In a normal year, early September is when the excitement level hockey fans feel around the world begins ratchet up. This year, however, eagerness to watch hockey in September is not just in anticipation of a few preseason games and the upcoming nine-month schedule. We are currently nearing the end of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and have already seen 17 of the 24 teams exit the bubble cities of Edmonton and Toronto since the Playoffs began early last month.
While the Tampa Bay Lightning were able claim their spot in the Eastern Conference Finals with their fourth series win against the Boston Bruins on Monday, there are three other teams currently facing elimination.
As the teams compete for the most coveted trophy in professional sports, here is a preview of the remaining three series in the Second Round.
Philadelphia Flyers (1) Vs. New York Islanders (6)
Game 6: Thursday, Sept. 3. 6:00 pm CDT, NBCSN
Game 7 (if necessary): Saturday, Sept. 5, TBD
The Flyers and Islanders are competing for the chance to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals, where they will be one best-of-seven series away from representing the East in the Stanley Cup Finals.
To this point, the Isles have been one of the most surprising teams in the bubble. In the qualifying round, they defeated the Florida Panthers in four games. Last round, Head Coach Barry Trotz was able to lead his team to an easy 4-1 series victory over the team he coached to a Stanley Cup just two seasons ago—the Washington Capitals. It’s clear Trotz’ team has completely bought in to his system. What they lack in sheer skill, they make up for in gritty defense, strong goaltending, and by outworking their opponents.
On Tuesday, the Flyers were able to stave off elimination by picking up their second series win in overtime against the Islanders. After earning the first seed in the Round Robin series with a 4-0 record and defeating the Montreal Canadians in game 6 of the first round, the Flyers have their backs against the wall for the first time in the bubble. In order to win their next two games and advance to the Conference Finals, they will need sustained production from veterans like Claude Giroux and excellent goaltending from 22-year-old netminder, Carter Hart.
Vegas Golden Knights (1) Vs. Vancouver Canucks (5)
Game 6: Thursday, Sept. 3. 8:45 pm CDT, NBCSN
Game 7 (if necessary): Friday, Sept. 4, TBD
Vancouver is another team on the brink of elimination, as Vegas holds a 3-2 series lead. From top to bottom, the Vegas Golden Knights have been perhaps the most impressive team since the restart. This starts in net, as the Golden Knights have an elite goaltending duo in Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury. The team is also extremely skilled and fast. At times, it’s hard to tell the difference between the first and the fourth lines.
With that being said, this young Vancouver Canucks team has played Vegas close. They’ve received fantastic goaltending throughout the playoffs from Jacob Markstrom, and on Tuesday night, Thatcher Demko stepped in and had 42 saves in the Canucks’ 2-1 victory. The team is captained by the postseason goal leader, Bo Horvat, and also have two young stars in Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson.
Colorado Avalanche (2) Vs. Dallas Stars (3)
Game 7: Friday, Sept. 4, TBD
After losing their starting goaltender in game one of the series, it took the Colorado Avalanche a few games to adjust. They’ve now won two straight with Michael Hutchinson in net and are entering a must-win game seven. The potent Avalanche offense, led by superstar Center Nathan Mackinnon, is also firing on all cylinders. Watch out.
The Dallas Stars are also dangerous in their own right. This is highlighted by the fact that they defeated the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the St. Louis Blues, in six games in the First Round. The Stars are great defensively and have been scoring at an extremely high rate in recent weeks. This is in large part due to a resurgence by the team’s several veteran players.
Guest Blogger: Garrett Seymour