The final two remaining second round playoff matchups begin tonight, and let’s get to the breakdowns and previews.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New Jersey Devils
It’s a fitting Metropolitan Division final this year, with the two best teams all season long locking up.
New Jersey enters with what has to be a ton of confidence. A mid-series goalie switch to Akira Schmid was just what the doctor ordered. They just dispatched their cross-river rivals in emphatic fashion and have hit a groove winning four of their last five games.
The Hurricanes might be on an opposite track. Yes, they defeated the pesky Islanders in the first round, but seemingly survived it more than thrived within the tightly contested games. Carolina also made a goalie change mid-series when Antti Raanta’s play wore off and luckily starter Frederik Andersen is healthy once more (though how long he remains that way could be worth watching).
And that’s most of the talk and analysis and story of this series: it’s the ascending Devils and the potentially crippled Hurricanes. Is it true? Well, it’s not untrue. Is it accurate? That remains to be seen.
The styles of this series should be exciting- New Jersey is one of the elite teams on the rush and using their speed and skill up the ice to generate chances. No one’s defensive structure and coaching stacks up to the way that Carolina limits just those type of attempts. The Hurricanes will look to keep the puck out of their zone as much as possible, dump it around and keep the Devils working hard on the defensive zone. Can the Devs get those clean breakouts and find space on the rush?
Prediction: Devils in 6. Of all the current matchups, this is the one I could least make my mind up about. I believe Carolina will be more formidable than some of the more timid outlooks on their current state, however NJ is looking like this could be building to something special.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Edmonton Oilers
Here’s a date for ya: March 11th. It’s nearing two months ago and the last time the Oilers suffered a regulation defeat. Since then, they’ve been on a roll only losing in OT, like the two games in the playoffs to Los Angeles by way of questionable officiating along the way. Regardless, Edmonton is a certified wagon these days, winning 22 out of 27 games since acquiring Mattias Ekholm. They are not a perfect team and have a few flaws and holes that could limit them, but too often that is focused on and not the overwhelming power that they can put on display.
To that end, Edmonton’s power play went a record 56.3 percent in the first round (9-for-16). Just absurd stuff. (Another potential warning sign? Vegas’s PK only killed 58% of their chances in the first round against Winnipeg, and VGK was 31st in the regular season on the PK).
This series will have a lot on storylines: there’s the Connor McDavid vs. Jack Eichel battle as the top two picks in 2015 square off. Eichel just made his playoff debut after years of playing in Buffalo and dealing with injuries, and took to it like a fish to water with three goals and five points in a series that Vegas made look as easy as an NHL playoff series gets in their win against the Jets.
Then there’s Laurent Brossoit, a goalie who doesn’t get much press but has quietly done well for the Gold Knights. Brossoit beat a former team in Winnipeg and now he gets another redemption match playing against the Oilers.
The offense and depth on both sides means this matchup should provide more than its share of fireworks. Don’t let the late start times deter you, it should be some of the best and most exciting hockey in the second round.
Prediction: Oilers in 5. Five game series can still be tightly contested and close, and it gets annoying to see all the prediction be six or seven games, so we’ll go with this. At this point, it’s time to be loyal to the Oil, their exciting star-driven brand of high-tempo, skilled hockey is a sight to see.