Tampa Bay @ Montreal (Game One – 7PM – Bell Centre)
-In a rematch of last year’s first round series in which Montreal swept Tampa Bay, the Lightning reversed their fortunes in the 2015 regular season and swept the season series 5-0 (the Habs only managed to get one single point in those five games). But the regular season and the playoffs are two totally different animals, and the Canadiens come in to this series with a few extra days rest since Tampa had to go the distance with Detroit. As tough as Pete Mrazek was on Tampa the previous round, the Lightning have an even tougher challenge to face in Vezina & Hart nominee Carey Price. The pressure is all on Ben Bishop to play like he did in Game Seven against the Wings. If Price continues to play the way he has, Bishop will need to make whatever goals Tampa can score count. The Canadiens need to forget all about their regular season woes against Tampa. Keeping Steven Stamkos goalless (three assists) assists in the first round) for a second straight round will be difficult, but preventing him from heating up is good enough. Montreal’s biggest problem will be the line of Tyler Johnson (six goals, one assist), Nikita Kucherov (four assists), and Ondrej Palat (one goal, two assists). They were successful all season long, and was Tampa’s primary source of offense during the first round. These are the two worst power plays remaining in the playoffs percentage-wise.
My Pick – Lightning in six – The Lightning won’t outright dominate like they did in the regular season, but this is a bad match-up for the Habs. Tampa survived a first round scare, and have too much talent in the room to put themselves in that position again.
Minnesota @ Chicago (Game One – 9:30PM– United Center)
-For the second straight year, Chicago and Minnesota will meet in the second round of the playoffs (Chicago won in six last year). The Blackhawks were sloppy at times during their first round series with Nashville, but they were able to buckle down and get it together when it mattered. The Wild won’t give them that same margin for error. Minnesota had one bad game against St. Louis, otherwise they were clearly the better team in their first round match-up with the division champs. While Minnesota’s net is more than secure with Devan Dubnyk, Corey Crawford needs to play like a playoff number one goalie consistently this round. After being pulled in Games One and Two last round, he ended up being the guy to take them home after Scott Darling’s Game Six-five goal performance. The biggest thing to keep an eye on will be the Minnesota Power Play, who currently ranks second in the playoffs, going against Chicago’s Penalty Kill, which is the worst unit remaining in the playoffs percentage-wise.
My Pick – Wild in seven. Minnesota has given Chicago scares in the playoffs the past two years, but couldn’t get over the hump because of their goaltending. Dubnyk was the missing piece for them to be a deep playoff team.