DALLAS STARS VERSUS ST. LOUIS BLUES
This wasn’t the series that many predicted, but we just went through the round of the upsets. That said, of all the lower seeds to win a series, the St. Louis Blues were easily the least surprising victor.
St. Louis was one of the best teams in the league in the second half, posting a 28-8-5 record, thanks in no small part to the emergence of rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. He had a 24-5-1 record, 1.89 GAA, and .927 save percentage in 32 games and showed that the playoffs don’t faze him either. It’s ironic that the Winnipeg Jets fans chose to chant “You look nervous” to Binnington because by in large, he didn’t and he certainly didn’t play like a nervous goaltender either.
Binnington did have a bad Game 3 where he surrendered six goals on 29 shots to Winnipeg, but outside of that he was solid throughout the series. He allowed just two goals in each of the final three games of Round 1 and held the Jets to two or fewer goals on four occasions. Going into the season, goaltending was the missing link for the Blues and with him, St. Louis is a complete team that deserves to be here.
It’s the Dallas Stars though who have the edge in goaltending. Binnington is great, but Ben Bishop is a Vezina Trophy finalist after posting a 27-15-2 record, 1.98 GAA, and .934 save percentage in 46 regular season games. He didn’t slow down at all in Round 1 either. He had a 1.90 GAA and .945 save percentage in six starts against the Nashville Predators. In Game 6 alone, Bishop turned aside 47 of 48 shots to lead Dallas to a 2-1 overtime win.
Nashville wasn’t the scariest of teams offensively, but neither is St. Louis and the Blues will have their hands full against Bishop. That makes Vladimir Tarasenko one of the big X-Factors in this series. He was fairly well contained in Round 1 with two goals and no assists in six games and didn’t live up to expectations in the 2017 playoffs with three goals and six points in 11 contests. That said, he’s still arguably St. Louis’ biggest offensive threat and now more than ever, they need him to live up to that designation.
Meanwhile, Dallas’ biggest offensive weapon, Tyler Seguin, excelled in Round 1 with two goals and six points in six games. The Stars also got great performances out of their other big stars in Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, and defenseman John Klingberg, who each matched Seguin’s six points.
The silver lining for the Blues is that they do have the edge in depth. Even after Tarasenko, St. Louis has no shortage of skilled forwards. Jaden Schwartz, Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Brayden Schenn, and even Pat Maroon are capable of stepping up at any given time and being a difference maker. At the age of 35, Alex Steen doesn’t seem to be the player he once was, but he can’t be dismissed. Tyler Bozak is a superb third-lien center. St. Louis is just a well-rounded team and it’s for that reason that I ultimately think they’ll be able to solve Bishop, or at least push Bishop far enough to allow Binnington to carry them the rest of the way.
It will be a tough series, but I’m looking for St. Louis to win in seven games.
Alexander Radulov stood out in Round 1 with four goals and six points in six games. He also is going into Round 2 on a four-game point streak.
Does Jason Spezza count? It's not like he was good in the regular season anyways, but he certainly didn't step up in the playoffs. He had just one assist in four games and spent two contests as a healthy scratch.
Dallas is the only team to go the entire first round without surrendering a power-play goal. The Stars were a perfect 15-for-15 on the penalty kill.
The last time Dallas made it to the second round was in 2016. The Stars faced the Blues in that series too and lost in seven games. Dating back to 1993 when the North Stars moved to Dallas, there have been four series between the Blues and Stars. Each squad has won two of those series.
Jordan Binnington had a 2.63 GAA and .908 save percentage in Round 1, which is fine, but not amazing. His numbers were dragged down by Game 3 where he allowed six goals though. He surrendered just two goals in each of his last three starts.
Vladimir Tarasenko had two goals, no assists, and a minus-four rating in six games in Round 1. It seems fair to say that the Blues will need more out of him going forward.
This is the third time in the span of four years that St. Louis has made it to at least the second round.
Dating back to the 2011-12 campaign, the Blues have fired their coach during the season on three occasions. Davis Payne was replaced by Ken Hitchcock in 2011-12, Hitchcock was replaced by Mike Yeo in 2016-17, and Yeo was replaced by Craig Berube in 2018-19. In each of those campaigns, the new bench boss led St. Louis to at least the second round.
