The first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs are complete, leaving southern California’s Los Angeles Kings crown-less and the Anaheim Ducks with broken wings, setting the stage for second round action.
Second round match-ups in the Western Conference feature a Central Division showdown between Stanley Cup favorites, the Nashville Predators, taking on the second seeded resurgent Winnipeg Jets and the Pacific Division’s Las Vegas Knights — in their inaugural season as a franchise — squaring off against the speedy San Jose Sharks.
The Eastern Conference second round spotlights the Atlantic Division’s warm weather Tampa Bay Lightning facing off against the bean town Boston Bruins and two power house clubs from the Metropolitan Division in the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Although the Predators are the Stanley Cup favorites, the biggest headlines thus far include the Knight’s stellar maiden season, whether Capitals star Alex Ovechkin will finally obtain his first Stanley Cup Trophy, and if Sindey Crosby can win his third straight Conn Smythe Trophy (awarded to the most valuable player of his team during the playoffs) on the Penguin’s journey to hoist their third consecutive Stanley Cup Trophy.
Entering their first season as a franchise, the “Golden Misfits,” coined by Knight’s forward, William Karlsson (C), the club went on to win the Pacific Division by eight points, marking the largest margin of victory in the National Hockey League (NHL) this season.
The ‘Misfits’ — players who were left unprotected by their former employers — consist of goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury, defensemen Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore, and forwards James Neal (LW) and the aforementioned William Karlsson.
It was a tightly contested series as the Sharks and Knights traded wins in games one through four, but on Sunday May 6, the Knights earned their fourth win of the series, becoming the second team to advance to the Conference Finals — the Lightning eliminated the Bruins four games to one only hours earlier.
Monday night’s game five contest between the Capitals and the Penguins resulted in a 2-1 overtime victory for Washington, eliminating the Pens and bringing a screeching halt to a potential Stanley Cup three-peat. This berth to the Eastern Conference Finals will mark the first time in 20 years for the Capitals and the first ‘final four’ trip of the Ovechkin era.
Hoping to carry their momentum from Monday’s overtime win and Ovechkin’s insatiable desire for a chance to earn the Stanley Cup, the Capitals will take on the Lightning. This clash highlights the highest scoring team, the Lightning challenging a stingy Capitals net-minder in Braden Holtby who owns a .924 save percentage in the post-season and a 2.16 goals against average, which is sure to provide an electric atmosphere in both arenas.
With three out the ‘final four’ teams punching their tickets to the Conference Finals, the Las Vegas Knights can do nothing but watch as the Predators and Jets will continue to battle for the final spot as one team’s fate will be decided in a critical game seven to be held Wednesday, May 9 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.