Thanks for the memories, Round 1 — including those Stanley Cup playoffs-record 18 overtime games and the nonstop drama. Now it’s time to contemplate the merits of the eight teams left standing for the second round, which begins on Wednesday. We sized them up in the Playoff Power Rankings, Part II:
The defending champions tore through a very tough Columbus Blue Jackets team in five games without No. 1 goalie Matt Murray, defenseman Kris Letang or left wingers Chris Kunitz and Carl Hagelin. The Penguins didn’t need them because Evgeni Malkin was on fire, with 11 points in five games. And 22-year-old rookie Jake Guentzel led Pittsburgh — and the league — with five postseason goals. Bring on the Capitals.
I’m not sure most people understand just how good the Ducks — who have now gone undefeated in regulation in 18 consecutive games (15-0-3), including their impressive, first-round sweep of the Calgary Flames — are. I love the Ryan Kesler–Connor McDavid matchup that awaits when Anaheim faces off against the Edmonton Oilers in the conference semifinals. Can Anaheim goalie John Gibson match Edmonton’s Cam Talbot, who was sensational for most of the first round? The answer might determine who moves on to the Western Conference finals.
The preseason-darling Predators became postseason darlings after their shocking sweep of the Central Division-champion Chicago Blackhawks. Can the St. Louis Blues contain Nashville’s big line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg, who combined for 15 points in Round 1? Chicago couldn’t. More important, can the Blues dent a Nashville defense that allowed just three goals to the Blackhawks?
The Blues were a machine while dismantling the favored Minnesota Wild in five games, and they get center Paul Stastny back for Round 2. They’ll need him, as the deep, battle-tested Predators should provide a much sterner test. Once-shaky goalie Jake Allen, who boasts a .956 save percentage and 1.47 goals-against average this postseason, has found his groove for St. Louis.
I was sorry to see the Capitals-Toronto Maple Leafs series end. The question for the Capitals now is how quickly they can put behind them the emotionally draining, six-game roller coaster against Toronto and focus on Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. My guess is they’ve already done so. Goalie Braden Holtby elevated his game in Games 5 and 6 against the Leafs. He’ll have to keep up his superb play if the Caps are to move on to a conference finals for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era.
The youthful Oilers finished strong in the first round after getting waxed 7-0 in Game 4 by the San Jose Sharks. Edmonton prevailed in two close games to defeat San Jose in six — and win in its first playoff series since the 2006 Western Conference finals. But Anaheim is in a class above, so Edmonton will need to see more from McDavid, who had one short-handed goal, two assists on the power play and an empty-netter in his first playoff series. Talbot, the first-round MVP, will have his work cut out for him against the big, skilled Ducks lineup.
The Rangers-Ottawa Senators‘ second-round matchup is the lowest-profile series of the four. Henrik Lundqvist is once again The King, with a .947 save percentage, and he’ll need to keep ruling the net against a tireless, gritty Ottawa squad. Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh is on a mission, and left winger Rick Nash showed flashes of his former brilliance in the Rangers’ six-game set with the Montreal Canadiens.
It seems like no one respects the Senators. I’m pretty sure they don’t care. Both Bobby Ryan, who had four goals and seven points, and Clarke MacArthur, who looked just a few months ago like his career was over because of multiple concussions, had a terrific series against the Boston Bruins. MacArthur launched Ottawa into the second round with an OT winner in Game 6 on Sunday. The Senators will be underdogs against the Rangers despite having home-ice advantage. I’m pretty sure they don’t care about that, either.