St. Louis was trailing going into the third period in three of the six Round 1 games. The Blues were 2-1 when down after 40 minutes.
COLORADO AVALANCHE VERSUS SAN JOSE SHARKS
Full disclosure: The Sharks have been my pick to win the Stanley Cup since the start of the season and I restated that prediction at the start of the playoffs, so I have an obvious lean in this series. That said, the Sharks series against Vegas certainly gave me pause.
The question for San Jose going into the playoffs was if goaltender Martin Jones would be good enough to guide them to a championship. Jones wouldn’t be expected to carry the team. The Sharks have a top-tier offense and the envy of the league in terms of high-end defensemen, so to say that the Sharks rely on Jones to win them games would be an exaggeration. Bad goaltending can certainly lose you games though and the problem is that when Jones is bad, he’s horrible.
Jones allowed three goals on seven shots in Game 2 before being pulled just 6:39 minutes into the contest. He surrendered six goals on 40 shots in Game 3 and finally he lasted just one period in Game 4, stopping only five of seven shots.
It wasn’t all bad for Jones. He was the difference in Game 6, saving 58 of 59 shots for example, but that inconsistency against Vegas was a huge problem and his task isn’t about to get easier. The Avalanche don’t have a deep offense, but they certainly have high-end talent leading the charge. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog make up a core that few teams can match and they’re certainly capable of making life hard on Jones.
The Avalanche also have a hot goaltender in Philipp Grubauer, who posted a 1.90 GAA and .939 save percentage in five starts in Round 1. A hot goaltender can make a huge difference in the playoffs and we might see that prove to be the case again in this series.
There’s also the question of the health of Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, who suffered a scary head injury on Cody Eakin’s crosscheck in the third period of Game 7. That incident and the five-minute penalty Eakin got as a result was the turning point in the game and is ultimately why we’re talking about the Sharks now and not the Golden Knights. The Sharks rallied for their fallen captain to score an unreal four power-play goals over the major, leading to their 5-4 overtime victory.
The aftermath of it though is unclear. At the time of writing we don’t know how long Pavelski will be hurt for. The Sharks have a strong group of forwards even without him, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re much better with him. If he’s gone for an extended period of time, that does make San Jose’s job unquestionably harder.
So there are a lot of reasons why Colorado could end up winning this series. When I look at the Sharks on paper, I still see them as the better team and honestly, I think that Vegas was a tougher opponent than Colorado. This series certainly could end up being added to the pile of upsets, but I’m taking San Jose in six games.
Mikko Rantanen was absolutely amazing in Round 1, scoring five goals and nine points in five games. He's recorded multiple points in each of his last four games.
After scoring 23 goals and 49 points in 82 regular season games, Carl Soderberg only contributed an assist in Round 1. Over his career, he has a goal and nine points in 25 playoff contests.
The Avalanche have by far the most SOG per game in the postseason with an average of 41. The next best team in that regard, the ousted Nashville Predators, averaged 36.3 shots per game.
Meanwhile, Colorado was dead last on the draw in Round 1 with a 40.7% success rate. During the regular season, Colorado ranked 26th by winning 48.1% of its faceoffs.
This is the first time since 2008 that the Colorado Avalanche have made it to the second round.
Note: This lineup is with Pavelski in it. Obviously, if he’s not available then changes will be necessary.
Tomas Hertl is on a three-game goal scoring streak. He has six goals and eight points in seven games. Logan Couture is also red hot with six goals and eight points in seven contests, including two goals in Game 7.
Martin Jones has certainly bounced back after three horrific starts in Games 2-4, but when taken as a whole, his performance in Round 1 was troubling. He had a 3.20 GAA and .904 save percentage in seven starts.
Micheal Haley last played on April 14th due to a lower-body injury. It's not clear if he'll be available for Round 2, but it seems unlikely. Joonas Donskoi missed Game 7 against Vegas after absorbing a hard hit from Brayden McNabb in Game 6.
The last time the Sharks played the Avalanche in the postseason was 2010, but there was a time when they had quite the playoff rivalry. Colorado and San Jose had three series together from 1999-2004. All three of those series went to at least six games and the Sharks won one of those series.
When the Sharks claimed Game 7 over Vegas, Peter DeBoer won his 40th career postseason contest. He's the 38th head coach to ever earn at least 40 playoff wins.