NHL·Preview

The race for the Stanley Cup is officially wide open

The elimination of the defending Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals has left the NHL playoffs without a single regular-season division champion. It also gives the remaining eight teams real hope of raising the Stanley Cup when it's all said and done.

Predictions for the 2nd-round matchups in the East and West

With the elimination of the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames, the Boston Bruins have secured home ice throughout the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

The Carolina Hurricanes made it a clean sweep with their surprising, dramatic, come-from-behind 4-3 double-overtime win in Game 7 to knock out the defending Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals.

The Capitals' elimination means that not a single regular-season division champion advanced past the first round. Washington, Tampa Bay, Nashville and Calgary were all knocked out.

There's something to be said about a strong finish to the regular season.

With all the wild and wacky developments in the upset-abundant opening round of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, seven of the eight teams that advanced enjoyed good times at the end of the regular season.

The exception was the San Jose Sharks, who were 3-6-1 in their final 10 outings, but did rally for a two-game win streak with wins over the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche on the final weekend.

What remains is wide-open Stanley Cup tournament with the elimination of the Presidents' Trophy-winning Lightning and Western Conference regular season-champion Flames.

Here is a glance at the second-round matchups in the East and West:

Boston Bruins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Regular-season records:

  • Boston 49-24-9 (107 points).
  • Columbus (47-31-4—98 points).

Season series: Bruins won 2-1-0 (Blue Jackets 1-1-1)

  • Mar. 12 @ Columbus — Blue Jackets 7-4.
  • Mar. 16 @ Boston — Bruins 2-1 (OT).
  • Apr. 2 @ Columbus — Bruins 6-2.

The skinny: The Blue Jackets went 7-1-0 in their final eight games to clinch a playoff spot and then sweep the Lightning in the first round. Their only loss down the stretch was a 6-2 defeat at home against the Bruins, in a game Boston built a 5-0 lead on the strength of two goals from Jake DeBrusk.

Columbus is well rested, having knocked off the mighty Lightning on Apr. 16. That may give the early advantage to the Bruins, who will be energized after another seven-game series victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The difference could be special teams. The Blue Jackets scored at least one power-play goal in each of their four games against Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the Bruins also have a strong power play, and killed off the last six man-disadvantage situations in their series against Toronto.

A player to watch in this series is Columbus forward Riley Nash, who left the Bruins after two seasons to sign with the Blue Jackets last summer.

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Boston (4):  Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Brad Marchand.

Columbus (9): Josh Anderson, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Matt Duchene, Scott Harrington, Boone Jenner, Adam McQuaid, Ryan Murray, Riley Nash, David Savard.

Prediction: Bruins in six. If Boston's experience can handle the speed of the Maple Leafs, they can smother the Blue Jackets up-tempo game.

WATCH | Bruins oust Leafs in Game 7

For the second straight season, Boston used home ice to their advantage, eliminating Toronto with a 5-1 win on Tuesday night. 2:08

New York Islanders vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Regular-season records:

  • N.Y. Islanders 48-27-7 (103 points).
  • Carolina 46-29-7 (99 points).

Season series: Islanders won 3-1-0 (Hurricanes 1-2-1)

  • Oct. 4 @ Carolina — Islanders 2-1 (OT).
  • Oct. 28 @ Carolina — Islanders 2-1.
  • Nov. 24 @ New York — Islanders 4-1.
  • Jan. 8 @ New York — Hurricanes 4-3.

The skinny: The Islanders have been off since Apr. 16 since a four-game sweep of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. New coach Barry Trotz, who won a Stanley Cup with the Capitals last spring, transformed the Islanders from the worst defensive team into the best in the regular season, and then watched the Islanders yield only six goals in four games versus Pittsburgh.

Carolina was 10 points out of a playoff spot on Dec. 29. First-year coach Rod Brind'Amour, who captained the Hurricanes to their only Stanley Cup in 2005-06, did a masterful job in steering his determined bunch to a 31-12-2 finish to clinch the club's first playoff appearance in a decade and first series win since advancing to the 2009 East final.

The Islanders want to avoid a Game 7 against the Hurricanes because of Carolina captain Justin Williams. He set up Brock McGinn's winner in double overtime on Wednesday and now has a record seven goals and 15 points in nine Game 7s. Trotz coached Williams for two seasons with the Capitals.

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Carolina (11): Calvin de Haan, Micheal Ferland, Haydn Fleury, Warren Foegele, Dougie Hamilton, Jordan Martinook, Curtis McElhinney Brock McGinn, Gregg McKegg, Jordan Staal, Justin Williams.

