We are edging closer and closer to the Stanley Cup being awarded to a deserving victor.
After a brief two-day hiatus, hockey is back with the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Semifinals getting underway today, with the New York Islanders taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first semifinal in what is a repeat of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
More from Puck Prose
- NHL history: Best trade in each team’s history
- NHL Free Agency: Top 4 best value Free Agents available on Day 2
- NHL Free Agency: Top 5 Free Agents still on the board after Day One
- NHL Free Agency: New Jersey Devils early winners after huge Dougie Hamilton splash
- NHL Free Agency: Seattle Kraken hit a statement home run with Grubauer addition
The upstart Montreal Canadiens – led by the red hot Carey Price – will then battle with the Vegas Golden Knights in the other semi-final, which begins on Monday night.
It promises to be a compelling battle among the four teams for two coveted places in the Stanley Cup Final, and it is hard to predict a winner given that each series should be as hard to call as you could wish.
However, it is our job at Puck Prose to make bold predictions – although a lot of our initial predictions didn’t go to plan – and we’re going to give our predictions for the Semifinals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Let’s delve right in…
Puck Prose’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Semifinals Predictions Roundtable
Tampa Bay Lightning over New York Islanders in 7
Vegas Golden Knights over Montreal Canadiens in 7
I have both semifinals going the full seven games, with the Tampa Bay Lightning just edging the New York Islanders in the first semifinal. Part of me thinks the Isles could go all the way this year, but I just feel the Lightning have too much firepower up and down the lineup, and I have a sneaky suspicion that Nikita Kucherov will be playing with a chip on his shoulder in the wake of more controversy in regards to Tampa Bay’s ability to work around the salary cap.
In terms of the other semifinal, it all comes down to if Carey Price can maintain his current elite level of play in my eyes. If he can, well then it is entirely possible that the Montreal Canadiens can shock the Vegas Golden Knights and make the Stanley Cup Final. However, while I think Price will ensure this series goes the distance, I strongly feel that Mark Stone will put the Knights on his back with his elite two-way play and be the real difference maker in this series.
Montreal Canadiens over Vegas Golden Knights in 7
New York Islanders over Tampa Bay Lightning in 6
Marc-Andre Fleury – Vegas Golden Knights
Where would the Vegas Golden Knights be without Marc-Andre Fleury? Well, not in the semifinals, but that’s besides the point. Now, I know Robin Lehner was the Knights’ starting goalie during their Conference Finals run last season, but the former Bill Masterton and Jennings Trophy winner did little to usurp Fleury this postseason, allowing 7 goals on 37 shots after being given the start in Game 1 of the Second Round series against the Colorado Avalanche.
With his first Vezina Trophy nomination now under his belt, Fleury has continued to turn back time over the course of this season, with a GAA of below 2.00 in both the regular season and the Playoffs.
With an 8-4-0 record, 1.91 Goals Against Average and .923 Save Percentage thus far this postseason, he’s been the backbone of Vegas’s lineup, and a strong fallback option with his usual brilliant diving saves.
With the Vegas offense going for more of a depth-oriented approach as compared to the regular season, look for Fleury to duel and duel brilliantly with Montreal Canadiens starter and, in many
people’s eyes, current Playoff MVP, Carey Price.
Carey Price – Montreal Canadiens
Speak of the devil, Price is the reason the Canadiens are where they are at this current moment. Yes, Head Coach Dominique Ducharme’s system has worked wonders in limiting scoring chances, with the Habs playing near perfect hockey since coming back in their First Round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Playing a massive part in that comeback, however, was Price. While its becoming increasingly evident that Price’s regular season and postseason performances are wildly different, Canadiens fans aren’t complaining as Price has, like Fleury, turned back the clock with a definitively vintage 8-3-0 record to go along with a 1.97 Goals Against Average and a sparkling .935 Save Percentage.
While the argument can be made that Montreal has benefited from a North Division which more resembles the AHL than the NHL (at least when compared to the other three teams), Price is one of the NHL’s best when it matters the most and, regardless of the ultimate outcome of this series, should at least make it interesting, if nothing else. If Ducharme’s system can continue to swallow up chances whilst generating their own, I say the sky is the limit for Montreal as long as Price stays hot.
Nikita Kucherov – Tampa Bay Lightning
Say what you will about the Lightning’s cheating of the system with their now overinflated cap hit and video game like lineup, but regardless, Kucherov has continued to be the lifeblood of Tampa’s offense. In spite of missing the entire regular season due to hip surgery (whilst also saving the Lightning’s tails from an extremely difficult financial situation), Kucherov has come back guns-a-blazing with a 5-13-18 totals over his first 11 games.
While Connor McDavid’s ridiculous 1980s-esque pace was rightfully front and center over the course of this season, many were quick to forget Kucherov’s near dominant 128-point season in 2018-19, and it seems as though the former Second Round pick hasn’t missed a beat since then.
In all honesty, both the Lightning and Islanders lineups are comprised of depth, depth, and more depth, so it’s difficult to pick a true X-Factor, but, as the Lightning’s deadly powerplay has continued to click and their offense has continued to dominate, Kucherov will, in my mind, continue to be the principal reason why, and should be a forced to be reckoned with and top assignment for the Islanders’ numerous talented, checking forwards.
Going back to what I said earlier, while I ultimately chose Kucherov as the Lightning’s X-Factor in spite of their depth, there isn’t one player I could choose for the Islanders. Head Coach Barry Trotz’s system is based around depth and production across the board, and as the Islanders continue to impress in spite of a weaker lineup on paper, I’m going to honor that system, and choose their continually formidable one-two punch in net.
Following long-time starter Thomas Greiss’s departure for Detroit (where he salvaged a horrendous start with some ridiculous end of season numbers), Sorokin was brought in out of the KHL to fill the gap and did so quickly and easily.
The Islanders have, in my mind, one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL, and when one falters, another is always ready to step in. Sorokin aside, Varlamov put up a remarkable 7 shutouts without much fanfare and is just as capable postseason wise as Sorokin has been.
Simply put, the New York Islanders have a lot to fall back on in goal, and with a stingy defense, a physical bottom six and, as previously stated, a wealth of offensive production from all across the lineup, their goaltending tandem has followed the exact same sentiment.
Vegas Golden Knights over Montreal Canadiens in 4
Tampa Bay Lightning over New York Islanders in 6
Carey Price is the X-Factor in the Vegas Golden Knights – Montreal Canadiens series, as he’s the reason they’re here, and he’d be the reason they advance again. The North was the weakest division in hockey though, so the talent and competence in Vegas will be too much for the Habs.
Andrei Vasilevskiy will be the X-Factor in the other series, because the New York Islanders are really good at slowing down good offenses. What makes the Tampa Bay Lightning different, however, is their stability on the backend in addition to its offense. For that reason, the Bolts’ goaltender will need to play well.
So, those are our picks for the Semifinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well as our nods for the X-Factor in each series. What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below!