2018 NHL Playoffs – Conference Finals Predictions
We’re down to the final four in the 2018 NHL playoffs. Here’s a brief preview and predictions for the Eastern and Western Conference Finals.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Washington Capitals. The Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference Final by eliminating the Boston Bruins in five games.Meanwhile, the Capitals reached the Conference Final for the first time in 20 years by defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
Any lingering concerns over the Lightning’s late-season struggles potentially affecting their postseason were erased by the quick work they made of the Bruins and the New Jersey Devils. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has been sturdy thus far between the pipes. The Bolts are stronger in the faceoff circle, their defensive play has significantly improve while their overall depth – led by Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point – has been difficult to contain.
The Capitals continue to get stellar postseason goaltending from Braden Holtby. They’re enter this series tied for first with the Winnipeg Jets for most goals (43) thus far. Their best skaters – Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson – continue to lead the way offensively. They’re also getting more contributions from their secondary scorers this time around.
The Capitals gained a huge psychological lift by finally reaching the Conference final for the first time in two decades and beating the Penguins for the first time in 24 years. However, that won’t be enough to overcome a very deep Lightning roster. Tampa Bay has too many weapons at their disposal. Lightning in six.
Winnipeg Jets vs Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets reached the Western Conference Final by downing the Nashville Predators in a hard-fought seven games. The Golden Knights continued their incredible inaugural season by beating the San Jose Sharks in six games.
Anyone who last fall predicted these two clubs would be among the best teams in the regular season and also face each other in the conference final is either a genius or a lucky fool. Regardless, both clubs deserve to be here.
Led by Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny and Dustin Byfuglien, the Jets are tied with the Capitals for most goals (43) among the playoff clubs. Their power play (25.0 percent) remains quite potent. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck has proven to be a big-game postseason performer.
Stellar goaltending by Marc-Andre Fleury, an aggressive forecheck and a solid penalty kill have been key to the Golden Knights’ playoff success. Their swift-skating offense, led by Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith, can pounce quickly on their opponent’s defensive mistakes.
The expansion Golden Knights reaching the Stanley Cup Final would be an incredible story. However, they’ll face a stiff challenge attempting to neutralize Winnipeg’s scoring punch. At the risk of underrating Vegas, the Jets offensive depth should make the difference in this series. Jets in six.