Stanley Cup Playoffs: Previewing, predicting every Round 2 matchup
Brandon Magnus / National Hockey League / Getty

The historically great Tampa Bay Lightning are long gone. So is the Western Conference's top team, the Calgary Flames. Heck, all four of the NHL's division winners are already out of contention following an unpredictable opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Which teams left standing have the best chance of competing for the Cup? Let's dive into each second-round series.

Boston Bruins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Kirk Irwin / Getty Images

Prediction: Bruins in six (Game 1 is Thursday)

For a team that pulled off the most astounding upset in recent memory, it's striking how long it's been since the Blue Jackets featured in the daily playoff conversation. That's a testament to how quickly they trounced the Lightning, which earned Columbus nine days of rest as it awaited the end of Boston's seven-game victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The odds of Columbus inflicting further havoc on the Eastern Conference bracket could depend heavily on special teams. The Bruins' adept power play racked up seven goals against the Leafs, but the Jackets killed off 85 percent of the penalties they took this season, which tied for the best rate in the NHL. And though their own 28th-ranked power play was desultory all year, something clicked against Tampa Bay, as Columbus scored five goals with the man advantage in 10 tries.

Several Blue Jackets were terrific in Round 1. Matt Duchene scored three goals and added four assists. No. 3 defenseman David Savard spent much of the series hounding Tampa's best forwards, a role he could reprise against Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Full credit must also be allotted to Sergei Bobrovsky, whose .932 save percentage overall and .943 at even strength were much better marks than his .913 and .915 figures, respectively, in the regular season.

Can Marchand, Bergeron, and David Pastrnak excel against Columbus where Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos faltered? Given how strong they came on in Boston's last four games against Toronto, it seems likelier than not that they'll get theirs. The more pressing question might be whether Tuukka Rask, like Bobrovsky, can sustain the impenetrability he flashed in Round 1 (.928 save percentage, .938 at even strength).

The Jackets have a legitimate shot to author a storybook run, but Boston, like Tampa, is the markedly superior team on paper. All told, the Bruins prevailing in a long series is the safest bet.

X-factor for Bruins: Jake DeBrusk. The 22-year-old left winger didn't score against Toronto until the second period of Game 6, but his 27 goals this season were fourth-most on the team. DeBrusk could break out in Round 2 if head coach Bruce Cassidy keeps Pastrnak on the second line with him and David Krejci.

X-factors for Blue Jackets: Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Savard mostly got the toughest assignments against the Lightning, but considering fellow defensemen Ryan Murray and Adam McQuaid are sidelined with long-term injuries and Markus Nutivaara might miss the start of this round, the Jackets' stud pairing will again be counted on to log major minutes in all stages of the game. - Faris

New York Islanders vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

Prediction: Islanders in six (Game 1 is Friday)

Nobody - absolutely nobody - predicted this scenario back in September. Sure, the Hurricanes had a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade, but winning a series seemed out of reach. The Islanders, meanwhile, weren't supposed to be relevant in Year 1 of the post-John Tavares era, with the hockey world quickly writing them off as a lottery team. Yet here we are.

Now, as the squads get set to battle for a spot in the Eastern Conference Final, respect is overflowing. These teams play an honest brand of hockey. They are hard-working outfits who care deeply about keeping the puck out of their own net. Carolina feeds off its puck-moving blue-liners, whereas New York annoys opponents with a relentless forecheck.

So, who has the upper hand? Probably the Isles. They are rested, own home-ice advantage, and are led by likely Jack Adams winner Barry Trotz. The 'Canes will counter with a mix of supreme confidence and an underdog mentality after ousting the defending Cup champion Washington Capitals.

The goaltending edge goes to New York, too. Robin Lehner, who stopped 130 of 136 shots against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1, provides tremendous stability for the Isles. His counterpart, Petr Mrazek, skated away from the opening round with an ugly .899 save percentage despite recording a shutout in Game 3.

On offense, the Hurricanes possess more firepower. Against the Caps, they received contributions from big-game players Justin "Mr. Game 7" Williams (one goal, three assists), Warren Foegele (four goals, two assists), and Jordan Staal (three goals, three assists). The Isles, on the other hand, are known for pouncing on high-quality chances created off sustained zone time, as Jordan Eberle and his four-goal performance against Pittsburgh exemplified.

Neither power play is clicking right now, which shouldn't be a surprise. The Isles finished the regular season ranked 29th in PP proficiency, whereas the 'Canes sat 20th. Perhaps they'll cancel each other out in this head-to-head battle, and the better five-on-five club will be rewarded with a series victory.

X-factor for Islanders: Anders Lee. As New York's captain and top sniper, Lee needs to mark up the scoresheet with more regularity. He produced a goal and two assists in Round 1, which isn't bad, though certainly isn't enough. The Isles may be feisty throughout their four lines, but every member of the Lee-Barzal-Eberle trio must drive the bus in regards to goal-scoring.

