Carolina’s elimination of defending Stanley Cup champion Washington made it a clean sweep.
That ensured all four division winners (Tampa, Washington, Nashville, Calgary) – who all looked capable of going far in these playoffs – all lost their first-round series and will be watching the remainder of the playoffs with the rest of us.
In their places there are all four wild-cards (Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Colorado) – teams that qualified in the season’s final days and looked like first-round fodder for the favorites.
The Hurricanes defeated Washington in a Game 7 double overtime Wednesday.
“This is just another step,” said Hurricanes forward Justin Williams, who has won three Stanley Cups in his career, and has been an ideal captain on this young team. “It’s wide open for us. It’s wide open for every team. There’s eight (teams) left and we’re doing to keep pushing to see how good we can be.”
Boston, which had the NHL’s third-best record and defeated Toronto in a seven-game first-round series, has the best remaining record and home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
But with the way these playoffs have gone, can you really expect the Bruins to reach the Stanley Cup Finals?
Here are the two series beginning Friday:
(2) New York Islanders vs. (4) Carolina
Records: New York 48-27-7 (103 points); Carolina 46-29-7 (99 points).
First round: Islanders beat Pittsburgh in four games; Carolina beat Washington in seven games.
Season series: New York won 3-1-0.
Storylines: You could have won much money gambling this would be a playoff series. It’s an improbable series, but one that could be extremely entertaining. These are two similar teams, banking on terrific team defense, timely scoring, and embracing the underdog mentality. Keep an eye on the goaltenders. Former Red Wing Petr Mrazek has solidified the position in Carolina, while the Islanders’ Robin Lehner completely frustrated Pittsburgh in the first round.
Key player: New York center Mathew Barzal had five points (all assists) in the first round against Pittsburgh, with a plus-6 rating. If the sophomore sensation keeps providing offense, the Islanders will be in good shape.
Prediction: Carolina in 6.
(2) San Jose vs. (4) Colorado
Records: San Jose 46-27-9 (101 points); Colorado 38-30-14 (90 points).
First round: San Jose beat Vegas in seven games; Colorado beat Calgary in five games.
Season series: San Jose won 3-0-0.
Storylines: San Jose had to rally from a 3-1 series deficit – and 3-0 Vegas lead in Game 7’s third period – to win in overtime. Colorado, the No. 8 seed, manhandled No. 1 seed Calgary. The Sharks have a balanced attack, have quite a few veterans who’ve experienced this before, but need G Martin Jones to maintain his level from Games 6 and 7 against Vegas. Colorado has an absolutely dominant scoring line (Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen), and adding young D Cale Makar injected another offensive threat.
Key player: Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon is a huge problem for any opposing team. But the Sharks had trouble handing Vegas’ speed, and defending and containing MacKinnon will be crucial.
Prediction: San Jose in 6.