There is no need to worry if the result of Saturday’s first game between the Bruins and Islanders didn’t go your way. The start of Round 2 of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs moves right along on Sunday with two Game 1s that offer two very entertaining, although vastly different, storylines.
Despite being the reigning Stanley Cup champs, the Tampa Bay Lightning (-110) are neck-and-neck with the Carolina Hurricanes (-110), who are looking to make the Conference Final for the second time in three postseasons. Out West, the heavy-hitting Vegas Golden Knights enter their second-round opener as underdogs versus the speedy Colorado Avalanche, who are the -180 favorite.
Here is a look at both matchups.
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Lightning (-110) at Hurricanes (-110)
Perhaps it isn’t that big of a surprise that Carolina and Tampa Bay are seen on such an even playing field heading into Sunday’s game.
Their regular-season series was as tight as they come, with both teams registering a 4-3-1 record. Both teams are coming off six-game series victories in which they averaged roughly the same number of goals per game and got top-notch goaltending. Both have offensive defensemen on their rosters which can define a single-handedly change the course of a game. (Victor Hedman is only one example for Tampa Bay, and Dougie Hamilton is only one example for Carolina. Seriously, these teams have stealthy blueliners to be reckoned with.)
But I think the defending champs have a slight edge in this one – well, at least in Sunday’s Game 1 – because of their special teams.
A big key to their success against the Panthers in Round 1 was that they could capitalize whenever Florida got into penalty trouble, scoring eight power-play goals with 40-percent efficiency in that series. Even though the Hurricanes penalty kill was a dominant 88.5-percent in Round 1 against the Nashville Predators, they also racked up 32 penalties in the process.
Sure, this is something Carolina can clean up as a series goes on. But with both teams on an emotional high in Game 1, frequent trips to the sin bin could be their downfall.
Avalanche (-180) at Golden Knights (+160)
It seemed destined since the start of the regular season that Colorado and Vegas would square off at some point in the playoffs. And while I don’t see the Avalanche completely running away with Sunday’s game, the speed that Nathan MacKinnon and Company bring to the ice is what makes them such an attractive pick over the Knights in Game 1.
Colorado already showed they could make quick work of a more physical team in the first round when they defeated the St. Louis Blues with four straight victories. And it isn’t just the Avalanche’s deep offense that helped them along, as goalie Philipp Grubauer stood on his head between the pipes in Round 1. (He also posted a .935 save percentage against the Golden Knights in the regular season.)
Of course, with Colorado not playing since May 23, the “rest vs. rust” conversation comes up. However, rest during the postseason can be a gift, given how much a grueling schedule and piled-up injuries can take a toll. With the core of the Avalanche’s scoring arsenal well-rested, it shouldn’t take them more than the first few minutes of Game 1 to shake off any cobwebs.
Not to mention that Colorado is the kind of team that can get better and better as a game goes on.
This isn’t to say that Vegas doesn’t have weapons in place to slow Colorado down. They held the high-scoring Avs to an average of 2.13 goals per game through the regular season. Plus, Knights’ starting netminder Marc-Andre Fleury – who ended Round 1 against the Minnesota Wild with a 1.71 goals-against average – shut the Avalanche out twice in the regular season.
Sunday’s game is likely going to be a tight one. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Avalanche emerge victorious here.
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