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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Playoff Krejci, Golden Knights Rule and Our NHL Conference Semifinals Predictions

Playoff Krejci is a real phenomenon.
Playoff Krejci is a real phenomenon.
Image: Getty

We’re on to the NHL’s conference semifinals, which will actually bring us into something resembling hockey season, as players usually start arriving for informal pre-camp skates at the end of August and beginning of September.

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Now, of course, everyone playing hockey is in a bubble, with the Eastern Conference set up in Toronto and the Western Conference teams playing in Edmonton. For these series, the higher seeds have “home ice advantage” — they get the final line change and wear their dark jerseys — for Games 1, 2, 5, and 7. Times listed for these games all are Eastern, and the NHL has yet to announce start times for Games 5-7 in all four series.

What should we expect in these second-round playoff series? Here’s a look, in the order the series will get underway.

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Philipp Grubauer and Nathan MacKinnon
Philipp Grubauer and Nathan MacKinnon
Image: Getty

(W2) COLORADO AVALANCHE VS. (W3) DALLAS STARS

Game 1: Saturday, 8:00

Game 2: Monday, 9:45

Game 3: Wednesday, 10:30

Game 4: Friday, 10:00

*Game 5: Sunday, August 30

*Game 6: Monday, August 31

*Game 7: Wednesday, September 2

Season Series

November 1: Stars 2, AVALANCHE 1

November 5: STARS 4, Avalanche 1

December 28: STARS 3, Avalanche 2 (SO)

January 14: Stars 3, AVALANCHE 2 (OT)

August 5: Avalanche 4, Stars 0 (round-robin at Edmonton)

Avalanche: Colorado outscored the Arizona Coyotes by an aggregate 22-8 margin in a five-game demolition in the first round, including back-to-back 7-1 games to close out the series. In addition to Colorado’s explosive offense, with a power play that’s clicked at a league-best 30.6% since getting to the bubble, Philipp Grubauer has a .937 save percentage and 1.49 goals against average in six starts this summer. Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri, and Mikko Rantanen have been on a roll, with 13 goals between them in eight games, and incredibly, aside from MacKinnon, there’s an argument to be made that Matt Calvert has been the Avs’ best player. If there’s a weakness here, it’s defensive depth.

Stars: The overall margin of 21-15 for the first round against the Calgary Flames wasn’t as impressive as what the Avalanche did, but Dallas closed out the first round in strong fashion after Joe Pavelski’s goal to tie Game 3 and Alex Radulov’s overtime tally. A 2-1 win over the Flames in Game 4 was followed by a 7-3 romp in Game 5 that included four goals from Denis Gurianov. It’s incredible that the Stars have fared as well as they have with no goals from Roope Hintz and Tyler Seguin, and just two from Jamie Benn in nine bubble games. Anton Khudobin is making the most of his opportunity in net.

Prediction: The Stars got off to a rough start against Calgary, but really put it together in the final three games of the series. Colorado has more skill, but Dallas is no slouch here, and what they lack at the top of the lineup, they make up for with depth. There’s no distinct edge in the goalie matchup, either. Grubauer is a notch better than Khudobin, but it’s easy to see either one getting on a heater to make the difference here. Avalanche in 7.

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Tampa Bay will have its hands full.
Tampa Bay will have its hands full.
Image: Getty

(E2) TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING VS. (E4) BOSTON BRUINS

Game 1: Sunday, 8:00

Game 2: Tuesday, 7:00

Game 3: Wednesday, 8:00

Game 4: Friday, 7:30

*Game 5: Sunday, August 30

*Game 6: Tuesday, September 1

*Game 7: Wednesday, September 2

Season Series

October 17: Lightning 4, BRUINS 3 (SO)

December 12: LIGHTNING 3, Bruins 2

March 3: Bruins 2, LIGHTNING 1

March 7: Lightning 5, BRUINS 3

August 5: Lightning 3, Bruins 2 (round-robin at Toronto)

Lightning: The last time Tampa Bay won a game by more than one goal was March 7 in Boston, a 5-3 game, but a lot of the Lightning’s struggle to do anything comfortably in the bubble comes down to Joonas Korpisalo playing the best hockey of his life. And even against a goalie who posted a .941 save percentage in the Blue Jackets’ playoff run, Tampa Bay knocked out Columbus in five games. This isn’t the same team you think of over the past three years without Steven Stamkos, but any lineup with Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman in it, and Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, has to be considered a serious contender.

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Bruins: Playoff Krejci is real and he’s spectacular. This is supposed to be when hockey is hardest, but David Krejci really does have a higher scoring rate in his playoff career than he does in the regular season, including three goals and six assists in eight games this summer. Brad Marchand has taken only a solitary minor penalty this summer, and after going 0-3 in the round-robin and splitting the first two games against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Bruins looked like they were able to flip the switch to pull away in that series. Tuukka Rask opting out of the postseason would be a huge blow to most teams, but Boston has Jaroslav Halak, who had a really good season as a backup to begin with and has continued to perform solidly since taking over the starter’s job.

