Capitals vs. Lightning
SEAN: Lightning in 6. This might be a common thought, but I can see the Capitals’ victory over the Penguins being the round they left it out on the ice. It was an emotional victory, but now they’re facing a much better team. The Lightning have the depth, defensive structure and goaltending that will help them advance to the Final once again. How will Washington find the answer to the waves of offensive threats that are currently still producing that Tampa can send over the boards?
JAMES: Lightning in 6. A solid-but-unspectacular finish to the regular season blunted some of the optimism for the Lightning, but after tearing through the first two rounds in 10 games, they look like the contender we saw earlier in 2017-18. They’re refreshed, have two very dangerous scoring lines, some strong defensemen, and Andrei Vasilevskiy back in near-Vezina form. The Capitals must feel incredibly loose after being the Penguins, and their top guys could conceivably steal this series. (Braden Holtby‘s back in form and Alex Ovechkin looks closer to 22 than 32 right now.) My money’s on the Bolts, and not just because they were my East Finalist heading into the playoffs.
ADAM: Capitals in 7. The Lightning are probably the better team on paper and they are playing outstanding in the playoffs, and I think there is still the possibility of a letdown from the Capitals are finally knocking off the Penguins, so there is every reason in the world to pick the Lightning. But … I am still picking the Capitals. Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin are both playing outstanding and it just seems like everything is going their way right now. The Capitals get it done. Somehow.
JOEY: Capitals in 7. I predicted that the Capitals would be heading to the Stanley Cup Final when the playoffs started so I’m sticking with it. The fact that Braden Holtby has figured things out makes me even more confident that they’ll be able keep advancing. Also, Washington’s best players have continued to be their top performers through two rounds and that shouldn’t change in the Eastern Conference Final. Getting Nicklas Backstrom back healthy would obviously be a big plus.
SCOTT: Capitals in 6. It just feels right, doesn’t it? The Capitals finally get past their arch-nemesis in the playoffs by taking out the Pittsburgh Penguins only to come up short in the Conference Finals? Nah. That’s a boring story. I think Alex Ovechkin and Co. breathed new life into themselves after getting over that psychological hurdle in the second round. There’s no doubt that Tampa is a good team, great even. But Ovi has beaten up the Lightning over his career. Tampa is probably the smart choice, I just can’t bring myself to be wise.
Golden Knights vs. Jets
SEAN: Golden Knights in 7. Look, we’ve doubted them since last June when the team was put together. They answered every question, overcame every obstacle. So of course I felt the Sharks would get the better of them in the second round, but when Marc-Andre Fleury is playing like he is, no one was going to top them. Winnipeg presents a whole sort of different challenges. As they showed, they won’t be nervous to play on the road. But the Golden Knights’ top players have continued to step up as well as their depth. Hellebuyck vs. Fleury will be fun to watch, but in the end that Vegas magic will continue.
JAMES: Jets in 6. The tough thing about picking against a team is that it gives the impression that you’re dismissing them altogether. That’s not the case with Vegas; they have a legitimate top line, some fleet-footed defensemen, and Marc-Andre Fleury at his absolute best. Their next opponent is a different animal, though. The Jets boast two lines that can hang with just about anyone else, a remarkably deep group of defensemen, and a remarkably reliable young goalie in Connor Hellebuyck.
ADAM: Jets in 6. Vegas’ run has been amazing but they’ve also played the 11th and 12th best teams in the league in the playoffs so far, and two teams that aren’t great offensively. They’ve had the easiest path of the four teams in the Conference Finals by far. Now they get a Jets team that is a juggernaut offensively and can actually keep up with them skating wise.
JOEY: Jets in 6. I’ve picked the Golden Knights to win in the first and second round, but I think their run comes to an end in the conference final. The Jets will be tough to stop. They managed to beat the Predators in Nashville three times and they did it a number of different ways. Winnipeg has solid goaltending, a steady defense and a number of offensive weapons that can get the job done on a nightly basis.
SCOTT: Jets in 6. Did you watch their series against Nashville? Did you see how good they were against the team with the supposed best goalie and best defense in the league? That offense in Winnipeg is just unstoppable. Marc-Andre Fleury has been stellar so far, but he hasn’t faced at Jets onslaught yet this postseason. There’s a good chance that this series turns into a track meet at times. It’s going to be fast and furious without the terrible acting. The Jets are on a tear, however, and Vegas, the best story in all of sports, likely won’t have the ability to stop it.
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• PHT 2018 Conference Finals Roundtable
• PHT predicts NHL’s Conference Finals
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub