Stanley Cup 2018, II: The Real Fun Begins


What the hell was that?  We had potential — rivalries old and new, sneaky good teams, and juggernauts — but somehow, this first round wasn’t all that exciting.  Two sweeps in the first week, in series that should have been bloodbaths.  A Presidents’ Trophy winner pushed harder than expected, with their opponent in wait absolutely dominant…

NO OVERTIME.  I mean, there was some, but it was basically all in the Capitals-Blue Jackets series, which, like the Capitals-Maple Leafs series last year, isn’t even a rivalry.  How many blowouts did we see?  Eight games decided by four goals or more, half of which were in the Penguins-Flyers series, and just the one Game Seven, a thriller to be sure, but it too got a little bit blowout-ey by the end.  I don’t know, it feels like this year was a step backward from the excitement of the first few years under the divisional playoff format.

And then there were the suspensions.  Four of them in the first week, totaling six games.  And while each series had its share of chippiness and pugnacity, these infractions seemed recklessly out of the blue.  Hopefully we don’t see more of this in coming rounds, but I have a pessimistic feelingthat  discipline may get worse, given the incredible potential for bloodshed in the matchups we’ve got coming.

Misplaced faith in the Blue Jackets and not enough faith in the Golden Knights has me going 6 for 8, which is pretty good, especially since my wrong choices die in the second anyway.  There was only one upset, and it was the one I went for the hardest in picking San Jose over Anaheim.  This was entirely too straightforward of a first round.

Lightning vs Devils:  I see we’re starting off right — I didn’t actually watch this series.  It always started during my commutes home, and even then it was on at the same time as more exciting Eastern series, so what I caught in the end was only peripheral action and highlights.  It makes complete sense to me that the Lightning finished quickly, despite the lopsided season series, since the Devils were a bit unfamiliar with playoff hockey.  I see Taylor Hall’s magic pulled them through in Game 3 but it clearly wasn’t enough to get by Tampa’s defense in the end.  It looks like Vasilevskiy is in top form once again, so there’s a little less to worry about next round.  Meanwhile, I have a feeling the Devils won’t be this good next year — they were dragged into the playoffs by one player’s sheer determination.  If they want to repeat, they’ll need to address several issues, including forward depth, defense, and goaltending.  So, everything, really.

Playoff Series
2018-04-12; NJD 2, TBL 5
2018-04-14; NJD 3, TBL 5
2018-04-16; TBL 2, NJD 5
2018-04-18; TBL 3, NJD 1
2018-04-21; NJD 1, TBL 3
TBL defeats NJD: 4-1
Prediction: Lightning in 6 ✓☓

Bruins vs Maple Leafs:  Whew.  I never thought I’d be relieved for the Boston Bruins to take a late lead in a Game 7, but here we are.  What the heck happened anyway?  They looked so dominant through four and then just faded away for a while.  Perhaps its injuries?  Maybe they wanted the Leafs to come back only to crush their hopes again.  Hey, at least this time it was 4-3 and not 4-1 in the third period of Game 7.  Silver linings, I suppose.  I’m a little worried about my Bruins pick going forward, since they seem pretty banged up already, but more on that below.  As for the Leafs, well, I take great pleasure in seeing them eliminated once again, especially after their franchise record season.  The longest Cup drought in NHL history continues, and I love it.

Playoff Series
2018-04-12; TOR 1, BOS 5
2018-04-14; TOR 3, BOS 7
2018-04-16; BOS 0, TOR 2
2018-04-19; BOS 3, TOR 0
2018-04-21; TOR 3, BOS 1
2018-04-23; BOS 0, TOR 1
2018-04-25; TOR 4, BOS 7
BOS defeats TOR: 4-3
Prediction: Bruins in 7 ✓✓

Capitals vs. Blue Jackets:  Another year, another first round loss for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  I really believed this year, though a hedged bet is no bet at all.  This was a fun series, with what felt like the only overtimes of the first round.  What is it with the Capitals and excessive first round OTs?  Last year they set a record with five and now four more this time??  Well, it turns out Washington isn’t quite done yet, and they’ve made a strong case that they could be for real this year, having just won four games straight against a pretty pesky Blue Jackets squad.  But more on that later.  Sorry ‘Lumbus, you’ll get your… third playoff win eventually.

