We’re down to the final four! After a second round of the playoffs in which three out of four series went to a Game 7, there will be another quick turnaround going into the next round. The Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars will begin the Conference Finals at 5:00pm tonight.
As I did with my first and second round predictions, in addition to predicting the winner and number of games, I’ve gone out on a limb and added a bold prediction for each series. The point is for those predictions to be unlikely to happen, but maybe one or two will be accurate. Here are Emerald City Hockey’s 3rd round playoff picks:
1-Vegas Golden Knights vs. 3-Dallas StarsEmbed from Getty Images
Golden Knights win in 5 games. Both Vegas and Dallas won their second round series in 7 games while nearly blowing 3-1 series leads. The Golden Knights-Canucks series was the most one-sided 7 game series I’ve seen. Vegas completely controlled the play for 6 out of 7 games. It took a historic effort from Canucks goalie and potential Seattle Kraken target Thatcher Demko to prolong the series. The Stars, meanwhile, played their second series in a row against an injury-depleted team. The Avalanche were without three forwards (including captain Gabriel Landeskog in Game 7), two defensemen, and their top two goalies for most of the series. Given that the Stars barely beat a severely hobbled Avalanche team, their outlook against the healthy Golden Knights looks bleak. Dallas might be able to steal a second game against Vegas but it looks like ultimately nothing will be able to stop the Golden Knights juggernaut.
Bold Prediction: Four different goalies will play in the series. Goalie controversies have followed both the Golden Knights and the Stars throughout the playoffs, with each team having faced difficult decisions in net in the second round. Vegas coach Peter DeBoer has repeatedly said that he trusts his goalie rotation and has a “plan” to play both netminders. I could see him trying to get Lehner some rest if he can afford to. On the Dallas side, Anton Khudobin will start the series but I think the Stars will give Bishop another chance in goal if and when the series starts to swing Vegas’ way.
2-Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 6-New York IslandersEmbed from Getty Images
Lightning win in 5 games. In my last to rounds of playoff picks, I’ve doubted the Lightning, taking a “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach after their epic playoff collapse last season. Well, I’ve seen it now. The Lightning are the skilled, deep, formidable team they appear to be on paper. Even with captain Steven Stamkos ruled out for the series, the Lightning are far and away the better team in this series. While the Islanders have looked very impressive against the Capitals and Flyers, cracks in their armor began to show as they almost let a 3-1 series lead slip away against Philadelphia. New York’s depth was instrumental against the Flyers. Alain Vigneault had no answer for Derick Brassard, J.G. Pageau, and Matt Martin. The Lightning are one of only a few teams who can match the Islanders’ depth. I’ll always expect Barry Trotz’s teams to put up a good fight but Tampa’s forwards should prove to be too overwhelming to New York’s defensive structure.
Bold Prediction: Barclay Goodrow doubles his playoff point total. Goodrow currently has three points in 13 playoff games. While that point total certainly doesn’t jump off the page, Goodrow has played an effective depth role for the Lightning and has done everything asked of him. That said, he’s been overshadowed by fellow mid-season acquisition Blake Coleman, who has more than tripled his career playoff point total this postseason. Depth scoring should be a factor in this series and I expect Goodrow to help swing that aspect of the game in Tampa’s favor.