Will upsets continue in NHL’s ‘second’ round?
On to Round 2.
Or is it Round 1?
Under the new-look National Hockey League, take your pick.
This corner went a true-blue 5-3 in its qualifying round selections, and now we’re set to stumble around blindly in the dark with daring predictions for the next round. (Whatever you want to call it).
Philadelphia (1st seed) vs. Montreal (8th)
Makes one harken back to the glorious 1980s (me being the one) where bench-clearing brawls (Dave Brown clocking Chris Nilan; Eddie Hospodar chasing down Claude Lemieux) were the taste du jour.
I needn’t tell you, but times have changed.
We very, very likely won’t be seeing much of that good stuff.
Instead this sets up to be a fast-skating and highly entertaining go-to.
This could in fact be the series I’ll be circling to watch.
The Habs were near perfect in upsetting Pittsburgh in the qualifier and it would be no surprise if they turn the trick again.
Shea Weber – hey who won that trade anyway? – Jeff Petry, Nick Suzuki and most importantly, Carey Price were outstanding against the Pens.
Montreal gets it done again.
Prediction: Montreal in six.
Tampa Bay (2nd) vs. Columbus (7th)
A sweep by the Blue Jackets last season will not be repeated here.
Columbus beat Toronto in the qualifier, but everyone beats Toronto in the post-season, don’t they? (see below)?
Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Sergei Bobrovsky are gone from last season’s lineup. The Lightning have their own injury woes with Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos questionable.
"We don't know how long this is going to be. But when your perennial Norris Trophy finalist is out, that creates a hole. But we've dealt with injuries before," said coach Jon Cooper to ESPN. "We have to circle the wagons."
Let’s slot it this way: Tampa’s a lot deeper than Columbus and consequently have more Band aids to make up for their losses.
Prediction: Tampa Bay in five.
Washington (3rd) vs. NY Islanders (6th)
Another series worth watching.
This could be the most physically engaging set on the first-round schedule.
The Caps have Tom Wilson and Radko Gudas, the Isles own Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck (and big Ross Johnston if they choose to suit him up).
Former Senator and playoff hot-shot J-G Pageau will make a difference.
The Isles’ success hinges on their ‘all-in’ philosophy.
This might be the start of a big run.
Prediction: New York in seven.
Boston (4th) vs. Carolina (5th)
Hockey tradition versus hockey’s jerks.
My heart says take the B’s. My brain says take the Hurricanes.
Always go with your heart people, go with your heart.
Prediction: Boston in seven.
Vegas (1st) vs. Chicago (8th)
Is there another run left in the tank for Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews?
Like Shea Weber in Montreal, Keith was the magnificent defensive veteran in the qualifying upset over Edmonton.
Credit the Hawks for gifting the vets with quality youngsters like Kirby Dach, Matthew Highmore and Dominik Kubalik.
And who knew, really who, that 35-year-old Corey Crawford could rebound in net?
That’s all well-and-good but the Golden Knights have Mark Stone (only Jeopardy champ James Holzhauer’s favourite player).
Prediction: Vegas in six.
Colorado (2nd) vs. Arizona (7th)
The ‘Yotes have one of the league’s top coaches in Rick Tocchet.
And maybe, just maybe, we here at the home office don’t give the roster enough credit.
We know that Clayton Keller is one dynamic young skater; Phil Kessel plays his best hockey under Tocchet; and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is perhaps the NHL’s most underrated blue-liner.
Still, this is an enormous mismatch of speed and skill.
Colorado is loaded with it.
If Arizona starts messing around, in checks a potentially deadly power play – key to any playoff success.
(For some reason, the Avalanche were merely 19th with the man advantage during the regular season. But anytime you can trot out Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar there’s a possibility/probability of goals).
A mostly young team, Colorado should be smart enough now to realize what it takes to win a Stanley Cup.
They’re our pick (the royal our) to come out if the Western Conference.
Prediction: Colorado in six.
Dallas (3rd) vs. Calgary (6th)
The Flames dusted a very tough Winnipeg in four games to push ahead.
Former Ottawa 67 Sean Monahan was lights out with six points (two goals) in the four games.
Calgary was so good even Milan Lucic averaged a point per game.
They’ll need a continuation of magical play from starter Cam Talbot.
How about these stats: In the four games, Talbot posted a 1.51 goals-against average and a stunning .945 save percentage.
The Stars can really move the puck so Talbot will need to be top drawer and vicious.
Prediction: Calgary in seven.
St. Louis (4th) vs. Vancouver (5th)
Are the Canucks capable of an upset?
Is it likely?
Vancouver is young and assertive.
The Blues are tested and ready.
Prediction: St. Louis in five.
THOUGHTS AND POSTULATIONS: The Ottawa Senators must have been sitting their with their constant seatmate ‘disappointment’ Monday night watching a team miles ahead of them get the first overall pick in the year’s entry draft. As bad as Ottawa feels, think about Steve Yzerman and Detroit who finished 23 points back of the Senators for last overall . . . Watch out for the NY Rangers. Adding Alexis Lafreniere makes them young and deadly . . . If you think of the qualifying round as the first round (see above), the Toronto Maple Leafs have now lost four consecutive first-round sets . . . Systemic change? Yup, the Leafs need some of that medicine. The organization’s constant refusal to move away from the ‘soft’ approach, i.e. going solely with skill instead of guts, has been a tremendous failure . . . Nothing changes if nothing changes . . . Toronto desperately needs a pair of quality defencemen. Cue the broken record . . . And what to do with Edmonton? God only knows . . . Nice to see Calgary push ahead, especially after last season’s playoff collapse . . . Get a good chuckle out of Columbus coach John Tortorella’s news conferences, just wouldn’t want to be one of the poor schmuck reporters having to try and generate something out of them.
Photo: Courtesy NHLI via Getty Images