Six weeks after the first day in the bubble, the NHL has narrowed their field down to four teams. After three dramatic game 7s in the second round, the Islanders, Golden Knights and Stars all joined the Lightning this weekend for a chance to represent their conference in the Stanley Cup Final. Both series should be intriguing, so without further ado, let’s get into it.
Starting in the east, the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning make their second conference final appearance in three years as they take on the New York Islanders. This is as far as the Islanders have been in 27 years, since their improbable second round victory against the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in 1993. Tampa made easy work of Boston, defeating them in five games, while the Islanders got pushed all the way to game seven by the Flyers, but came out on top in the last game by a score of 4-0. In the first game of the Lightning series, the Isles looked completely outmatched, losing 8-2 and never really having a chance after the Bolts made it 3-1 late in the first period. However, that will not be the case for this entire series. This Islanders team is built to hang with the powerhouse teams in the East, as proven by their playoff victories against Pittsburgh, Washington and Philadelphia over the past two seasons. Fatigue played a factor in game one, but the Isles will come out firing in the rest of the series.
Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss got the start in game one and was pulled after allowing the third goal. Seymon Varlamov was not much better, but expect Barry Trotz to stick with Varlamov for the remainder of the series. He has proved to be a fantastic goalie when needed this playoff season outside of a couple fluke games. My bias will show through here: Isles in 7.
Out west is another fascinating matchup. Although we got robbed of what could’ve been a phenomenal playoff series between Colorado and Vegas, Dallas belongs here, and they proved that during game one. An early goal and a defensive shut down led to a 1-0 victory for the Stars. A victory would put them in their first Stanley Cup Final since their win in 1999, while a victory for Vegas would spell their second Cup trip in their three-year existence. Both teams won their respective clinchers on Friday night, but in very different ways. Dallas won 5-4 in overtime against Colorado, holding Nathan MacKinnon scoreless for the first time in the playoffs. They went down 4-3 with less than four minutes to go, but scored 10 seconds later to tie the game, and then again in overtime to win it. Vegas finally broke through on Vancouver’s star goalie Thatcher Demko for only the second time in three games to beat the Canucks 3-0. A misleading score to say the least, as two of the goals came with an empty net. Vegas has looked dynamic on offense outside of the three games against Demko, and Dallas was able to stifle them in a critical game one.
All in all, this should be a great series, and another long one. I’m going to pick Vegas in game seven; their offense is too good for Dallas to shut down like that for four games.