generate any offence. While that does concern me, they deserve to be here because of their strong goaltending. Thatcher Demko may have stolen the show in that series, but Robin Lehner is the real start of that series. He had three shutouts and did exactly what was needed of him’ keeping his team in the game.
This is going to sound old, but goaltending is going to be the key in this series, and I think Dallas has the edge there. I don’t think Ben Bishop sees another start in the playoffs, unless Khudobin falls apart in a game, or gets hurt. We can’t say the same thing for Vegas. We know how Fleury feels about being the “backup”, and that might force head coach Peter DeBoer to want to play him more, or give Lehner a shorter leash. As important as the backup goalie has been in these playoffs, you need one guy to start the majority of the games. We won’t see any back-to-back games, so rest isn’t going to be a factor.
Vegas will lose this series if they try to find a way to give Fleury more starts. Lehner has earned the starting job to this point, and he deserves to start every game going forward. I don’t think that happens, which will give Dallas the edge they need to win this series. Both teams have deadly offences, and they have a rock solid defensive core. The only thing that can separate them is who starts in goal for either team. First coach to give their “backup” goalies too many starts, looses.
This series will be fun to watch, and it will certainly have it’s fair shares of goals. If the hockey gods love us, they will give us seven games. At this point of the year, we deserve it.