Somewhat tough to scout the week ahead because the NHL hasn't yet announced the schedule for the conference semifinal round of the playoffs. In the West, Dallas has advanced after taking out Minnesota in six games. That one was an easy call. I didn't expect to see San Jose eliminate the Los Angeles Kings, but the Sharks did so in five games. That had to be sweet redemption for San Jose after blowing a 3-0 series lead against L.A. in 2014.
The Stars are now +260 favorites to win the Western Conference and the Sharks at +300 on BetOnline. What we don't know is the opponent for each team. Anaheim was in Nashville on Monday night looking to close that series out in six games. Anaheim would face San Jose if it wins that series. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks and Blues played a Game 7 in St. Louis.
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So this story will focus on the Eastern Conference as we know the matchups there, just not when they start, as of this writing. Washington and Pittsburgh square off on one side and that's clearly the marquee matchup of the semifinal round no matter what happens in the West. Both the Capitals and Penguins are +140 to win the East and +350 favorites to win the Stanley Cup. But on the series line, Washington is the -122 favorite as it has the home-ice advantage. Believe it or not, it's only the second time superstars Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have squared off in the postseason.
Pittsburgh certainly was the most impressive team in the first round. I picked the New York Rangers to beat the Penguins because Pittsburgh was so banged up in goal. But they got Matt Murray back for Game 3 of the series and didn't lose again. Murray, 21, spent time in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., with the team's American Hockey League affiliate earlier this season. That's also where current head coach Mike Sullivan spent the first part of the season until he replaced the fired Mike Johnston in December. I presume Murray will get the call in Game 1, which probably will be Thursday. No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is still experiencing concussion symptoms. He did take part in an optional workout on Monday and he is able to face shots from teammates.
Washington took a little longer than expected in ousting No. 8 Philadelphia in six games -- the Capitals managed just two total goals in the final three but took Game 6 1-0 behind Braden Holtby. You aren't beating the high-flying Penguins without scoring at least three goals a game. I say this series likely starts Thursday because it can't on Friday. There's a Justin Bieber concert at Verizon Center that night. Go away Bieber!
Crosby and Ovechkin faced off in the conference semifinals in 2009. They each scored eight goals in that seven-game series, with each having a Game 2 hat trick.. Pittsburgh won in seven. The Penguins won three of five meetings in this regular season with Washington. Ovechkin didn't score a point against the Penguins, while Crosby had a goal and three assists. Fleury started three games and Murray two. Holtby played in five.
On the other side of the bracket is the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders. I thought the Bolts might lose to Detroit in Round 1 without Steven Stamkos but they prevailed in five games, not allowing the Red Wings to score more than two goals in a game. Nikita Kucherov led the Lightning with five goals and eight points. Ben Bishop had a 1.61 goals-against average and .950 save percentage. The Lightning aren't getting Stamkos back for this series. They are hoping to get top defenseman Anton Stralman at some point vs. the Islanders, however. He has missed five weeks with a broken leg. Tampa is +550 to win the East and +1200 for the Stanley Cup. It is -143 on the series line.
The Islanders have advanced in the playoffs for the first time in 23 years, and I did have the Isles beating the Florida Panthers in Round 1. New York finished it off in six games, winning the final two by identical 2-1 overtime scores. Captain John Tavares scored the tying (with 53 seconds left) and double-OT goal in the clincher. Tavares had five goals and four assists overall in the series. I still have questions on Isles goalie Thomas Greiss, but he was great in that series with a 1.79 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. Prior to this postseason, Greiss had played in one NHL playoff game, with the San Jose Sharks in 2010. New York is +850 for the East, +1600 for the Cup and +123 on the series line.
I project a Washington-Tampa Bay Eastern Conference Finals because I favor those two teams in net for their respective series.
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