The road to the 2016 Stanley Cup began with 16 teams. Eight of those teams, the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings were eliminated. Those teams have been sent home to clean out their dressing room stalls and think about next year.
The eight remaining teams meet up in the second round in hopes of avoiding the fate of their first-round foes. The Eastern Conference matchups feature the Washington Capitals versus the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning versus the New York Islanders. In the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues matchup against the Dallas Stars while the San Jose Sharks face the Nashville Predators.
That’s right, the Blackhawks and Kings, winners of the last four Stanley Cups, are out of the playoffs, and with that, fans will get to see a different team raise the Cup for the first time since the Boston Bruins won the big prize in 2011.
Most eyes will be on the Capitals-Penguins series due to the matchup between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, which is easy to understand, but doesn’t mean fans should sleep on any of the other series. What follows is a look at each of the four series being played out right now as the road to the Stanley Cup rolls on.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders
How they got here: The Tampa Bay Lightning secured its spot in the second round by defeating the Detroit Red Wings in five games. The New York Islanders made it to the second round by besting the Florida Panthers in six games.
Leading scorers: For the Islanders, John Tavares had nine points in the first round (5G, 4A). Nikita Kucherov led the Lightning with eight points (5G, 3A).
Goaltending: Thomas Greiss played all six games for the Islanders, posting a 1.79 goals against average and a .944 save percentage. Ben Bishop was in net for each of the Lightning games; he had a 1.61 GAA and a .950 SP.
What to watch: The Lightning, who are still without regular-season scoring leader Steven Stamkos, will have to play a team-first game and take advantage of opportunities, especially power play opportunities. Another crucial thing for the Lightning is goaltending. Bishop will have to play as good as he did in the first round.
The Islanders will go as Tavares goes. He led the team in scoring in the first round, and he scored two overtime winners against the Panthers. If he can maintain the same level of play he did in Round 1, the Islanders will be a force. Another important factor: the Lightning’s health. With Stamkos and defensemen Anton Stralman out, if the Lightning lose another player it could be devastating.
Prediction: Tampa Bay in six
Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
How they got here: The Washington Capitals took down the Philadelphia Flyers in six games while the Pittsburgh Penguins got the best of the New York Rangers in five games.
Leading scorers: Sidney Crosby led the Penguins in scoring with eight points (3G, 5A), while Nicklas Backstrom led the Capitals with seven points (2G, 5A).
Goaltending: The Penguins split goaltending duties in the first round with Matt Murray playing three games, posting a 1.33 GAA to go along with a .955 SP. Jeff Zatkoff played two games for the Pens, putting up a 3.08 GAA and a .908 SP. Braden Holtby held down the net for the Capitals with a 0.84 GAA and a .968 SP.
What to watch: The focus in this series will be squarely on Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, which is understandable, but doesn’t mean fans should sleep on the goaltending in this series. Holtby’s numbers are amazing and if he can deliver like he did in the first round, the Capitals will be hard to beat.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in seven games
St. Louis Blues vs. Dallas Stars
How they got here: The St. Louis Blues dropped the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in seven games, while the Dallas Stars got past the Minnesota Wild in six games.
Leading scorers: Jaden Schwartz was the Blues’ leading scorer in the first round with seven points (3G, 4A), while Jamie Benn lit it up for the Stars, scoring 10 points (4G, 6A).
Goaltending: Brian Elliott was in net for the Blues with a GAA of 2.40 and SP of .929. The Stars used both of their goaltenders in the first round. Kari Lehtonen played in four games and posted a 2.27 GAA to go along with a .911 SP. Antti Niemi played the other two games for Dallas, with a 3.36 GAA and a .870 SP.
What to watch: The Blues will be full of confidence heading into the second round. After all, they did just beat the defending Cup Champions in the first round. That confidence can go a long way in a seven-game series, but the Stars have the means to break that confidence with their scoring.
Another thing to watch in this series is the goaltending. These teams have a lot of firepower on them, and there’s little doubt that a lot of rubber will fly when play gets underway.
Prediction: Stars in six games
San Jose Sharks vs. Nashville Predators
How they got here: The Sharks earned their spot in the second round by dropping the Los Angeles Kings in five games. The Predators earned their spot in the second round by dismissing the Anaheim Ducks in seven games.
Leading scorers: Brent Burns led the Sharks in scoring with eight points (2G, 6A). The Predators had two players tying for the scoring lead. Shea Weber and Colin Wilson each scored five points in the series. Both players scored two goals and three assists.
Goaltending: Martin Jones, in his first playoff series, played well for San Jose, posting a 2.18 GAA and a .912 SP. Pekka Rinne was in the net for all seven of the Predators games and he posted a 2.45 GAA to go along with a .915 SP.
What to watch: The Sharks will go seven days between playoff games when they meet the Predators on Friday. That’s not good news for San Jose. They’ve had a layoff of five games or more between series on four occasions, and they lost each of those series. Since this is Jones’ first playoff series in net for the Sharks, it’s hard to tell how he will respond as expectations ramp up. Luckily for him, he has some seasoned teammates.
The big concern for the Predators is scoring. They scored no more than three goals in any of their seven games against Anaheim. In one of their losses they were shutout and in another they scored only one goal. By the same token, the Sharks are putting the puck in the net, scoring four goals in Game One of their series with the Kings and closing out the series by scoring six goals. Rinne is a seasoned vet, but he has struggled at points in past playoffs. He can’t afford a slip up in this series.
Prediction: San Jose in six games