SCHEDULE: Game 1 Friday, Game 2 Sunday, Game 3 Tuesday, Game 4 May 4th
While Boston-Tampa will take most of the attention by merely being on the East Coast and everything Boston must be covered at all times otherwise Bill Simmons urinates on most of LA, this is the series that will hold the most entertainment value. These are certainly the two best teams in the West, and two of the four best in the NHL. Both are simply stacked at forward so goals should be prevalent. This one is going to be a coke-binge and catch as much as you can.
Goalies: Connor Hellebuyck didn’t really have to do much in the first round than maintain requisite oxygen intake in the first round, because the Minnesota Wild were barely there. But that’s probably a perfect way to wet your feet into playoff hockey, and he’s going to have to be much better this series. It did not go well for Hellebuyck in the regular season against the Preds, as he gave up 19 goals in five starts against them. That doesn’t really matter here, but you’d have to be the most cockeyed, Jets optimist with a fair amount of glue to huff to think that Hellebuyck is going to completely stonewall the Preds. How he reacts to his first playoff adversity is anyone’s guess.
It would be totally on course for the Pekka Rinne Ride to be pretty mediocre last regular season to a playoff marvel and then switch it this year to a Vezina-worthy season this year to turning into a Jalopi in the playoffs this year. He was very not good against the Avalanche, and they only have one line, which is daunting considering the Jets have four. Maybe he was playing down to the competition, maybe the whole team was. But a .909 against the Jets is going to see the Preds go home and probably rather quickly. He’s going to have to be better.
Defense: Again, it’s hard to learn much from the first round about the Jets’ defense when they were playing a bubble hockey opponent. The Jets look like they’ll get a boost back here with Toby Enstrom returning for this series, and he’ll be the one who holds the leash on Dustin Byfuglien. Trouba and Morrissey were excellent against the Wild, and punting Tyler Myers down to a third-pairing bum-slayer role is exactly what he was cut out for. You worry about what the Preds might do when Byfuglien goes out walkin’ after midnight searching for a McGriddle, but the rest of this outfit is pretty solid.
What it isn’t is as dynamic as the Preds’ blue line, though maybe as deep. They conspired to give up a ton of chances to the Avalanche, figuring they’d win a track meet with their depth. That’s what this blue line does, with Subban, Ellis, Josi, and Ekholm all willing and able to get up and down the entire surface. They know no other way, but leaving gaps against this Jets team is a different story than doing so against the Avs. Still, overall, possession-wise, the Preds kicked around Colorado, especially the pairing of Subban and Ekholm. Rougher ride here.
Forwards: The Jets depth is truly scary, and just about everyone chipped in during the first round. What we’re most looking forward to is if either coach settles for fighting fire with fire and has Scheifele match up with Johansen, because we’re fairly sure he’ll inhale Treat Boy. Johansen won’t find much more shelter with either Little or Stastny either. The Jets didn’t lose a step when Ehlers had to miss a game, but he’ll be back for Game 1. The best forward grouping in the league.
The Predators are hardly thin, but don’t boast quite the weapons on their bottom-six as the Jets do. And Forsberg isn’t going to get to go traipsing through three guys whenever he wants like he did against the rotted scarecrows of the Avalanche. If the Jets keep the top line of the Preds somewhat quiet, you then wonder if the Preds can come up with enough goals to run with them. Turris didn’t really do anything against the Avs, and this is much deeper water here and you feel like he comes out barely even or worse against either Little or Stastny. And Mike Fisher is not keeping up with this crew.
Prediction: Been waiting for this one for a while. The Preds have become everyone’s darling while ignoring what their flaws are. It’s a great blue line, but the Jets advantage at forward is just a touch bigger than the one the Preds have on defense. The goalies could be a wash, though you could see either melting down. With how many goals they’re likely to share, just about anything could happen. But if we expect, and Scheifele and Wheeler outplay Treat Boy and Forsberg, the Jets take this. But it’s going to be a ton of fun getting there. Jets in 7.