The NHL gives us a few days to exhale after an awesome first round in the Eastern Conference. If the second round is anything like the first, buckle up and based on the matchups, it is sure to deliver.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS WASHINGTON CAPITALS
This one is going to be great. The matchup between the best players this sport has to offer alone makes this a must watch series. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have been compared since they entered the league a little over 10 years ago. The last time (and only time) these two met in the post season the Penguins won in a back and forth gallery showcasing how good “Sid the Kid”and “The Great Eight” really are. Of course, these 2009 results are irrelevant to today’s 2016 series.
Both teams have a potent offense and top 10 team possession numbers (PITTS: 2nd in 5v5 SF%, WSH 8th in 5v5 SF%). The Penguins and Caps outplayed, out chanced, and obviously, outscored the Rangers and Flyers respectively. Although the Caps had a bit more trouble taking out the Flyers, it never really felt like the Flyers could come back.
Players to watch:
Most fans’ eyes will be glued to Crosby and Ovechkin but they are not the only players that have potential to make a huge impact on this series. Secondary scoring is vital in the playoffs especially when 5v5 hockey dominates games.
Evgeny Kuznetsov- Past playoff experiences for the Caps are irrelevant to this season for many reasons, the main one? EVGENY KUZNETSOV. 77 points in 82 games this season with 49 of those points coming 5v5 ….. This kid is good. Don’t let his first round numbers sway your opinion on him either, although he was held at one point through six games against the Flyers, he still generated 20 shots. With that being said, he is up against a new monster against the Pens with a similar name.
Evgeni Malkin- Uh oh, he’s back… 7 points in 4 games against the Rangers. Malkin is still an elite player in this league and he looked more motivated as ever in the first round. Look for him to prove to the world why he is still the best Russian center in the game.
John Carlson- What a wonderful first round Carlson had against the Rangers. After scoring three huge goals in the first round, he will have to be that anchor on the blue line against the dangerous Pens. The Caps are going to need their defensive stud to produce to match the Pens top offensive defensive.
Kris Letang- Mobility, creativity, and a sprinkle of truculence, Kris Letang is everything a fan loves about playoff hockey. He is a key part to the Pens offense and continues to be a primetime player in every series he is in whether that is producing in the offensive zone or giving the opposition’s star player a heavy hit. Letang almost got himself into trouble for a slash on Victor Stalberg but the NHL has come out to say there will not be a hearing. Expect him to be in the spotlight once again in the second round, one way or another.
Prediction: Pens in 7.
Expect this series to be very rough and potentially the most entertaining series of the playoffs. Based on the first round and past playoff series’, I don’t expect the refs to make many calls therefore if either of these teams want to win, they will have to do it 5v5. The Penguins have three dangerous lines since Malkin is back from injury and if they keep Kessel and Hagelin on the third line. I think that depth will be tough to contain through the series’ especially considering the Capitals looked shaky defensively at times in the Flyers series.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS VS TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Although this series seems like it’s part of the NHL’s undercard due to the other east matchup, it should still be an entertaining one highlighting two teams who overcame adversity in the first round. The Tampa Bay Lightning overpowered the Detroit Red Wings in the first round without Steven Stamkos and stud defensemen Anton Stralman. A huge reason for this was young stars Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson combining for 7 goals and 15 points in the 5 game series.
In comparison, the Islanders won their first series since 1993 due in big part to their captain John Tavares who tallied 5 goals and 9 points in 6 games. He also scored the game tying and overtime winner in front of a crazy Islander crowd in game 6. In contrast, the Lightning (Team 5v5 SF%: 51.3%, Team 5v5 CF%: 52.2%) have been a far better puck-possession team than the Islanders (Team 5v5 SF%: 49.1%, Team 5v5 CF%: 49.5%) this year which does not bode well for Tavares and company.
Players to watch:
John Tavares– Tavares has to be THE player to watch if those pesky Islander fans want to continue doing the “YES” chant all the way to the conference finals. He’s a big time player and continues to be a leader for his team. He is the best player that is active for this series and has to show why for his franchise.
Nikita Kucherov: In a way, Kucherov is overlooked when looking at the main scoring threats on the Lightning due to Steven Stamkos and the flashy Tyler Johnson. At even strength, Kucherov has arguably been the Lightning’s best player this year. He was second in iCorsi/60 (15 shot attempts per 60 minutes) behind J.T. Brown (Stamkos at 12.6 shot attempts per 60 minutes) and first in points five on five (32 points 5v5).
Prediction: Lightning in 6.
The Islanders played some inspiring hockey in the first round, but let us not get too caught up here, two of their wins were in double overtime against a decent Florida Panthers team. Although they will not be getting Stamkos back, Anton Stralman will be a huge boost to their defensive core and will only help their shot generation. When the Islanders do produce chances, they will have to beat a very good goaltender in Ben Bishop therefore the odds are stacked against the Islanders here.
Is this Ovechkin’s year? Will JT and the Islanders overcome the speedy Lightning? Comment below!
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