Prediction: Before the season, this seemed like a pretty solid bet to be a second-round series, and pressed to guess who might win, you’d probably just have gone with the team with home ice in seven games. But there’s no home ice here, so how do you figure it between two absolutely loaded teams with solid goaltending? It’s the kind of series that comes down to who makes mistakes when it counts the most. For all this Lightning team has accomplished, they haven’t proven an ability to get over the hump against the best of the best. Despite their seed here, that’s what Boston is. Bruins in 7.

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Nate Schmidt and Paul Stastny
Nate Schmidt and Paul Stastny
Image: Getty

(W1) VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS VS. (W5) VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Game 1: Sunday, 10:30

Game 2: Tuesday, 9:45

Game 3: Thursday, 9:45

Game 4: Saturday, 8:00

*Game 5: Monday, August 31

*Game 6: Tuesday, September 1

*Game 7: Thursday, September 3

Season Series

December 15: GOLDEN KNIGHTS 6, Canucks 3

December 19: CANUCKS 5, Golden Knights 4 (OT)

Golden Knights: This team is stupid good, and Robin Lehner hasn’t even had to play his best in net for the Golden Knights to emerge as the Stanley Cup favorites. Ditto for Max Pacioretty, Vegas’ leading regular season scorer, who has one goal and one assist in four playoff games. To be fair, Chicago had no business being in the playoffs, but also the Golden Knights put them away with the kind of ease that they should have, even if three of their wins were by a single goal in the gentleman’s sweep. Vegas got points from every one of its skaters except Nick Holden, Chandler Stephenson, and Zach Whitecloud in the first round.

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Canucks: It’s not that the Canucks didn’t deserve to knock out the defending Stanley Cup champions, but it sure didn’t hurt Vancouver that Blues goalie Jordan Binnington picked that exact moment to turn into a pumpkin. Jacob Markstrom is capable of stealing the series, and the young core of Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Elias Pettersson looks fantastic. It would help a lot for Vancouver to get Tyler Toffoli back from a lower body injury, but it would help even more if he were a defenseman, because outside of rookie Quinn Hughes, that blue line is thin for this challenge.

Prediction: The Canucks aren’t the lowest remaining seed in the playoffs, but the circumstances between them and the Islanders, the other team to advance to the second round after having players in the best-of-five qualifiers, are different — New York spent a long time this season looking like a playoff team before a prolonged slump nearly left them on the outside looking in. Also, there’s the fact that Vancouver has never won a Cup, while the Islanders of course have four. Vegas hasn’t won a Cup, either, though after this series, the Golden Knights should be one step closer to grabbing Lord Stanley in just their third year as a team. Golden Knights in 5.

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Alain Vigneault and the Flyers
Alain Vigneault and the Flyers
Image: Getty

(E1) PHILADELPHIA FLYERS VS. (E6) NEW YORK ISLANDERS

Game 1: Monday, 7:00

Game 2: Wednesday, 3:00

Game 3: Thursday, 7:00

Game 4: Saturday, Noon

*Game 5: Monday, August 31

*Game 6: Wednesday, September 2

*Game 7: Thursday, September 3

Season Series

October 27: ISLANDERS 5, Flyers 3

November 16: ISLANDERS 4, Flyers 3 (SO)

February 11: ISLANDERS 5, Flyers 3

Flyers: Alain Vigneault is now 4-for-4 in getting teams to the conference semifinals in his first year on the job. He lost in the second round with the 1998 Canadiens and 2007 Canucks, but guided the 2014 Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final. The signs here are mixed, because while Carter Hart is playing like the goalie that Philadelphia has spent decades looking for, it’s been a pretty blah bubble experience for Claude Giroux. The only Flyers player to appear in all nine bubble games and post a positive xGF% is Sean Couturier, and that won’t cut it. While he’s been good, the concept of “Ivan Provorov plays 25 minutes a game” is not exactly inspiring, but then, there’s the reality of another concept, “Matt Niskanen has been arguably worse than Robert Hagg.”

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Islanders: Having plowed through the Florida Panthers, the Islanders spent last week making the Washington Capitals look not all that different from the Florida Panthers. And that’s with Mathew Barzal playing below his usual elite standards and Jordan Eberle not exactly on fire either. Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Andy Greene, the Islanders’ trade deadline acquisitions, now look like they fit this system. The Islanders’ special teams have been dismal in the bubble, particularly the penalty kill, but it hasn’t hurt them at all — if they get going, this team could be a problem.

Prediction: This is the best chance the Flyers have had at a Stanley Cup in 10 years, but they had more trouble than they should have with a Canadiens team that isn’t very good. Semyon Varlamov should have a slight edge over Hart in the battle of goalies, and Barry Trotz has a big edge over Vigneault in the clash of coaches. The forward groups are pretty even, but the Islanders have a better defense corps. Each team has players capable of taking over the series. It’s hard not to keep going back to the goalies and the coaches. Islanders in 6.

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.

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