And then there were eight….
The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue tonight as second-round action gets underway. We have four intriguing matchups, and our CHGO Blackhawks crew of Jay Zawaski, Mario Tirabassi, and Greg Boysen have made their predictions.
Colorado Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues
Ex-Blackhawks factor: Brandon Saad (STL), Nick Leddy (STL)
Jay: The Avalanche are an absolute wagon, as the kids say. They swept away the Nashville Predators in a series that was over so long ago that it feels like last season. Defenseman and Norris Trophy Finalist Cale Makar has 10 points in the postseason. He’s fourth in the league in playoff scoring and has only played four games. He’s that good.
Meanwhile, the Avs boast one of the deepest, fastest, and most skilled lineups in the league. They entered the season as Cup favorites, and anything less than a Cup Final appearance would be a failure from this team. As for the Blues, they impressively eliminated the Minnesota Wild, who had a tremendous season of their own. The Blues are built for the playoffs, but their good fortune runs out against the Avs. They’re too deep, too fast, too strong, and too ready to win. Avalanche in 5
Mario: Screw the Blues. Avalanche in 5
Greg: I picked the Avalanche to win the Stanley Cup before the season started, so I am not changing now. Especially against the Blues. I will give St. Louis credit; they looked dead in the water after their Game 3 loss to the Wild. But they looked impressive in three straight wins with Jordan Binnington in net. Yes, they still have a lot of guys on their roster that have their name on the Stanley Cup, but they don’t have the horses to run with the Avalanche. They are too fast, too deep, and too dangerous. Avalanche in 5.
Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers
Ex-Blackhawks factor: Nikita Zadorov (CGY), Ryan Carpenter (CGY), Duncan Keith (EDM)
Jay: Before I get into the latest Battle of Alberta, I want to tip my hat to the Dallas Stars, especially Jake Oettinger. They took a Stanley Cup favorite to the absolute brink, and Jake Oettinger had a Round 1 performance for the history books.
Now that that’s out of the way, on our latest podcast, Greg reminded me that if the Oilers won, it meant a huge Battle of Alberta series. That changed my rooting interests in the series. I wanted to see chaos unfold in Edmonton, and I think it would have had they lost their series to the Los Angeles Kings, but Connor McDavid and company got the job done.
Calgary is favored in the series (-191 on PointsBet), and they should be, but that series versus Dallas may have taken a lot out of them. It was physical. It was stressful. It was intense, and both the Flames and Oilers can prepare for more of the same in this series.
Aside from that, I’m finding myself very confident the Flames will prevail. Oettinger overshadowed Jacob Markstrom in the Dallas series, but his numbers (1.53 GAA, .943 save percentage) in the first round were dynamite. He’ll be tested more often by Edmonton, but so will his counterpart Mike Smith. He shut out LA twice in the first round but can sometimes be an adventure in the net (see Game 1 for an example).
If there’s one team in the West capable of taking down Colorado, I think it’s Calgary. They’re so deep, with Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman, and more up front.
Defensively, Zadorov doesn’t appear to be the pylon we thought he was. He’s been one of the Flames’ best defensemen and has been near or at the top of their ice time every game. Funny what a competent coach with an actual system can do for a player, right? Flames in 6
Mario: The Battle of Alberta. In the playoffs. Honestly, we are all winners here. Calgary is a tough and well-rounded team, and the Oilers have McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They also have Mike Smith, and the Flames do not. Flames in 6.
Greg: This is the second-round series I am looking forward to the most. These old rivals finally get another crack at each other in the postseason, plus at least four more games of McDavid. The Flames got pushed to the limit versus the Stars, and you could argue that the Oilers are the more talented team. However, Calgary will be able to play a more physical game and wear down their Alberta neighbors. Plus, they have the advantage in net with Markstrom over Smith. I think this will be a very close series with plenty of post-whistle pleasantries and will go the distance. Flames in 7.
Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Ex-Blackhawks factor: Anthony Duclair (FLA), Gustav Forsling (FLA), Lucas Carlsson (FLA), Brandon Hagel (TBL), Jan Ruuta (TBL)
Jay: The fact that the two best teams in the East are meeting in the second round of the playoffs is stupid. I understand what the NHL was trying to accomplish with their new playoff format, but it’s too early for these two juggernauts to meet. The new format also hasn’t created the rivalries it expected to create. Division foes are already rivals. Familiarity, not proximity, breeds contempt. Who was the Blackhawks’ biggest rival during the dynasty? It wasn’t St. Louis. It wasn’t Nashville. It wasn’t Minnesota. It was Vancouver. I hope the fact that the dynamic Maple Leafs are out after the first round, and either Florida or Tampa will be out after the second round, inspires the NHL to reconsider their playoff format.
