With the first round of the NHL playoffs behind us, it you went chalk then your bracket is pretty much crushed. The No. 1 seeds in both conferences were bounced, the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals are gone, arguably the most improved team last offseason in Toronto lost to the Bruins in seven games AGAIN and the reigning Western Conference champion Golden Knights are out too.
So, where in the world does that leave us? Well, with four wild card teams, no division winners and one Original Six squad, just like we all predicted. The Bruins are the last bastion of the old guard, going up against a Blue Jackets team that soundly obliterated the Lightning for 10 of the 12 periods they played. In other words, this is going to be fun. However, which series will be the most fun? We're here to sort that out, and lay out each series here in terms of raw entertainment.
A big part of this is that Nathan MacKinnon is probably the most exciting player left in this postseason. He and Mikko Rantanen willed the Avs to a series win over the Flames, but now they go up against a team with more experience than Calgary and that is quite a bit deeper. The Flames defied all expectations by winning the Pacific, but this Sharks team likely feels like they're right where they should be.
The Sharks have a lot more depth, particularly on the blue line, than arguably anyone left in the West. However, Martin Jones should be very afraid. He pulled it together in Game 6 against the Golden Knights, but MacKinnon and Rantanen are absolute snipers. If Jones plays like he did in Games 2-5 -- or even Game 7 against Vegas -- the Sharks could be in a lot of trouble.
The Avalanche also don't have an easy job up front. Logan Couture and Evander Kane could cause problems for Colorado, and Erik Karlsson notched nine (!) assists in their opening series. This series may not be a coin flip -- the Sharks have an edge on paper going in -- but the Avalanche have enough going their way right now that it should be a fun one.
2. Islanders vs. Hurricanes
This is an intriguing matchup of strength vs. strength. The Islanders finished the regular season as the league's top defensive team in terms of goals against, and they're coming off a sweep of the Penguins in which they limited Sidney Crosby to just one point in the series. Their defensive system is rock solid and they've got Vezina trophy finalist Robin Lehner in net.
The Hurricanes are a volume shooting team (first in the league in shots per game) that can dominate possession. They may not have a bunch of high-end scorers, but they're able to wear teams down and grind out wins. It'll be interesting to see how the Islanders' defensive system handles that load.
Carolina also has a very solid blue line that will be tasked with handling a New York forward group that includes Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle, who both got on the score sheet in each of the Isles' four games in the first round.
Usually we expect to see the Penguins and Capitals in meet in the second round -- the Caps and Pens had met in this round the previous three seasons -- but instead, this we'll see the teams that beat the Pittsburgh and Washington. And when you break it down, this might be the most tightly matched series of the second round.
3. Bruins vs. Blue Jackets
It's not quite as appealing as the Lightning-Bruins rematch or Lightning-Maple Leafs shootout that we thought we'd get in this round, but the Blue Jackets are not to be taken lightly. They proved that by quickly (and emphatically) dispatching the Presidents' Trophy-winning Lightning with a sweep in the first round.
They'll once again have some tough work in front of them, as the Bruins finished tied for the second most standings points in hockey during the regular season. Boston is coming off another first-round win over the Maple Leafs, but that series went the distance and the Bruins looked pretty inconsistent and were largely outplayed at 5-on-5.
Still, Columbus will have the unenviable task of trying to shut down a Boston top line that includes Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and (sometimes) David Pastrnak. The Bruins' defense will be facing off against a forward group that's led by Matt Duchene (three goals and seven points in round one) and Artemi Panarin (two goals, five points). That Columbus group up front also brings a very solid forecheck.
There's plenty of talent in this one, but it could be more of a grind-it-out, war of attrition type series, especially with a meeting of two hot goalies. Sergei Bobrovsky (.932 save percentage in the first round) will go head-to-head with Tuukka Rask (.928).
No disrespect to either of these teams, they're both fun in their own right, this is just a weird series. The Blues have who theoretically should have been a lame duck coach in Craig Berube who it'll be tough to not hire now, and the Stars have finally settled on a goalie in Ben Bishop for the postseason as two-goalie teams so often do. Other than that, the Stars are kind of a one-line team plus Mats Zuccarello, but the names Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin don't really have the staying power of MacKinnon and Rantanen. The Stars built this team based on defense, and while it makes for good hockey, it's no necessarily the most entertaining.
As for the Blues, Jaden Schwartz is their leading goal scorer and they're coming off of a series win against the Jets. That series was incredibly low-scoring, more of the same can be expected in Round 2. These are two teams that pride themselves on keeping their opponents from lighting the lamp, so don't expect the over/unders to break 5.5 in this series unless one or both teams fall apart defensively early on.