Which player or team impressed you the most during the First Round?
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Does it have to be a player from a team that won? Because Jake Oettinger was unbelievable. Not only in Game 7, but that entire series. I never would have guessed he would take over the job so quickly, especially given the way their depth chart looked at the start of the season, but that net is his now and he looks sensational. What a performance. He almost single handedly willed that team to the Second Round.
Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Jake Oettinger impressed me the most in the opening round. He was absolutely sensational, especially in Game 7 when he stopped 64 shots as the Flames threw everything but the kitchen sink at Dallas. It’s too bad the Stars started Oettinger in the minors to start the season, playing Braden Holtby and Anton Khudobin, as they could have finished higher than the first wild card which would have given them possibly an easier matchup.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Connor McDavid. Considering the circumstances, he delivered arguably the best two games of his career in Games 6 and 7 with his team facing elimination against the Kings. In Game 7, with Leon Draisaitl injured and having a reduced impact, McDavid played a whopping 27:23 and factored on both goals in the 2-0 win. Time will tell how much further he can carry the Oilers.
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James O’Brien, NHL writer: As great as Cale Makar was, Connor McDavid was absolutely superhuman. Deep down, I’m not sure how anyone can truly believe that he isn’t the best player in the NHL.
From a team-wide perspective, the Avalanche look like the juggernauts we expected.
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Carter Verhaeghe showed us during the regular season he’s a very good player and that performance rolled over into the postseason with 12 points in six games against the Capitals. The loaded Lightning didn’t have room on the roster for him so the Panthers signed him and he’s blossomed with them, becoming one of their most valuable contributors in a lineup that is built to win a Stanley Cup. All of Verhaeghe’s points came at even strength with two of his goals coming via overtime.
Which Second Round series has the biggest potential to end in upset?
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The Blues/Avalanche series. St. Louis has the depth and talent to hang with Colorado, especially after the Blues pretty easily dismantled the Wild to close them out (outscoring MIN 15-5 in Games 4-6). The question mark I have with the Avs is with their mental fortitude – this group has yet to prove it can overcome adversity within a series and still emerge victorious – so if Jordan Binnington can channel the best version of his game and steal one or two wins early on, maybe things will tilt in St. Louis’ favor.
James O’Brien, NHL writer: I’m going to go ahead and cancel out either team in the Battle of Florida, as that seems like cheating.
Despite a pile of serious injuries, the Rangers looked awful against the Penguins, yet advanced for the same reason I picked them to win: they’ve been really, really lucky this season. Few remaining teams maintain those elements of luck like the Rangers still do: a power play that can get hot, some dangerous high-end talent, and Igor Shesterkin. Shesterkin could only do so much last round, but absolutely has the ability to swing a series.
Most of the truly flawed playoff teams fell in the First Round, so buckle up for a fun ride.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: I am going to take the easy way out here and say Florida-Tampa Bay because, well, I am not really sure who the upset would be? I could see either team winning it, and depending on who you see as the favorite (Florida for the better regular season record; Tampa Bay as defending back-to-back champions and with the experience) it could end up as an upset in your eyes. Florida is probably the favorite on paper this season, but I see Tampa Bay winning it.
Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: I don’t know if I would consider it an upset, but the Tampa Bay Lightning finished 12 points behind the Florida Panthers. The Lightning are the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and seem to be able to turn it on when they need to. The Panthers will need outstanding goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and I am not sure he is capable of doing so in the playoffs.
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: During many postseasons we get a hot goalie — someone who will carry a team through a few rounds, maybe even to a Stanley Cup. As wild as it might be, is it crazy to think Mike Smith can’t keep up this heater he’s been on since April? In 16 regular season and playoff games played since the start of April, Smith has a .943 5-on-5 save percentage and a 2.19 goals saved above average, per Natural Stat Trick. The Flames already almost got goalie’d in the First Round by Jake Oettinger. Maybe Smith can hold the fort while McDavid, Draisaitl, Kane, and Oilers power play lead the way?