Sport NHL predictions: Who will win in the second round of the playoffs?

20:41  22 august  2020
20:41  22 august  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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Even without fans in the stands and games only played in two locations, the first round of the NHL playoffs did not disappoint.

The Islanders took down coach Barry Trotz's former team, the Capitals, while the Golden Knights had little trouble dispatching the Blackhawks and Miro Heiskanen powered the Stars past the Fames. The Blue Jackets proved relentless, but were no match against the Lightning, who were swept last year by Columbus, in this year's edition. The Bruins, meanwhile, brushed off concerns after losing all three round-robin games to defeat the Hurricanes, and the Avalanche used their high-powered offense to overwhelm the Coyotes. Finally, the Flyers held off the Canadiens, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues were bounced by the upstart Canucks.

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So, what's next? USA TODAY Sports' NHL experts break down the second-round series, and make picks for who will be advancing to the conference finals. It begins Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC) with the Avs and Stars:

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Flyers vs. Islanders

Jimmy Hascup: Islanders in 6. The Islanders gave up eight goals in their first-round series against the Capitals, and there's something about playing a team that concedes nothing on the ice that could frustrate the Flyers, whose offense isn't explosive and didn't appear totally in sync against the Canadiens.

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Mike Brehm: Islanders in 6. Coach Barry Trotz has the Islanders playing stingy defense, and they’re getting timely scoring from their top players. Jean-Gabriel Pageau was a good pickup at the deadline. The Flyers are getting secondary scoring, but regular season leaders Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux have no goals and Kevin Hayes didn’t get one until Game 6.

Jace Evans: Islanders in 7. The strength of the Islanders – their defensive structure – was on full display against the Capitals, one of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL this season. They'll need to score too (obviously) to beat a balanced Philadelphia team, but there's enough skill in the New York lineup to make a return to the conference finals for the first time since 1993.

Lightning vs. Bruins

Hascup: Bruins in 7. Convinced that the winner of this series will be the one to reach the Final. Even though the Bruins are my pick represent the East, I can't dismiss how the Lightning looked in Round 1; they proved they won't just win on pure skill alone. But I expect the experienced Bruins will find a way in what will be a toss-up series.

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Brehm: Lightning in 7. I picked the Lightning to get to the Final and I’ll stick with that, even though I like how the Bruins overcame their round-robin doldrums. But the Lightning proved themselves in fighting off the tenacious Blue Jackets, the team that shockingly swept them last season. The Lightning added grit and depth to get further in the playoffs, and it’s paying off.

Evans: Lightning in 7. This is the series where Tuukka Rask's absence will be noticed. The Bruins' veteran goalie, who opted out during the first round to return to his family, has historically been a stronger performer vs. the Lightning than now-starter Jaroslav Halak. Tampa Bay is a team on a mission after 2019's postseason debacle, and it showed plenty of fortitude in winning four one-score games vs. CBJ, including the marathon five-overtime thriller in Game 1.


Golden Knights vs. Canucks

Hascup: Golden Knights in 5. The Canucks' arrow is pointing up, but a deep playoff run won't come now. Their high-end talent is impressive, though the Golden Knights have more of it and they will be able to win the depth battle — in their forward group, on defense and in net. Even in this weird bubble, fanless environment, the Golden Knights have gone 7-1, and no team has yet to give them much of a test.

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Brehm: Golden Knights in 6. The Canucks have a bright future after knocking off the defending champion Blues, assuming they can retain goalie Jacob Markstrom. But the Golden Knights are too deep and will continue the streak of no Canadian team winning the Stanley Cup since 1993.

Evans: Golden Knights in 6. The Canucks are a young, exciting offensive team, but VGK has been playing really good hockey in the bubble, too, and is more experienced and battle-hardened – a weird thing to say about a team in its third year of existence. Still, Vancouver's season is already a massive success in just getting here and Vegas is primed for even bigger things.

Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars

Hascup: Avalanche in 5. Even after the Stars scored five or more goals three times against the Flames, the Avalanche are simply a stronger team – with a more dynamic offense, a sounder defense and better goaltending. Nathan MacKinnon has been an absolute force since the season resumed with a point in each of the eight games and three goals and 10 points against the Coyotes in Round 1.

Brehm: Avalanche in 6. The Stars are more structured than the Coyotes, so the Avalanche won't be able to fire shots at will. And they'll have to deal with the Stars' mobile defense. But the Avalanche's talent edge will win out, especially with Nazem Kadri having a breakout postseason.

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Evans: Avalanche in 6. Colorado looked like it might be the best team in the NHL in the first round, completely dismantling the Coyotes over five games – outshooting them 185-108 on the way to outscoring them 22-8. Now, Arizona certainly had its own issues that Dallas won't bring in to this series, but the Stars will be hard-pressed to contain the Avs.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL predictions: Who will win in the second round of the playoffs?

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