Then there were eight.
No one could have predicted the number of upsets in round one of the NHL playoffs. For the first time in league history, all the top seeds are gone, as are all the Canadian teams that were vying for the Stanley Cup: Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs.
What’s left is an odd bunch of unlikely underdogs and it’s anyone’s guess who will make it to the Conference Final.
Here’s a look at the Eastern Conference matchups for round two, starting on Thurs. Apr. 25:
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Boston Bruins
After defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in another Game 7, the Bruins will have home ice advantage in their second-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who entered the playoffs in the 2nd wild card spot and defeated the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in four straight.
Were the Lightning unprepared for their first-round series or were the Blue Jackets that good? The true test will be against the Bruins who overcame a series deficit to beat the Leafs thanks to their best players, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron, who shined.
What the Leafs didn’t have, however, was the Blue Jackets’ defense which should give the Bruins forwards fits, if the Bs don’t get into their heads. Both the Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky and the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask were excellent in goal, which means this series could come down to a goal.
Game 1 is on Thursday, Apr. 25 at 7 pm at TD Garden
Game 2 is on Saturday, Apr. 27 at 7 pm at TD Garden
Game 3 is Tuesday, Apr. 30 at 7 pm at Nationwide Arena
Game 4 is Thursday, May 2 at 7:30 pm at Nationwide Arena
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Islanders
It’s hard to imagine anyone predicted that these two teams would meet in the second round. The Carolina Hurricanes ousted the defending Cup champions on Wednesday night in a shocking 4-3 double-overtime victory in Game 7.
After missing the playoffs for almost a decade, the ‘Canes are headed to the second round to face the New York Islanders, who defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the only other first-round sweep.
The Islanders may have finished the regular season three points up on the Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division but without John Tavares, who deserted the Isle for Toronto, no one expected them to make a splash. Now the Capitals’ former head coach Barry Trotz is heading to the second round with a team that has not made it there since 2016 when they lost to the Lightning in five games.
If this series comes down to goaltending, give the edge to the Islanders. After a strong regular season performance, goaltender Robin Lehner stepped up his game in the playoffs, against the Penguins no less, with a .956 save percentage and a 1.37 goals-against average. Hurricanes netminder Petr Mrazek wasn’t nearly as good with a .899 SP and 2.54 GAA, yet the team still managed to contain Ovechkin and company.
If Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle can keep racking up the points, it should be the Islanders’ series to lose.
Game 1 is on Friday, Apr. 26 at 7 pm at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Game 2 is on Sunday, Apr. 28 at 3 pm at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Game 3 is on Wednesday, May 1 at 7 pm at PNC Arena, Raleigh
Game 4 is on Friday, May 3 at 7 pm at PNC Arena, Raleigh