2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Second Round Predictions
Like most fans and pundits, most of my first-round predictions for this year’s playoffs failed to pan out. With the four division leaders all bounced from the opening round for the first time in league history, I went three-for-eight with my picks, correctly predicting the Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, and St. Louis Blues would advance.
Let’s see if I can do a better job with my second-round predictions. Once again, these are merely for fun so don’t get wrapped around the axle if I don’t pick your team to advance. And if you do get upset, send your complaints to someone who gives a damn.
Boston Bruins vs Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets pulled off the biggest upset of the postseason and one of the biggest in Stanley Cup playoff history by sweeping the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning. For the second straight year, the Bruins required seven games to vanquish the Toronto Maple Leafs from the opening round.
By upsetting the Lightning, the Jackets proved they aren’t to be taken lightly. They’ve got a solid defense corps and several skilled scorers led by Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Matt Duchene, while two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky regained his mojo to win his first-ever playoff series.
However, the Jackets haven’t played in nearly 10 days and that lengthy layoff could affect their performance. The Bruins, meanwhile, have considerable veteran experience in Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand, as well as some rising talent led by David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy. While the Jackets have the potential to pull off another upset, I believe the Bruins’ depth and physical style can see them through. Prediction: Bruins in six.
Dallas Stars vs St. Louis Blues. Careful, these underdogs bite! The Stars upset the Nashville Predators in six games while the Blues needed six games to down the Winnipeg Jets.
Entering 2019 at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, the Blues rode the solid play of rookie goalie Jordan Binnington and the aggressive forechecking system of interim coach Craig Berube into the playoffs. Their victory over the Jets was largely a team effort, especially in Game 6 when they neutralized Winnipeg’s offense for most of that contest.
The Stars also had their ups-and-downs this season but goaltender Ben Bishop was consistently strong between the pipes. Nominated for the Vezina Trophy, Bishop is tied for second in goals-against average (1.90) and sits second in save percentage (.945) among playoff starters. Should he and core players Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and John Klingberg carry over their strong opening-round performances into this series, they should advance to the Conference Finals. Prediction: Stars in five.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Islanders. Another underdog that exceeded expectations, the Hurricanes defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in one of the most entertaining series of the opening round. The Islanders, meanwhile, finished ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the standings but their sweep of the Pens still surprised many observers.
The Isles are coming off a lengthy layoff and could find it difficult to get back into a series mindset. Still, I have a feeling they’re going to win this one. Vezina Trophy nominee Robin Lehner leads all playoff goalies in GAA (1.47) and save percentage (.956). Their physical defensive system matches up well against the Hurricanes’ blueline depth. They also pack a deceptive offensive punch led by Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson.
The Hurricanes are a plucky, likable bunch who’ve beaten the odds thus far. They’ve got a speedy core of young scorers like Sebastian Aho, Warren Foegele and Teuvo Teravainen and an impressive defense featuring Dougie Hamilton, Justin Faulk and the under-appreciated Jaccob Slavin. The Canes have a bright future but I don’t think goalie Petr Mrazek can outduel Lehner and I doubt Hurricanes bench boss Rod Brind’amour can out-coach the Isles’ Barry Trotz. Prediction: Islanders in five.
Colorado Avalanche vs San Jose Sharks. By snuffing out the Calgary Flames in the opening round, the Avalanche became another opening-round underdog that pulled off a big upset in this postseason. Meanwhile, the Sharks overcame a 3-1 series deficit and a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.
A number of players on the Sharks’ current roster were part of their march to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. They’ve got considerable experience and skill throughout their lineup. Goaltender Martin Jones was lousy through the first four games against Vegas but superb during their three straight victories to win that series.
Led by young superstars Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, the Avs are a young team on the rise. They’re also getting strong goaltending from Philipp Grubauer, who seems to be finally coming into his own as a starter. Still, I think the Sharks’ experienced depth and playoff leadership will win out in this series. Prediction: Sharks in six.