- Can Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals exorcise their playoff demons?
- Is Tampa Bay or Nashville the favorite to win the 2018 Stanley Cup?
- Where do the Vegas Golden Knights fit in?
The first round of the NHL playoffs is in the books. Much like any round of post-season competition, the first round of the 2018 NHL playoff featured the good, the bad, and of course, the ugly. With only eight teams remaining in the race, odds for every team have shortened dramatically. For a complete version on how NHL odds for every team have fluctuated from the off-season all the way through the post-season, check out our NHL Stanley Cup Futures Tracker.
There’s a ton of big stories heading into the second round, headlined by Washington facing Pittsburgh for the third consecutive year, and the 11th time in the history of the two franchises. We break down the second round matchups and offer up some quick predictions as to who’s going to be playing in conference finals.
Will Ovechkin Finally Best Sid?
This might be the third year in a row the Capitals have faced the Penguins, but this go around is different and expectations have flipped. The Capitals lost a lot of key contributors in the 2017 offseason (Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nate Schmidt, and Marcus Johansson, to name a few), and they came into 2017-2018 with the lowest expectations placed on them in nearly a decade.
Penguins vs Capitals Odds to Win the 2018 Stanley Cup
The Capitals’ season has had a ton of ups and down, fraught with goalie controversies and defensive struggles, amongst other speed bumps. Despite this, they defied expectations and overcame a 2-0 deficit to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, winning in 6 games. After faltering early, most were quick to write off the Capitals.
However, their big boys answered the bell in epic fashion, and they got an amazing performance from their oft-maligned superstar and leader Alexander Ovechkin (5g, 3a). They also got standout contributions from their de-facto number one defenseman John Carlson (1g, 8a) and the perennially underrated Nicklas Backstrom (2g, 6a).
All the pressure is on the Penguins this season to become the first team in 35 years to capture their third Stanley Cup in a row. A casual observer might think that they’ll easily roll over the Caps, but this Penguins team isn’t nearly as strong as it was the two years previous.
Matt Murray looks fallible, their defense is questionable, and they’re going to start the series without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin due to injury. Simply put, the Penguins aren’t the matchup nightmare they once were, and they preyed on the Flyer’s ECHL level goaltending in the first round.
The Penguins have done a lot of their scoring on the power play this post-season, so if Washington stays disciplined the Penguins will likely have serious trouble generating any offense.
The Penguins have done a lot of their scoring on the power play this post-season, so if Washington stays disciplined the Penguins will likely have serious trouble generating any offense. The Penguins have played a ton of hockey in the last three years, and fatigue will likely be a factor in the second round for the Penguins as well.
We think this is the year Washington is going to break through. Ovechkin has never made it out of the second round, and all bets are on this being the year his skill and passion push the Capitals through to the Conference Finals. He has a proven track record against Crosby and the Pens, with 26 points in 20 playoff games against the Penguins.
Now that the pressure is off the Caps, look for them to surprise. Further, the Capitals are available at +675. That’s some pretty great value in our estimation.
Does Vegas Continue to Surpass All Expectations?
Vegas’ storybook season continued with their first-round drubbing of the Los Angeles Kings. As you can see from our odds tracker, they’ve been written off from the start from the start of the season. However, Vegas’ band of former castoffs has continued to excel, getting into the second round on the back of an otherworldly performance from Marc Andre Fleury.
Sharks vs Golden Knights Odds to Win the 2018 Stanley Cup
However, we’re going with the underdog Sharks on this one. They’ve got the longest odds for the cup of any remaining team, but the Sharks are sneaky good. Its underreported around the league, but the Sharks look fast this post-season. They’ll be able to match Vegas’ speed, something that the aging, lumbering Kings couldn’t manage.
Late season acquisition Evander Kane was indisputably the steal of the deadline.
The Sharks absolutely wiped the floor with the favorited Anaheim Ducks, outscoring them 16-4 in a 4 game sweep. Late season acquisition Evander Kane was indisputably the steal of the deadline, and Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski have taken their games to unprecedented levels. Martin Jones is a stalwart in net, and their defense core led by Brent Burns and Marc Edouard Vlasic is highly competent on both sides of the puck.
Plus, San Jose is going to be getting Joe Thorton and his invaluable veteran leadership back from a knee injury a couple games into the series. Pick San Jose to shed their choker label this round.
Who Comes Out of the Central Division Bloodbath, Nashville or Winnipeg?
This series is an absolute toss-up. These are probably the two scariest teams left in the playoffs, and its a bit of a shame one of them is going to be golfing at the conclusion of this series. Both teams have incredible depth, strong goaltending, and a breadth of star power up and down their lineups.
Jets vs Predators Odds to Win the 2018 Stanley Cup
Nashville does have the shortest odds of any team remaining, so we’ll pick them to win this series. We saw in the first round that playoff experience matters and Nashville’s squad is basically identical from the team that got within two wins of the Stanley Cup last year.
Additionally, Nashville will be buoyed by having both early season acquisition Kyle Turris and a healthy Ryan Johansen this time around.
Thanks to the behemoth Predators, Winnipeg faithful might have to wait another year to see their team get over the hump.
We’d pick Winnipeg to win in nearly every other situation, but thanks to the behemoth Predators, Winnipeg faithful might have to wait another year to see their team get over the hump.
This series is going to go to at least six games, probably seven. These two big, heavy, and imposing teams are going to inflict a lot of damage on each other, and it’s probable that the team that emerges is going to facing some serious injuries. For that reason, we’d be reticent to pick either of them to win the cup.
Can Tampa Translate Their Regular Season Dominance?
Tampa looked like the team to beat early on in the regular season, but they faltered post-deadline. Andrei Vasilevsky looked tired, and the dynamic duo of Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos slowed their torrid pace.
Bruins vs Lightning Odds to Win the 2018 Stanley Cup
However, they easily dispatched the New Jersey Devils in the first round and looked a lot more like the team many of us expected. Vasilevsky returned to form, posting a .941, and Kucherov put up an astounding 5G, 5A performance in a mere five games.
On paper, the Tampa Bay Lightning have no discernable weakness. They’re an easy pick over the Boston Bruins, who looked eminently beatable against the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one.
With Tuukka Rask swimming in net, Zdeno Chara handling the puck like a live explosive at times, and little scoring outside of their top line of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak, the Bruins are in for a rough ride against a Tampa team that at first blush looks so good you’d think it was drafted by a teenager playing on beginner mode in NHL 2018.
Let's have fun and keep it civil.