By WAYNE REDSHAW
Two down and two to go. And my crystal ball seems to be functioning quite well.
It’s not 100 percent but at least I am batting .750. In round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs I went 6-for-8 as Tampa Bay Lightning and Minnesota Wild prevented me from a perfect scorecard. And in the just recently completed second round, my only blemish of the four series was the Lightning again. They swept aside the Florida Panthers four straight.
Having spent four and a half months in Tampa Bay this past winter I witnessed most of the Lightning’s home and away games on TV and I wasn’t impressed. They were not consistent and at times a total joke. Even their star players were out to lunch in some games.
But in the playoffs the two-time Stanley Cup champions have turned things around. They are getting solid goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy. So does that mean for round three I am picking them to win? Check out below as I make my fearless predictions for round three — the Conference Finals.
Edmonton Oilers vs Colorado Avalanche
This should be a high-scoring, free-wheeling series as both the Oilers and Avalanche both have high-powered offences. The Oilers led by Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane and Zach Hyman to name just a few. McDavid is virtually non-stoppable when he maneuvers with the puck combining his skills and size.
On the other side of the fence the Avs finished first in their division with a talented lineup with the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Artturi Lehkonen, Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen.
Both teams are solid on the blueline with Cal Makar the leader for the Avs and Darnell Nurse for the Oilers.
If there is a weak link it’s between the pipes for the Oilers with Mike Smith. I am not sold on this guy as he lets in a lot of softies. Granted, his stats are impressive somewhat but with an explosive team in front of him 75 percent of the play has been at the opposite end. That could change in this series with Colorado as they too are explosive. It should be a highly entertaining series.
The Oilers are hoping to end a 29-year drought by winning the Cup for a Canadian-based team.
Prediction: Avalanche in seven games.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Rangers.
This should be a dandy series. The Lightning have won 10 straight series which includes back-to-back Cup championships. They are also on a roll having won six straight games heading to New York.
They are also well-rested with nine days off since disposing of the Florida Panthers in four straight. The rest has allowed Tampa to heal some of those bruises and wounds they picked up in the first two rounds. However, there’s another side to the layoff. They could also be a little rusty heading into Wednesday’s opener in the Big Apple.
New York on the other hand has played two tough seven-game series and have just one day off after sending the Carolina Hurricanes to the sidelines in game seven Monday night.
The goaltending for both teams has been hot and that should continue. Lightning goalie’ Andrew Vasilevskiy, the MVP of the playoffs last year, has allowed only four goals in his past five games. New York’s Igor Shesterkin has been impressive too, especially against Carolina.
Both teams are noted for blocking shots which helps the goaltenders. I expect this series to be tight with specialty teams being a deciding factor,
Both teams are loaded with talent. The Lightning have Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos while the Rangers have Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Both have solid defences with Victor Herman for Tampa and Adam Fox for New York. Both teams also have strong supporting cast members.
One big question mark for Tampa is will Brayden Point be back in the lineup? He was injured in game seven against the Toronto Maple Leafs and missed the entire series with the Panthers. His absence leaves a big hole in the Lightning offence.
Prediction: New York in seven games as home ice is an advantage.
(Wayne Redshaw has covered sports in Niagara for over 50 years, 33 and a half at the Welland Tribune. He was publisher of the FORE! Golfers Only for 12 years and also wrote for many newspapers and magazines in Canada and the United States.)