The first round left us with star performances, heart wrenching games and overall great competition. The final series came to a close with a 3-1 Canadiens win over the Toronto Maple Leafs to take the series 4-3. Three of the four second round series have already kicked off their respective series, with Winnipeg and Montreal to start on Wednesday. A long offseason awaits the eliminated eight teams with plenty of questions for some. So, exactly what happened to get us to this point?
In this Part 1 of 2 articles, we will be looking at the MassMutual East and the Discover Central divisions.
Boston Bruins defeat Washington Capitals 4-1
I already did a piece on how Boston took the series and what the future looks like for the Capitals, so I’ll leave the link here.
New York Islanders defeat Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2
To the New York faithful, the result was not a shock. For Penguins fans, this was just another painful finish to the season. The Pens came into Game 5 tied at 2 games a piece, but a critical error from goaltender Tristian Jarry gave the Isles the 2OT win and an opportunity to finish the series at home. In Game 6, the Pens had a 3-2 lead in the second period with fans hoping they would hold on to force a Game 7. But, subpar play from Jarry led to three unanswered goals. And the goals? Well all three occurred in under three minutes.
Head Coach Mike Sullivan had no other option at goaltender with backup Casey DeSmith injured. The backup was Maxime Lagace who had very little experience in the NHL (18 games). His .876 save % and 3.68 GAA was not promising to help Pittsburgh climb back into the game. There was little the big guys like Crosby, Malkin, Zucker and Letang could do to gain momentum which lead to a slow countdown to zeros on the clock. A loud Long Island crowd kept the energy for the Islanders going all night and it was only a matter of time before the Penguins realized they were out of options and ideas to get back into the game.
It will be another critical offseason for the Pens as both Malkin (34yrs old) and Crosby (33yrs old) are slowly on their way to the backend of their careers. It’s just a matter of finding players to compliment the two who fit the system best. But, how much longer do the two franchise guys have left? Is it time to work around the younger core of the team? The quality of play for Pittsburgh was subpar in the series. Defensively, they could not handle the Isles counter attack and there was a lack of offensive production throughout the series. Although it was an early exit, Pittsburgh did go out with somewhat of a fight. The effort was certainly there, but the Isles proved to be the better team.
Carolina Hurricanes defeat Nashville Predators 4-2
The Hurricanes jumped out to a quick 2-0 series lead, but it was the resilient Predators who got right back into the series taking both Games 3 and 4 in double OT. Carolina took Game 5 in overtime and took Game 6 in a comeback overtime win. How did they do it though?
Nashville’s goaltender Juuse Saros had a very busy second period with Carolina’s offense finally kicking into gear. At this point, Carolina was down 2-0 desperate for answers. Constant offensive pressure got them back into the game. Sebastian Aho scored late in the second period on a power play goal to get the Canes within one. Aho would then go on to score the OT winner after deflecting a shot off his stick from Jaccob Salvin.
Not many questions for Nashville to address heading into the offseason. Even though so many are automatically going to blame the goalie for “letting the goal in”, Saros is a legitimate franchise goalie. He did everything he could, but there is only so much you could ask for from a goalie. Hockey is a team sport needs to be played like one. Nashville’s stars like Ryan Johansen bounced back and gave it their all to get the team into the postseason. Many questioned the leadership for the tema early on, so to have their veteran guys step up was huge. Like I said earlier, players stepped up to the plate and worked really hard for the organization, so its only a matter of building on that by adding depth and other components to the roster.
Like the Penguins, the Preds have not been able to find success in the playoffs, being eliminated in the first round for the 3rd straight year. Likewise, Smashville has nothing to be ashamed of. Sloppy play kept their odds at less than 5% to make the playoffs in March. A more disciplined and fundamentally stronger team went on to win a lot of their remaining games to clinch them a spot. Definitely a team to keep an eye out for next season.
Tampa Bay Lightning defeat Florida Panthers 4-2
Both teams came into this series like fire and ice. Florida finished the regular season on a 6-game win streak while the Lightning lost their final 3. But, it was the defending Stanley Cup champs who turned it around in the series and looked like the stronger team throughout.
For starters, this was a very impressive Florida team. One could argue this was the best group of skaters in franchise history. Like Nashville, the Panthers have nothing to be ashamed of. They kept the series close and gave the Lightning a run for what their worth. It was also a team that surprised many by them clinching a playoff spot. But, Tampa’s depth and well rested players were too much for the Cinderella of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Florida switched through three different goalies throughout the series. These goaltenders included Sergei Bobrovsky, Chris Driedger and Spencer Knight. It’s not ideal to go through three goalies, but it was a sign that Tampa was too much for Florida to handle. Knight was the final one to sit in net in Games 5 and 6. He put up a valiant effort, but his effort was short of what Florida needed to stay alive in the series.
Besides the goaltender revolving door, there is not much for Florida to address. Knight seems like a potential starter and the one to takeover the goaltending duties for the future. All-around watching them play in the regular season was very impressive. The quality of play was very consistent and nothing to be ashamed of. Florida is also on my radar of teams to watch out for next season.
Second Round Matchups:
#1 Carolina Hurricanes vs #3 Tampa Bay Lightning
#3 Boston Bruins vs #4 New York Islanders