With that in mind, here’s a list of 10 storylines – in no particular order – to monitor closely over the next few weeks:
What now for the Toronto Maple Leafs?
For the first time in 19 years, the Leafs managed to win a playoff series when they disposed of the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. Now that they’ve exorcised their first-round demons, the focus for Sheldon Keefe and company shifts to the next curse: 1967. Unbelievably, it’s been 55 years since Toronto last captured the Stanley Cup.
Handicapping Canada’s Cup: Leafs & Oilers best teams chances left?
Incredibly, it’s been 30 long years since a Canadian team last hosted Lord Stanley (Montreal Canadiens – 1993). Entering Round 2, of the eight teams remaining, the Leafs and the Oilers are the betting favorites to go all the way this season. Is this finally the year? Everyone in Canada hopes so.
Jack Eichel vs. Connor McDavid
Shoutout to the 2015 NHL draft class. For the first time in their storied careers, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will go head-to-head in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The ‘rivalry’ may have lost some of its luster in recent memory, but rest assured, both players know what’s up. Furthermore, it’s hard to believe it’s been eight years since McDavid and Eichel went first and second overall to Edmonton and Buffalo, respectively. It’s time for the next chapter!
Will the Carolina Hurricanes continue to defy the odds?
Despite missing Andrei Svechnikov, Max Pacioretty and Teuvo Teravainen, among others, the Canes had minimal issues getting by the New York Islanders in the opening round. That said, business is about to pick up as Carolina prepares for a showdown with the speedy and hungry New Jersey Devils. Buckle up.
To say the NHL faced some scrutiny regarding its officiating in Round 1 would be a massive understatement. Moving forward, the conversation will only get louder as the games grow in importance. For what it’s worth, of the eight teams remaining, the Hurricanes received the most power play opportunities (25) in Round 1 and the Oilers received the fewest (16). Special teams are so big this time of year.
Matthew Tkachuk vs. Michael Bunting
Arguably the two biggest pests/shift disturbers in the NHL right now are set to go head-to-head in the form of Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Bunting. The only difference between the two – and it’s a big one – is that Tkachuk is a 100-point player and is widely considered a top player in the league. Nevertheless, there’s no question both players can play instrumental roles for their respective teams in the series. At the very least, it’ll be fascinating to document the extracurricular activity.
Will Roope Hintz continue his world domination?
Hands up if you knew Roope Hintz tallied the most points out of any player in Round 1. Well, if you didn’t, now you do. In Dallas’ six-game triumph over the Minnesota, the 26-year-old notched five goals and seven assists. Simply put, the Wild had no answer for the Robertson-Hintz-Seguin line. We’ll see how the Kraken plays them.
Are the Kraken and Panthers going to be underestimated again?
If there’s anything we learned in Round 1, it’s to expect the unexpected. Making its postseason debut, all Seattle did was off the defending Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche. Not to be outdone, Florida took down a Boston team that was coming off a historic NHL record 65-win regular season. Moral of the story: Don’t sleep on either squad.
Will Vegas’ goaltending continue to hold up?
Laurent Brossoit may have been up to the task against a hapless Winnipeg squad but there’s no question the Edmonton Oilers are a different animal. Making all five starts for Vegas, the 29-year-old former Oiler back-up went 4-1 with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .915 save-percentage. If the Golden Knights have any chance of advancing, they’ll need more of the same against Edmonton.
Will the legend of Akira Schmid continue to grow?
Seemingly out of nowhere, the rookie netminder grabbed the Devils crease and did not look back after Vitek Vanecek dropped the first two games of the series against the Rangers. In five appearances, Schmid posted a 4-1 record to go along with a 1.38 goals-against average, a .951 save-percentage and two shutouts. Suffice it is to say, offense could be a premium in the Devils/Canes series.
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