Playoff Series
2017-04-13; CBJ 4, WSH 3 OT
2017-04-15; CBJ 5, WSH 4 OT
2017-04-17; WSH 3, CBJ 2 2OT
2017-04-19; WSH 4, CBJ 1
2017-04-21; CBJ 3, WSH 4 OT
2017-04-23; WSH 6, CBJ 3
WSH defeats CBJ: 4-2
Prediction: Blue Jackets in 5 

Penguins vs. Flyers:  This was no 2012, at least in the penalty minute department.  On the scoreboard, somehow this was even crazier, albeit without either team hitting 10 goals in a single game.  The road team won each game except Game One, which was a tone-setting blowout by Pittsburgh.  Each team traded blowouts up until Game 5, which was relatively tame, but had the exciting late tie-breaking goal by Sean Couturier, who then had a hattrick in Game 6, all whilst playing with a torn MCL.  What.  That’s unreal.  Of course it was Pittsburgh who prevailed in the end, driven by unrivaled superstar power and depth that, while middling on paper, is somehow always elevated in the playoffs.  The big question going forward is goaltending — Matt Murray didn’t look great in this series, but then again, the kid’s got two Cups to his name already.  The Flyers’ future is always a question mark; unless this year was a fluke, they should be even better next season.  Maybe.

Playoff Series
2018-04-11; PHI 0, PIT 7
2018-04-13; PHI 5, PIT 1
2018-04-15; PIT 5, PHI 1
2018-04-18; PIT 5, PHI 0
2018-04-20; PHI 4, PIT 2
2018-04-22; PIT 8, PHI 5
PIT defeats PHI: 4-2
Prediction: Penguins in 6 ✓✓

Predators vs Avalanche:  I didn’t see this coming.  Sure, the Predators still won, and in resounding fashion in the deciding game, but wasn’t Colorado’s effort pretty outstanding?  Even crippled by injury and discounted by just about every hockey pundit, they actually made a series of it, especially after that hotly debated late go-ahead skate redirect goal by Nick Bonino in Game 5.  When the Avalanche not only tied the game, but took the lead, all within the last five minutes of regulation, one might have thought the hockey gods were dishing out some karmic payback.  But, of course, in the end it was the juggernaut Predators, though suddenly looking a little bit more mortal, who advance to the Central Division championship series.

Playoff Series
2018-04-12; COL 2, NSH 5
2018-04-14; COL 4, NSH 5
2018-04-16; NSH 3, COL 5
2018-04-18; NSH 3, COL 2
2018-04-20; COL 2, NSH 1
2018-04-22; NSH 5, COL 0
NSH defeats COL: 4-2
Prediction: Predators in 4 ✓☓

Jets vs Wild:  Meanwhile, over in the prairies of the Upper Midwest, a series that went exactly as expected.  Minnesota stole a game at home, but the upstart Jets blew them away in the other four, allowing zero goals in the last two and advancing to the secound round for the first time in franchise history, and for the first time in thirty years as a team from Winnipeg.  This series was fun, if a bit predictable.  Between Myers’ accidental injury, and Morrissey’s well-deserved suspension, as well as the countless late game scrums, there was no shortage of bad blood between these two, at least by modern standards.  I hope this series kicked off a real rivalry between these two geographic rivals, but I fear Minnesota might be on the decline.  The Jets’ supremacy should be just beginning…

Playoff Series
2018-04-11; MIN 2, WPG 3
2018-04-13; MIN 1, WPG 4
2018-04-15; WPG 2, MIN 6
2018-04-17; WPG 2, MIN 0
2018-04-20; MIN 0, WPG 5
WPG defeats MIN: 4-1
Prediction: Jets in 5 ✓✓

Golden Knights vs Kings:  Huh.  The first team to advance, in a sweep nonetheless, were the Vegas Golden Knights.  Who would have thought?  And in such a fashion?  The Kings were the better team in almost every metric, and had most recently swept a home and home with the Knights.  Yet, in the playoffs, the high-flying Knights adapted, potting only 7 goals, which is an insanely low amount of goals to score and sweep an opponent.  Just wild.  Goaltending was the story in this series with both Marc-Andre Fleury (0.977 Sv%) and the vanquished Jonathan Quick (0.947) posting stellar numbers each game.  As I should have expected, it was Vegas who was propelled by depth scoring, while the Kings put just three goals past Fleury all series.  That’s… not good.  But as a Northern California resident, it makes me quite happy.

Except, we have to play these guys now, so…

Playoff Series
2018-04-11; LAK 0, VGK 1
2018-04-13; LAK 1, VGK 2 2OT
2018-04-15; VGK 3, LAK 2
2018-04-17; VGK 1, LAK 0
VGK defeats LAK: 4-0
Prediction: Kings in 7 ☓☓

Ducks vs. Sharks:  Well this was awesome.  I’d brazenly put down the Ducks as an awful team who the Sharks would handily beat in my predictions.  It turns out, I wasn’t bold enough.  For the second time in franchise history, the Sharks have swept a series — and both times have been on home ice.  They looked fantastic, climaxing in their relentless, disciplined blowout of Anaheim in Game Three.  The Ducks on the other hand looked horrendous; uninterested, tired, and done.  Whereas the Sharks core somehow keeps holding their Cup window open year after year, I think Anaheim’s is now firmly shut.  There’s something rotten in that room, and their shocking, but not entirely unexpected, meltdown is the result.  And now Southern California is out if the playoffs entirely — swept away by Northern California and Nevada.  C’est la vie.

