***Editor’s Note: Yes. We’re back. Finally
With the field of 16 teams now reduced to eight, the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs is slated to get underway Wednesday night. The St. Louis Blues (Central No. 3) will host the Nashville Predators (WC No. 2) at 7 p.m. CST to begin the action before the Anaheim Ducks (West No. 1) face-off against the Edmonton Oilers (West No. 2), with puck-drop at Honda Center in Anaheim set for 7:30 p.m. PDT.
The conference semifinals will feature what should be four fast-paced and entertaining series, including a highly-billed 2016 rematch of Washington Capitals and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Nonetheless, the usual suspects won’t be center stage.
Gone are the Stanley Cup favorite Chicago Blackhawks, who fell victim to becoming the first one-seed in American professional sports to be swept by an eight-seed. Nashville’s shocking sweep of the three-time champs was made even more absurd by shutting out the Blackhawks in both games at United Center. The defending Western-Conference champion San Jose Sharks will also be absent, falling to the Edmonton Oilers in round one 4-2 after blowing, yes, a 3-1 lead amidst a tied series in game five. Bay Area much?
Likewise, the Minnesota Wild suffered a surprising first-round exit after finishing just behind top-seeded Chicago at 106 points in their first year under head coach Bruce Boudreau. A 3-0 deficit and 0-3 record on home ice in round one resulted in a quick 4-1 series loss to St. Louis for the State of Hockey, and was the latest chapter of Bruce Boudreau’s tortured playoff history, now 42-43 all-time in the postseason amidst record regular-season success year in and year out.
Shifting to the east, the Atlantic Divison champion Montreal Canadiens’ 4-2 series loss to the New York Rangers made for yet another first-round upset, but it’s easy to forget that New York was only a wildcard due to playing in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division. (102 points to Montreal’s 103 points). The Metropolitan’s competitiveness is why you won’t see the Columbus Blue Jackets in round two despite earning 108 regular season points, as somebody had to lose the first round series that pitted Pittsburgh against Columbus.
Which brings us to this: four teams left in the west that have zero Stanley Cup appearances since 2007, and four eastern teams that only has one cup-winning squad (Pittsburgh) in the past 20 years. The only possible Stanley Cup match-up that we’ve already seen before is Anaheim vs. Ottowa, but even that was ten years ago, so embrace the potential for a cup-drought to soon end. Now, shall we look to see what lies ahead?
Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks and Oilers have encountered each other once in the postseason – the 2006 Western Conference Final in which eight seeded Edmonton upset Anaheim to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Edmonton has returned to the playoffs for the first time since then this spring, led by a speedy, youthful core that is highlighted by 20-year-old captain (not a typo) Connor McDavid. Anaheim on the other hand, coming off their fifth-straight Pacific Division title, has not lost a game in regulation since March 10 and took care of the Calgary Flames quickly in round one with a four-game sweep.
The Ducks have the edge when it comes to experience in this one, and they’ll also have the benefit of a full week of rest. Nonetheless, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are both 31-years-old, and we saw Edmonton’s ability to capitalize on durability against a more fragile veteran Sharks team in round one. That’s not to say that the Ducks don’t have youth of their own, but Edmonton could use stamina to its advantage if the series drags on. The Oilers can also bask in the delight of winning the regular-season series between the two 3-2, though two of those wins came in overtime.
Nashville Predators vs St. Louis Blues
Talk about the improbable. The two teams that upset the top two seeded squads in the west no get to battle it out on the same rink- their first meeting ever in the playoffs. Both teams ended their first series quickly, which means both the Predators and Blues enter this series with plenty of rest and riding the momentum of upset series-wins. The Blues have home ice thanks to their higher seeding, but only five points separated Nashville and St. Louis in the standings, so anything is possible. However, Nashville did prevail 3-1 in the regular season series.
While there will be plenty of skating talent including Vladimir Tarasenko, P.K. Subban, and Kevin Fiala on the ice, the instant reaction from round one is that this series will be a battle of the goaltenders. Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne didn’t allow a goal at United Center and held the Chicago to a mere three goals all series. St. Louis goaltender Jake Allen stopped a mind-boggling 116 of 119 shots on goal across the first three games in the first round. Somebody will have to be “outplayed” but don’t be shocked if we see a low-scoring series between the Predators and Blues.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals
The good ole’ rematch. Sidney Crosby and Evegeni Malkin vs Alex Ovechkin and Nicklaus Backstrom. Pittsburgh and Washington have plenty of playoff history, and for the third straight meeting, the Capitals enter as the top-seeded team in the east. It’s familiar territory for the Penguins however, as Pittsburgh prevailed in each of the last two meetings en route to a Stanley Cup title (2009 and 2016). If Washington fans are nervous heading into this series, they’re rightfully so, not to mention they’ve never reached the conference finals this century despite finishing atop their division nine times since 2000.
Pittsburgh’s odds in this series may look even better considering they were easily able to dispose of the 108 point Blue Jackets in five games while the Capitals needed a game-six overtime to move past eight-seeded Toronto, only winning one game in regulation the entire series. The teams split the regular-season series 2-2, with the home team winnign each game. That’s the only thing that may come to Washington’s avail in this series, given they own home ice.
New York Rangers vs Ottowa Senators
The Rangers and Senators will be meeting for the first time since the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, when eight seeded Ottowa took the top-seeded Rangers all the way to game seven but couldn’t get it done at Madison Square Garden. Though Ottowa will have home ice this time around thanks to finishing second in their division, the Rangers win the eye test, finishing the season with 102 points and a goal differential of +36. The Senators only recorded 98 points, and with a goal differential of -2, they’re the only team this postseason that finished in the red.
That being said, it would be foolish to count the Senators out in this matchup. Ottowa did win the season-series 2-1, but more impressively found a way to win all three games in Boston during the first round. Bobby Ryan has heated up with three goals in the playoffs already, and goaltender Craig Anderson exhibited his clutchness with a shutout win in game four. Could Ottowa be the classic instance of a mediocre team heating up at the right time? Possibly, but they’ll have to solve Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist if they intend to reach their first Eastern Conference Final since 2007.
- Ducks over Oilers in 6 games
- Predators over Blues in 5 games
- Penguins over Capitals in 7 games
- Rangers over Senators in 6 games