Never has the first round of the NHL playoffs been so unpredictable. ASL's Todd Lewys gives you his take on the exciting NHL playoffs.
Gone is the President's Trophy winner, the Tampa Bay Lightning, dismissed in four games by the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets. Though the Blue Jackets were hot entering the post-season, no one predicted that they would take the Lightning out in four straight.
Also gone are the Calgary Flames, who were run out of the playoffs in five games by another hot team, the Nathan Mackinnon-led Colorado Avalanche.
Needing to virtually win out to just get into the playoffs, the Avalanche stayed red-hot and clearly outclassed a deep Flames squad that was led by veteran netminder Mike Smith and let down by the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano.
Had Smith not played out of his mind, the Flames would have bowed out in four straight, the play was so lopsided. Go figure.
The same applies to the first-round match-up between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. With Crosby, Malkin and Co. looking good to make another run for the cup, the Isles - who went from the worst defensive team to best defensive team (in terms of goals allowed) in one season - needed the minimum to eliminate the Pens.
Then, there were the two pick 'em series: Jets vs. Blues in the west, and Boston vs. Toronto in the east.
Unrelenting tenacity won out over skill in the west, with the Blues grinding the talented but largely-gritless Jets out of the playoffs in six games. Meanwhile, the Bruins prevailed in another seventh game over the Leafs, who just couldn't put away Boston when they had the chance. Give the Bruins credit; they had home ice, and used it to advance.
And just last night, the San Jose Sharks came all the way back from 3-1 down in the series and 3-0 in the seventh game of their first-round series to shock the Las Vegas Golden nights 5-4 in overtime. Apparently, everyone had given up the Sharks for dead except the Sharks.
The only series left is Carlonia vs. Washington. With home ice advantage, it would be easy to say the Caps will prevail. Given the unpredictability of the first round, however, all bets are off. Stay tuned to find out.
So where does this leave us with second round match-ups? In intriguing territory, to say the least.
Match-ups are set in the West. Instead of Winnipeg vs. Nashville, we get Dallas vs. St. Louis and Colorado vs. San Jose instead of the expected Calgary vs. Vegas tilt.
In the east, we have Columbus lining up against Boston and the well-rested Islanders waiting to see if they'll play either Washington or Carolina.
The Dallas-St. Louis series should be a doozy. Both teams are receiving great goaltending from Ben Bishop (Dallas) and late-season savior Jordan Binnington (St. Louis). Likewise, both clubs are playing fast, relentless hockey. Look for the Blues to grind the Stars out by a nose in seven games.
The second western conference series pits Colorado against San Jose. The prediction? A well-rested Avalanche squad will prevail in five games by dint of their balanced offense, solid goaltending from Philip Grubauer and the fact that a tired, banged-up Sharks squad will find it difficult to deal with Colorado's speed and skill.
Out east, both series' are a difficult call.
Given the fact that Boston's core - Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara and goalie Tuuka Rask - have hoisted the Stanley Cup before, look for the gritty Bruins to eliminate the talented 'Jackets in a hard-fought seven game series.
And in an upset special, look for the Islanders to dispatch either Carolina or Washington. Former Capitals coach Barry Trotz has the Isles playing the right way in every phase of the game, and knows what it takes to win in the playoffs.
With regard to fantasy pool scoring derbies, well, many of the big names, such as Crosby, Kucherov, Stamkos, Point, Malkin, Gaudreau, Wheeler and Scheifele are gone.
Notables left include Marchand, Bergeron, Duchene, Panarin, Jones, Pavelski, Burns, Karlsson, Mackinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog, Tarasenko, O'Reilly, Benn, Seguin and Radulov.
As for goalies, the crop is still very good: Bobrovski, Lehner, Rask, Bishop, Binnington, Grubauer, Jones and either Holtby or Mrazek.
The bottom line? Get out your crystal ball and make the best picks you can, as the second round of the 2019 NHL playoffs figures to be as unpredictable as the first round.