Playoff Series
2018-04-12; SJS 3, ANA 0
2018-04-14; SJS 3, ANA 2
2018-04-16; ANA 1, SJS 8
2018-04-18; ANA 1, SJS 2
SJS defeats ANA: 4-0
Prediction: Sharks in 6 ✓☓

We’ll see if I can catch more hockey this time around.  Fewer games should mean more attention, but lately my focus has been… elsewhere.  At the very least, I won’t be missing my Sharks, especially as they play my third-string-bandwagon Knights.

Advanced stats herein are taken from February 26th through the end of the first round, with the rankings being among the eight teams remaining.


A1. Tampa Bay Lightning vs A2. Boston Bruins:  I was hoping for this series from the beginning — the 2011 seven-game showdown for the Cup Final was ridiculously fun, even if these two teams are largely different by now.  I have a bad feeling about my initial picks, however, given how the first round shaped up.  The Lightning have been idle since Saturday, having cleaned up at home against the Devils in short order, so they’ve been just chilling in Tampa, waiting for their opponent; the opponent who went seven games and has to play again two days from now and is likely far more injured than the reports suggest.  What’s up with Patrice Bergeron?  He had a mini-slump in the last series, prompting speculation he’s struggling physically, but he did have three points in Game 7, so maybe not?  On the Tampa side, everyone appears healthy, it’s just a matter of staying that way against the far more physical Bruins.  I didn’t have faith in Tampa moving on initially; I have less faith that Boston moves on now than I did.  Both teams have excellent goaltending; a dangerous top forward line, although Tampa gets the nod in the depth department; and their defense is roughly at parity.  Since it’s a toss-up, especially in the advanced stats department, I’m going to stick with my bracket.  Bruins in seven.  Another long series awaits, and the preseason Cup favorites stay home.

Power Play%
TBL: 22.1%, 3rd
BOS: 33.0%, 1st

Penalty Kill%
TBL: 73.8%, 8th
BOS: 78.9%, 3rd

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
TBL: 52.69%, 3rd
BOS: 53.10%, 2nd

TBL: 100.09, 6th
BOS: 100.26, 5th

Notable Injuries
TBL: none
BOS: Brandon Carlo

Season Series
2017-11-29; TBL 0, BOS 3
2018-03-17; BOS 3, TBL 2
2018-03-29; TBL 2, BOS 4
2018-04-03; BOS 0, TBL 4
TBL: 1-3-0 [0.250]
BOS: 3-1-0 [0.750]


M1. Washington Capitals vs M2. Pittsburgh Penguins:  You’ve gotta be f&cking kidding me.  Third times the charm, eh, Washington?  For the last two years, you’ve held home ice in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  For the last two years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have won the Stanley Cup.  And so it goes, that the Capitals and Penguins meet in the second round for a third consecutive year.  The last time I recall something like this happening, it was Vancouver and Chicago between 2009 and 2011, though in different rounds and with only the one Cup to the Blackhawks’ name.  That 2011 series ended with Canucks’ demon-slaying #3venge over the defending Cup champs, and a four-round run of their own.  Is that happening again?  Or is this happening again.  You know, how the Penguins always beat the Capitals and the Capitals never see the light of the third round during the Ovechkin Era?  Yeah, that one.  Penguins in six.  I don’t care that Washington is the better team on paper and that they beat a tougher opponent (debatably).  That Evgeni Malkin injury is a glaring hole for the Pens, but they haven’t seemed to care.  I don’t know what it is — the Penguins win and the Capitals choke, every. single. time.

I’m as serious as the Cigarette Smoking Man.  As long as the Capitals are built around the core of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Holtby, I will never again bet that they even sniff the Conference Final.

…so they will this year, right?  He says, hedging his bet for the second time…

Power Play%
WSH: 27.6%, 2nd
PIT: 21.7%, 4th

Penalty Kill%
WSH: 81.8%, 4th
PIT: 75.3%, 7th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WSH: 48.50%, 8th
PIT: 51.78%, 5th

WSH: 101.80, 3rd
PIT:  99.31, 7th

Notable Injuries
WSH: Andre Burakovsky
PIT: Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin

Season Series
2017-10-11; PIT 3, WSH 2
2017-11-10; PIT 1, WSH 4
2018-02-02; WSH 4, PIT 7
2018-04-01; WSH 3, PIT 1
WSH: 2-2-0 [0.500]
PIT: 2-2-0 [0.500]


C1. Nashville Predators vs C2. Winnipeg Jets:  And we’re off.  This has been the de facto Western Conference Final for months, going back to the late season series with these two Central powerhouses, and with this series, one of two things will happen: the Preds and Jets will beat each other up, leaving the survivor as easy pickings for the Pacific Division champion; or, the winner of this series wins the Stanley Cup.  Nashville and Winnipeg are just that good.  This is, in my opinion, the marquee matchup of the second round, perhaps of the entire tournament, no disrespect to Caps v Pens III.