I picked the Panthers to win the Cup, so I’m not going to stray from that. As I predicted might happen in our first-round preview, I thought the Panthers might get out to an early series deficit versus the Capitals. They did, but they overcame. Now they’re at the top of their game and right in time to meet the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions. I really hope casual hockey fans watch this series. Because they’re Florida teams, so many of the mega-stars on both teams remain relatively unknown to casual sports fans.
If that sounds like you, keep your eyes on Florida’s Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Carter Verhaeghe (who has 12 points in six games), and former Blackhawks Duclair and Forsling. For Tampa Bay, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point are as good as NHL players get. Steven Stamkos discovered the fountain of youth (or maybe health) this season, and Hagel has four points in seven playoff games so far this season. Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the best, if not the best, goalies in the league.
If you thought the Toronto/Tampa Bay series was fun, hold on to your butts for this one. It could very well be the premier matchup of the playoffs. Panthers in 7
Mario: The battle for Florida might end up being one of the best matchups and make for the best series in these playoffs. That is saying a lot since we’ve already had some doozies through the first round. I’ll take Tampa to continue their quest for a three-peat, though I wonder how much their series win over Toronto took out of them. Lightning in 6.
Greg: This series reminds me of the 2009 Western Conference Finals when the Blackhawks needed to slay the dragon that was the Detroit Red Wings to take the next step towards greatness. Can the Panthers finally beat the mighty Lightning? This is their best chance. The addition of Claude Giroux will be key in this series because he’s a guy who has seen it all. However, the Lightning proved they are still the team to beat. They didn’t let anything get to them in the series with the Leafs and then showed everyone exactly how you close out a series. I love the Panthers, but I don’t think they slay the dragon just yet. Lightning in 7.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers
Ex-Blackhawks factor: Teuvo Teravainen (CAR), Antti Raanta (CAR), Artemi Panarin (NYR), Tyler Motte (NYR)
Jay: After a third-period comeback and overtime win in Game 7 versus the Penguins, the Rangers will now face the Carolina Hurricanes. I’m trying to look for a scenario where the Rangers can take down the Canes, and I’m struggling. The Rangers showed historic resilience in their first-round series and are the first team in Stanley Cup Playoff history to record three consecutive comeback wins in elimination games within the same series.
Carolina has been a Cup contender for some time now. We often talk about the depth of the dynasty Blackhawks on the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast. Depth wins Cups, and when you look at the rosters of favorites like Tampa Bay, Florida, and Colorado, the Hurricanes might be just a notch below those powerhouses. Sebastien Aho led the team offensively, while Andrei Svechnikov and Teravainen finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively. Nino Niederreiter and Vincent Trochek provide scoring depth and would both be top-line studs on lesser teams. On the blue line, pudwhack Tony DeAngelo and Jaccob Slavin (brother of Blackhawk/IceHog Josiah) can defend and put up points.
Entering the playoffs, Carolina’s 2.44 GAA was the best of the teams in the tourney. They’re very strong defensively and can shut down a team as well as any. There are a couple of Blackhawks angles in this series. First is the continued evolution of Teravainen. He was a point per game player (2G, 5A) in the series versus Boston and has turned into a phenomenal two-way player.
The other is Raanta, who is in goal for the Canes with Frederik Anderson on the shelf with a lower-body injury. He’s been solid, with a 2.37 GAA and a .927 save percentage. Despite that, he’s the one place I see the Rangers having a clear advantage. Igor Shesterkin was the best goalie in the league this season. He’s a Hart Trophy finalist and deservedly so. The Rangers might not even make the playoffs without his heroics. Now, he hasn’t been as strong in the playoffs so far, but he’s the kind of goalie that can get hot and steal a series.
I’m still going with Carolina in this series, but I think it might be closer than some expect, especially if Shesterkin can steal a game or two. Hurricanes in 6
Mario: The Rangers overcoming a 3-1 series deficit was damn impressive. I love Panarin getting the series-winning overtime goal. But I don’t believe the Rangers have enough depth to get by Carolina, short of Shesterkin stealing the series. Hurricanes in 6
Greg: I was the only guy who predicted the Penguins to beat the Rangers in the first round, and it almost happened. Let’s be honest; it should have happened. It feels like that series was more the Penguins losing it than the Rangers winning. New York will have to play much better if they want to beat the Hurricanes. Their overall team defense was shaky at times, and if they spot the Hurricanes multiple 2-0 leads, this will be a short series. However, they have the right goaltender to steal the series. But, Shesterkin will need to be the Vezina and Hart Trophy finalist from the regular season and not the version we saw versus the Penguins. The Hurricanes are fast, deep, and talented. The Rangers are an excellent team, but I don’t think they are quite ready for prime time. Hurricanes in 6.
We will be keeping you up to date on all things Stanley Cup Playoffs on the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast, which airs Monday-Friday live on our YouTube channel. You can also listen to every episode wherever you get your favorite podcasts.