N.Y. Islanders (16): Josh Bailey, Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Johnny Boychuk, Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, Michael Dal Colle, Jordan Eberle, Tanner Fritz, Thomas Hickey, Ross Johnston, Andrew Ladd, Matt Martin, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews.

Prediction: Islanders in six. Trotz experience behind the bench will be the difference.

WATCH | Hurricanes outlast Capitals in double OT:

Brock McGinn scored the winner in the second overtime period to give Carolina the 4-3 win in Washington, sending them to the second round. 2:16

San Jose Sharks vs. Colorado Avalanche

Regular-season records:

  • San Jose 46-27-9 (101 points).
  • Colorado 38-30-14 (90 points).

Season series: Sharks won 3-0-0 (Avalanche 0-3-0)

  • Jan. 2 @ Colorado — Sharks 5-4.
  • Mar. 1 @ San Jose — Sharks 4-3.
  • Apr. 6 @ San Jose — Sharks 5-2.

The skinny: This series pits two red-hot teams as the Avalanche won the last four games of its series against Calgary and the Sharks stormed back with three wins in a row — two in overtime — to defeat the Vegas Golden Knights in seven games.

The Sharks became just the second team in league history to overcome a three-goal deficit in the third period to win Game 7. The other team was the Bruins against the Maple Leafs in 2013.

Joe Thornton (1,566 regular-season outings) is trying to become the third NHLer to win the Stanley Cup after playing in more than 1,500 regular-season games. Ray Bourque (1,612) turned the trick with the Avs in 2001. Dave Andreychuk (1,597) won with Tampa Bay in 2004.

Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog scored 109 times or 41.4 per cent of the Avalanche's 258 regular-season goals. They tallied nine of the 17 goals Colorado scored in the five first-round games.

One side note: Sharks assistant coach Steve Spott was the head coach for the Kitchener Rangers when Gabriel Landeskog played junior there for two years.

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San Jose (10): Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Aaron Dell, Brenden Dillon, Barclay Goodrow, Michael Haley, Martin Jones, Evander Kane, Joe Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Colorado (10): Mark Barberio, Tyson Barrie, Gabriel Bourque, Derick Brassard, Matt Calvert, Sam Girard, Tyson Jost, Alex Kerfoot, Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Dakar.

Prediction: Avalanche in seven. The speed and power of the dynamic MacKinnon will be too much for the Sharks.

WATCH | Sharks knock out Golden Knights in stunning fashion: 

San Jose rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the game and a 3-1 deficit in the series, beating Vegas 5-4 in overtime in Game 7 and advance to the second round. 2:11

St. Louis Blues vs. Dallas Stars

Regular-season records:

  • St. Louis 45-28-9 (99 points).
  • Dallas 43-32-7 (93 points).

Season series: Stars won 3-1-0 (Blues 1-3-0)

  • Jan. 8 @ St. Louis — Stars 3-1.
  • Jan. 12 @ Dallas — Blues 3-1.
  • Feb. 21 @ Dallas — Stars 5-2.
  • Mar. 2 @ St. Louis — Stars 4-1.

The skinny: Both teams had strong finishes and dispatched higher-seeded teams in six games in the first round. The Stars were 5-1-1 in their final seven regular-season games and the Blues went 23-6-4 after the all-star break.

This is the 14th time these rivals will meet in the playoffs. The Blues have won the last two meetings, including a seven-game victory in the second round in 2016.

The Stars were the second stingiest team defensively behind the Islanders in the regular season and continued that trend in the first round by limiting the Nashville Predators to only two goals a game.

A big reason for the Blues second-half success was rookie goalie Jordan Binnington, a Calder Trophy candidate. The 25-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., continued to be a factor in his first foray into the Stanley Cup playoffs with four more wins.

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Dallas (16): Jamie Benn, Landon Bow, Nicholas Caamano, Andrew Cogliano, Blake Comeau, Jason Dickinson, Justin Dowling, Taylor Fedun, Joel Hanley, Dillon Heatherington, Adam Marscherin, Marc Methot, Jamie Oleksiak, Brett Ritchie, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza.

St. Louis (20): Jake Allen, Jordan Binnington, Sammy Blais, Robert Bortuzzo, Jay Bouwmeester, Tyler Bozak, Jared Coreau, Michael Del Zotto, Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri, Jordan Nolan, Ryan O'Reilly, Colton Parayko, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo, Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz, Robert Thomas, Chris Thorburn, Jake Walman.

Prediction: Blues in five. Binnington and St. Louis show no signs of slowing down.

WATCH | Schwartz buries Jets with natural hat trick:

The Blues eliminated the Jets with a 3-2 win in Game 6, on Saturday night in St. Louis. 2:16

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