We’re halfway through the playoffs, NHL fans. It’s been a fun ride so far, right? There have been some more upsets, some exciting moments, and some unlikely playoff heroes. The only constant? My inability to predict any thing whatsoever.
Of the four semi-finalists, I correctly picked one. That seems to be par for the course for me. I can’t help it that Colorado is a constant disappointment. At this point they just need to hold the course and realize that winning a Stanley Cup is hard. The Lightning went through plenty of disappointment before winning it all last season.
The two semi-final series are pretty interesting. The Lightning have the most lethal offense left among the four teams, but have relied heavily on special teams. They will have to score consistently at even strength in order to get past an Islanders team looking to avenge their conference finals loss to Tampa Bay last year. Montreal and Vegas will rely on their goaltenders and defense as well. The Canadiens ability to score against Connor Hellebuyck was pretty impressive, but the Golden Knights have a pretty deep defensive corps in front of Marc-Andre Fleury.
Games kick off this afternoon with the Lightning hosting the Islanders and then proceed every night for the next two weeks (hopefully). Before we get to the actual predictions how about we go back and look at the predictions for the second round (they weren’t great).
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 7
Reality: Tampa Bay in 5
We start with the only Final Four team I actually picked. The Lightning pulled off the “upset” rather easily as their power play outperformed the Hurricanes vaunted “power kill”. Andrei Vasilevskiy had one sketchy period, outside of that he was up to his usual tricks. For the second series in a row, the Bolts’ opponents couldn’t settle on just one goaltender.
Bonus Predictions: Not only did the Lightning not lose two games in a row, but Tyler Johnson didn’t get a chance to play Game 7 hero. He did have an important goal during the insane Game 4, so it almost counts.
Prediction: Boston in 7
Actual result: New York in 6
Could this series have gone seven games is Tuukka Rask wasn’t playing with a torn labrum? Who knows, it’s not like Jeremy Swayman is a proven playoff commodity in net. Also, New York held the Boston offense in check over the last three games. That was more important in the long run.
Bonus Prediction: Again, no Game 7 so no heroics for Rask in the deciding game. I didn’t pay too much attention to the series so I didn’t notice Brad Marchand doing anything that annoying, although after the series he’s out there getting parking tickets.
Prediction: Colorado in 6
Reality: Vegas in 6
Seriously, Colorado. You couldn’t even push it to seven games this time? I don’t know what to make of the Avalanche at this point. Are they the pre-Cup Lightning? A super-talented team that just hasn’t put it all together yet or are they just not good at winning in the playoffs? Guess we’ll have to wait another year to find out. Oddly enough, with the win Vegas moves past the Lightning as the favorite to win it all.
Fleury will get chased in Game Four or Five. Let’s see: 17 saves on 18 shots in Game Four and 28 saves on 30 shots in Game Five. Nailed it!
Prediction: Winnipeg in 6
Reality: Montreal in 4
Montreal is your friend who has never gambled in their life who walks into the casino and immediately wins $500 at a slot machine. They’re playing with house money at this point. Nothing about either series they’ve played has made sense so far, but they keep winning. Good on them.
Bonus Predictions: Total goals scored would be 19, it was actually 20. I give myself credit for that even though there were two fewer games than predicted. Montreal put 5 up against Connor Hellebuyck twice in the series. That’s pretty impressive.
Onto Round Three! Stats pulled from Natural Stat Trick and ESPN.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Islanders
5v5 stats through two rounds
Tampa Bay - 46.31%
New York - 42.20%
Tampa Bay - 48.75%
New York - 43.98%
Tampa Bay - 55.91%
New York - 45.89%
Scoring leaders first round
Tampa Bay - Nikita Kucherov: 5 goals, 13 assists
New York - Jean-Gabriel Pageau: 3 goals, 10 assists
Goaltending leaders first round
Tampa Bay - Andrei Vasilevskiy: 11 games, 2.24 GA/G, .934 SV%, 3.87 Goals Saved Above Average, .921 High Danger Save %
New York - Semyon Varlamov: 7 games, 2.62 GA/G, .925 SV%,1.76 Goals Saved Above Average .864 High Danger Save %
Prediction: Lightning in 7.
If it ain’t broke, why fix it? At some point the Lightning are going to play a seven-game series, why not now? After playing two teams who tend to lean on offense to bail them out, they will now face a defense-first team. Both teams were on the wrong side of the possession numbers through their first two rounds at even strength, but chances are this series will be decided on special teams. If the Bolts keep scoring on the power play, they’re not losing. Blake Coleman goes off in this series with a shorthanded goal and three even-strength tallies.
Vegas Golden Knights vs Montreal Canadiens
Scoring leaders first round
Vegas - William Karlsson: 4 goals, 7 assists
Montreal - Tyler Toffoli: 4 goals, 6 assists
Goaltending leaders first round
Vegas - Marc-Andre Fleury: 12 games, 1.91 GA/G, .923 SV% .74 Goals Saved Above Average, .868 High Danger Save %
Montreal - Carey Price: 11 games, 1.97 GA/G, .935 SV%, 3.80 Goals Saved Above Average, .892 High Danger Save %
Prediction: Montreal in 7
At this point, can anyone really predict what Montreal is going to do? Toronto was supposed to blow them away with their offense and Winnipeg should have shut them down with their Vezina-caliber netminder. Neither happened. Carey Price vs Marc-Andre Fleury is a fun goaltending match-up. So, let’s go with an exciting, back-and-forth series that sees multiple overtime games. Alex Pietrangelo justifies the big contract with an overtime goal in Game Five while Eric Staal posts a Game Five hat trick.
Oh my, a Tampa Bay vs Montreal Stanley Cup? Former Bolt Marc Bergevin vs. former Canadiens Director of Hockey Operations Julien BriseBois? How good is that?