X-factor for Hurricanes: Andrei Svechnikov. While his return from a concussion is far from a guarantee, Svechnikov's still a potential series-altering piece for Carolina. The Russian rookie was fantastic in the opening round, and then got punched out by Alex Ovechkin. He's dangerous, dynamic, and gradually saw his ice time rise over the course of the regular season. - Matisz

St. Louis Blues vs. Dallas Stars

Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

Prediction: Stars in seven (Game 1 is Thursday)

You'd have to strain to find a less likely pair of conference semifinalists. The Blues were last in the NHL standings at New Year's and the CEO of the Stars said his two leading scorers were playing like "f---ing horses---" just a few days earlier.

Such are the depths from which these two teams rose over the past few months. Now, one of them is assured a berth in Round 3.

During Round 1, St. Louis won four games by a single goal to eliminate Winnipeg in a closely contested matchup. Goalie Jordan Binnington's .908 save percentage was well below his .927 mark from the regular season, but the Blues generated timely, balanced offense through their top two lines and No. 1 defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Second-line winger Jaden Schwartz finished the job by scoring the last four goals against the Jets: the go-ahead winner with 15 seconds left in Game 5 and a hat trick to clinch the series in Game 6.

The Stars are a study in contrasts. They allowed the second-fewest goals (200) in the league this season, but scored the third-fewest (209). They're a one-line team - Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Jamie Benn notched six points apiece in Round 1 against Nashville - but feature three strong defensemen in John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen, and Esa Lindell. Vezina Trophy candidate Ben Bishop stopped 94.5 percent of the shots he faced against the Predators, and Dallas' strong penalty kill went 15-for-15 for the series.

Sure, St. Louis is deeper than Dallas, and Binnington deserves to be trusted on the basis of his stellar regular season. But when an outcome is in doubt, it's always sound to favor the team with an edge in the crease, and no goalie aside from Lehner is better than Bishop right now.

X-factor for Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko. Held scoreless at five-on-five against the Jets, the Blues' top sniper finished Round 1 with two power-play goals and a shooting percentage of just 8.7, similar to the 8.0 rate he posted throughout St. Louis' dismal opening three months of the season. Tarasenko is a 12.9 percent shooter for his career, and the Blues will maximize their chances of solving Bishop if he and linemates Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron can drive play.

X-factor for Stars: Mats Zuccarello. Seguin, Radulov, and Benn scored 43 percent of Dallas' goals this season, while Heiskanen, Lindell, and Klingberg accounted for another 16 percent. So, any offense that the bottom three forward lines can create against the Blues would constitute a huge boost. Enter Zuccarello, a trade-deadline acquisition who broke his right arm in his Stars debut on Feb. 24 but healed in time to bag three goals against Nashville. - Faris

San Jose Sharks vs. Colorado Avalanche

Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

Prediction: Sharks in seven (Game 1 is Friday)

Talk about two franchises going in opposite directions. The longtime contending Sharks, who defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in seven first-round games, will face a summer of transition when their season ends. They're old. Meanwhile, the young, upstart Avalanche are only beginning their ascent into a new, promising era after beating the top-ranked Flames in five.

The collision of these rosters should produce an overwhelming amount of entertainment during the course of a best-of-seven series. Think of the must-see skating talent (Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, etc.) intersecting with volatility between the pipes (namely San Jose's Martin Jones). That sure sounds chaotic, fun, and appetizing.

Overall, Jared Bednar and his top-heavy Avs squad are up against a deeper but more banged-up Sharks crew led by Pete DeBoer. Colorado is the slight underdog. The key question: Can their high-end forwards - MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog - produce more than San Jose's parade of 30-goal scorers in Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane, and (potentially sidelined) Joe Pavelski?

The answer will likely depend on which Jones shows up for the Sharks. The veteran netminder had a roller-coaster Round 1, posting game-to-game save percentages of .923, .571, .850, .714, .938, .983, and .895. This is a beautiful opportunity for an inconsistent goalie to change the narrative.

X-factor for Sharks: Erik Karlsson. When at full health, Karlsson remains one of the sport's best defensemen. Coming off a groin injury, he posted nine assists in the first round and was leaned upon heavily during overtimes in Games 6 and 7. The Sharks' power play did alright versus the Golden Knights, going 8-for-34, and Karlsson has the ability to elevate it further against the Avs.

X-factor for Avalanche: Cale Makar. The 20-year-old blue-liner suited up for three games against the Flames immediately after signing with the Avs. He scored a goal in his NHL debut, skated for 20 minutes in Game 4, and then earned an assist in Game 5. The sky's the limit for this kid, and the layoff between series should work to his advantage. He's now acclimatized to the spotlight and Bednar's system. - Matisz

Comments
Stanley Cup Playoffs: Previewing, predicting every Round 2 matchup
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!
Daily Newsletter
Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox