The Carolina Hurricanes versus the Tampa Bay Lightning as round two of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs continues. Game 1 is today in Carolina and will start at 5 PM ET.
Before I get into my second round preview and predictions, here’s where I stand with my first round predictions. If the Maple Leafs win their series against the Canadiens, then I will be 4-4. The only one I hit on perfectly was the Golden Knights in seven over the Minnesota Wild.
Let’s dive in to the round two.
Central Division Round Two Prediction
#1 Carolina Hurricanes vs #3 Tampa Bay Lightning
During the regular season, these two teams were at a deadlock. Both the Hurricanes and Lightning went 4-3-1 against each other. Carolina did outscore the Lightning head to head 18-17. All indications are that this series will be razor tight.
Offensively, the Lightning have the edge as they averaged 3.21 goals per game during the regular season to the Hurricanes 3.13. In the playoffs, Tampa is averaging 4.00 goals per game to Carolina’s 3.67. Like I said, this is pretty darn close.
On the defensive side of the puck, Carolina is giving up 2.67 goals per game to Tampa’s 2.83. This is basically turning into a pick ’em series.
“You knew if we got through this [first round] series, whether it was Florida or Tampa, for me, it was going to be the next best team in the League,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Either one, pick ’em. Stanley Cup champs, or I thought Florida played great all year. We’re getting the Stanley Cup champs. We know what we’re up against. We’re going to have to be as good as we can to have a chance against these guys, especially now that they’ve got their full group back. It’s a great challenge for us. We’ll give it all we’ve got.”NHL.com
Offense: Edge Lightning
Guess who the leading scorer of the NHL playoffs is after missing the entire regular season? Nikita Kucherov has 11 points in six games and it’s like he didn’t miss a beat. Tampa has the proven offensive stars to outpace Carolina here. Steven Stamkos is also healthy, to go along with Brayden Point and a whole host of other guys who can put the puck in the net.
I like the Canes offense too. They are led by Sebastian Aho with 7 points, and Jordan Staal is playing inspired hockey. The difference here is that the Lightning took it #2 seed Florida Panthers while the Canes struggled in seven games to beat the Nashville Predators.
One key factor that should not be ignored, the Lightning’s power play is operating at 40% efficiency.
Defense: Slight Edge Hurricanes
I truly believe that the Islanders are the best defensive team left in the playoffs. That being said, the Hurricanes are a close second. They are well coached and do an amazing job as a 5 man unit in all three zones. They also have Dougie Hamilton to anchor their blue-line.
Tampa is solid defensively as well and block a ton of shots. Their defenseman are a more in-your-face types, but they can be prone to odd-man chances due to being overzealous in making a hit. Someone told me that Victor Hedman guy is pretty good too.
Goaltending: Big Edge Lightning
Andrei Vailevskiy is widely considered the best goalie in the NHL today. He’s also defending that title after winning the Stanley Cup last season. Statistically speaking, he and Alex Nedeljkovic are neck and neck. Vasilevskiy boasts a .929 SV% to Nedeljkovic’s .922 and their GAA are separated by .42 with the latter at 2.22.
In the end, it’s all going to come down to experience for me in goal. The rookie had a nice performance in round one, but Alex may not be ready for the heat the Lightning will bring in this series.
Final Predictions: Lightning in 6