NHL playoffs: Eastern Conference 2nd-round preview
Habs 0-for-5 vs. Tampa Bay this season
With the next stage of the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs underway, here's a breakdown of the second-round matchups in the Eastern Conference, along with a prediction for each series (we went 5-3 picking winners in the openinground).
For our Western Conference preview, click here.
Note: Chances of winning are implied probabilities derived from betting odds made available Thursday morning by Pinnacle, with the bookmaker's vigorish removed, rounded to the nearest full percentage point.
MONTREAL VS. TAMPA BAY
Canadiens: 50-22-10, 110 points, won Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed, defeated Ottawa in six games
Tampa Bay: 50-24-8, 108 points, finished second in Atlantic Division, defeated Detroit in seven games
Regular-season series: Lightning won 5-0-0 (Canadiens 0-4-1)
Series opener: Friday at 7 p.m. ET (CBC, CBCSports.ca)
Chances of winning: Montreal 50%, Tampa Bay 50%
2 things to know
Carey that weight: Montreal came into the playoffs with a reputation for leaning too heavily on MVP-calibre goalie Carey Price, and a six-game victory over Ottawa didn't do much to allay those concerns. Montreal scored just 12 goals in the series (including three in the final three games) as their top skaters — P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty — combined for only six points. Price made it all better with a .939 save percentage that actually improved on his league-leading .933 regular-season mark, but he may need more help against a Tampa Bay team that possession stats show is far superior to both the Habs and Sens at driving play.
Lightning take 5: The Canadiens swept the Lightning in last year's playoffs, but it's hard to imagine a team dominating another more thoroughly than Tampa Bay did Montreal in the 2014-15 regular season. Beginning with a 7-1 rout at home on Oct. 13, the Lightning won all five meetings while allowing the Canadiens to take only a single point, and the aggregate score was an ugly 21-8 (Price started all five games). Tampa sniper Steven Stamkos would go goalless in the first round against Detroit, but he scored a hat trick and had a two-goal game against the Habs. This is a tough matchup for Montreal, but it can hang its hat on the fact that an all-world goalie is the great equalizer. Tampa's Ben Bishop has shown flashes of brilliance, but he's not having a great season and he's no Price.
Prediction: Lightning in 6
NEW YORK RANGERS VS. WASHINGTON
Rangers: 53-22-7, 113 points, won Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed and Presidents' Trophy for NHL's best record, defeated Pittsburgh in five games
Capitals: 45-26-11, 101 points, finished second in Metropolitan Division, defeated New York Islanders in seven games
Regular-season series: Rangers won 3-1-0 (Capitals 1-3-0)
Series opener: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET (CBC, CBCSports.ca)
Chances of winning: New York 62%, Washington 38%
2 things to know
Rangers lucky but good: From certain angles, the Rangers look like a juggernaut. They won the Presidents' Trophy for having the NHL's best regular-season record. Their plus-60 goal differential topped the league. They have a star in net (Henrik Lundqvist), an elite goal scorer up front (Rick Nash) and a respected coach behind the bench (Alain Vigneault). But look closer and you can see some cracks in the facade. Despite its impressive regular-season results, New York ranked in the bottom half of the league in score-adjusted possession indicators while leading the league in combined shooting and save percentages, suggesting the Rangers benefitted from some puck luck. They dispatched Pittsburgh in five games in the first round, but every contest was decided by one goal, including a pair of New York wins in overtime against a dangerous but very banged-up Pens squad. This doesn't mean the Rangers aren't a good team, but maybe they're not quite as powerful as they seem.
Ovechkin just good:Alex Ovechkin is one of the greatest goal-scorers in hockey history. In 10 NHL seasons, he has won the Rocket Richard Trophy five times and cracked the 50-goal plateau six times (he also scored at a 55-goal pace in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign). Playing in a tight-checking era, he poured in an incredible 65 goals in 2007-08, when no one else scored more than 52, and this season his 53 goals put him 10 ahead of anybody. Barring injury, he'll score his 500th goal midway through next season, when he'll be only 30 years old. Still, Ovechkin has never gone past the second round of the playoffs, and the Rangers eliminated him at this stage in each of his last two tries. If he's to slay them this time, Ovechkin may need to boost his perfectly acceptable playoff scoring rate of 0.51 goals per game closer to his otherworldy regular-season mark of 0.63. And some help from his teammates would be nice too.
Prediction: Rangers in 6