Onto Round 2.
Nashville Predators (1) vs Winnipeg Jets (2) :
The two best teams in the league will duke it out in the second round, with only oen advancing to the Conference Finals - not that that will be a problem. The eight remaining teams are pretty good. This series, featuring the two best defenses in the league, will also pit the regular season's two best goalies in Pekka Rinne and Connor Hellebuyck against one another. The former has experience (including medaling on the international stage), the second has youthful exuberance and no fucking fear; Rinne will get the Vezina, but Hellebuyck may very well be the better goalie in this series. Defensively, the Jets' depth is challenged, with Tobais Enstrom not dressing and Tyler Myers playing injured; the Preds' P.K. Subban and the Jets' Dustin Byfuglien are both game-breakers, in every sense of the terms: Subban can make defensive plays, score goals, make a magical pass or drop the puck sending the opponents' quickest forwards on breakaways with equal probabilities (20% chance of each), while Byfuglien takes fewer play-making risks and has 30-40 pounds on Subban, but he also has a temper that could get him suspended for a game or two, so these two even each out, as do Jacob Trouba and Roman Josi, Dmitry Kulikov and Mathias Ekholm, and Myers and Ryan Ellis. The Predators' biggest problem will be dealing with Winnipeg's unusual mix of speed and heaviness. I really like both teams, want both to do well, and the series really is a coin toss. The Jets are better balanced, but the Predators have the best coach.
Nashville in 7.
Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs San Jose Sharks (3):
Congratulations, San Jose, you made it farther than I expected and now that Joe Thornton is injured and Patrick Marleau is gone, your choking days may be over. So this won't be a series where you choke, just one where you lose to an expansion team. Vegas' Marc-André Fleury has been the best player in the postseason thus far, and he just beat his current opponent Martin Jones' mentor, the Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan Quick. Also, the Sharks' coach, Peter DeBoer, has never won despite being handed some very fine teams in San Jose and New Jersey; Gerard Gallant has provided tiny miracles in the shape of unforeseen division titles with both the Golden Knights and the Florida Panthers. Vegas has the edge.
Vegas in 6.
Tampa Bay Lightning (1) vs Boston Bruins (2):
At least Boston beat the Toronto Maple Leafs. But the Bolts are the best team in the East, with MVP candidates at every single position, from Norris candidate Victor Hedman, former New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh and future Norris hoarder Mikhail Sergachev on defense to Andrei Vasilevskiy in net to an offense comprised of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, super-rookie Brandon Point, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde, and playoff performer Tyler Johnson. The Bs have aging superstars Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask, as well as solid sniper David Pastrnak. It's an uneven fight, save for the Bruins' nastiness (and, let's be honest, character).
Bolts in 6.
Washington Capitals (1) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (WC1):
Go Caps Go. Go Alex Ovechkin Go. Keep in mind, this one's for my heart, not my brain, which is saying "Pittsburgh in 7"; I just really want Ovi's efforts to be rewarded. He deserves team success (and to shut his detractors up). It looks like Braden Holtby is back to his old self, too, which helps.
Caps in 6.