Now, how to pick a winner?  The good news is my bracket is intact here, so I’ll be sticking with that.  But, I have to justify it, so here goes.  Nashville took too long to beat Colorado, who is arguably a worse team than Minnesota.  The best defensive corp in the league was shaken by the talents of the Avs’ top line, which could mean trouble against the Jets multiple levels of snipers.  Both goaltenders in this series are Vezina finalists, each with a shutout in the series deciding game.  Nashville’s forwards certainly produced more on the scoreboard than Winnipeg’s, and the Jets have significantly more injuries overall (like, holy crap that’s a lot of names on the injury report).  This should be a close series, but based on what I saw (the dreaded eye test), Winnipeg was simply dominant in their series, especially at home.  Nashville may be motivated after their scare against Colorado, but I think the cracks in their game are starting to show.  Jets in six.  The Whiteout continues its undefeated streak, and Winnipeg secures a trip to the Conference Final on home ice.

Power Play%
NSH: 15.7%, 8th
WPG: 20.0%, 6th

Penalty Kill%
NSH: 81.6%, 5th
WPG: 77.8%, 6th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
NSH: 51.91%, 4th
WPG: 53.90%, 1st

NSH: 102.28, 1st
WPG: 101.92, 2nd

Notable Injuries
NSH: Yannick Weber
WPG: Toby Enstrom, Mathieu Perreault, Joel Armia, Nikolaj Ehlers, Steve Mason

Season Series
2017-11-20; WPG 3, NSH 5
2017-12-19; WPG 6, NSH 4
2018-02-27; NSH 6, WPG 5
2018-03-13; WPG 1, NSH 3
2018-03-25; NSH 4, WPG 5 S/O
NSH: 3-1-1 [0.700]
WPG: 2-3-0 [0.400]


P1. Vegas Golden Knights vs P3. San Jose Sharks:  This will be historic.  One of these two teams will be undefeated in the playoffs after Game One.  And if it’s the Knights, they might as well just sweep their next three series.  I honestly don’t know what to do here.  The Sharks look better than I’ve seen them in a long time, perhaps even more so than their Cup Final team two years ago.  Their path to the Final goes through Vegas, a goram expansion team, and the potentially ruined husk of Nashipeg.  But man, the Vegas Golden Knights just keep winning and I feel like I should have learned not to pick against them by now.  In fact, I watched these very teams play against each other in person less than a month ago, and the Sharks, despite what I just said above, did not look good on T-Mobile Arena ice, which is unfortunately where this series begins.  According to the numbers I choose to use as my tea leaves, the Sharks are the better team.  Historically, the Knights have beaten San Jose more often than not, especially on home ice.  My bracket has San Jose in the Conference Final, over Los Angeles.  Well, it didn’t quite go that way, and my gut is now screaming at me given this new matchup.  As much as I want the Sharks to advance, I don’t think its in the cards against Vegas.  Golden Knights in seven.  Each team will steal one home game from the other, but it’s the Vegas flu that leads the Knights to victory.  If I’m wrong, well, great!

By the way, doesn’t it feel like forever since these two have played a game?  Their first round series have been wrapped up for 8 and 9 days, so expect a bit of rust in the beginning of this one.

Power Play%
VGK: 18.1%, 7th
SJS: 20.3%, 5th

Penalty Kill%
VGK: 85.0%, 2nd
SJS: 86.5%, 1st

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
VGK: 49.87%, 7th
SJS: 51.35%, 6th

VGK:  99.02, 8th
SJS: 101.19, 4th

Notable Injuries
VGK: Luca Sbisa
SJS: Joe Thornton

Season Series
2017-11-24; SJS 4, VGK 5 OT
2018-02-08; VGK 5, SJS 3
2018-03-22; VGK 1, SJS 2 OT
2018-03-31; SJS 2, VGK 3
VGK: 3-0-1 [0.750]
SJS: 1-2-1 [0.375]

No team left in the Western Conference has won a Cup.  I like those odds, but I have a bad feeling Pittsburgh’s going to ruin things again.

Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  5 — CBJ, NSH, MIN, SJS, VGK, WSH, WPG
Cup Champions since 2006:  2 — ANA (’07), BOS (’11), LAK (’12, ’14), PIT (’09, ’16, ’17)
Longest Cup drought:  WSH — 42 seasons
Returning teams (to the second round):  3 — NSH, PIT, WSH
Fresh blood (in the second round):  5 — BOS, SJS, TBL, VGK, WPG

This might be the best looking second round in years.  Let’s do this.


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