Here we are - round two of the 2021-22 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Eight teams and fanbases experienced heartbreak, and eight other's cheer and celebrate as their team moves closer and closer to one of the most coveted trophies in all of sports... the Stanley Cup.
As we did prior to the start of the first round, lets go over what matchups we have coming up in round two, and man, does the second round have some bitter and heated rivalries on tap for us.
(Edmonton's Connor McDavid battling with Calgary's Oliver Kylington) (Perry Nelson/USA TODAY Sports)
Matchup 1: Florida Panthers (A1) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (A3)
The Governor's Cup! This series between the two intrastate rivals is a rematch from last year's first round matchup, a series in which the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Florida Panthers, four games to two.
However, this year is much different. While still looking as dangerous as ever, there isn't a single team in the NHL that has played as many games over the last two season's as the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions, Tampa Bay Lightning have.
The Panthers are a much better team this year than they were last year. Florida won the 2021-22 President's Trophy as the best team in the league, and also traded for 7x All-Star, Claude Giroux, at the NHL-trade deadline, a move that strengthened a roster that was already believed to have been the best in the Eastern Conference.
While I believe the Panthers to be the better team, the Lightning have something that cannot be overlooked - playoff experience. I mean, of course they do, right? They just won two Stanley Cups in a row; they know what it takes to win in the postseason. Tampa Bay also employs superstar goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and he won't let his team go down without a fight.
As of Monday night, Lightning star forward, Brayden Point, is highly doubtful for Game 1. Depending on how long he stays sidelined, this could potentially be a huge loss for Tampa Bay.
Two amazing, high scoring teams with star power up and down their respective rosters... this one is going the distance. Make sure you watch, you'll be happy you did.
Prediction: Panthers in 7
Matchup 2: New York Rangers (M2) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (M1)
How about them Rangers, huh?! After seemingly dead and buried, the New York Rangers came back from a 3-1 series deficit to put the Pittsburgh Penguins away in seven games. Surely the Rangers will be riding into the second round with spirits high after the comeback, but will it be enough?
Rangers star goaltender, Igor Shesterkin -- the man who is solely responsible for New York even being in the playoffs in the first place, the man who had one of the best regular season's by a goaltender in NHL history -- looked very shaky in the first round.
Some say it was because the defense in front of him that looked good all season long was lackluster against the Penguins. Some say the Pittsburgh fans got to him and he had a case of the road jitters, and some say that it was just nerves since this is his first time starting in the playoffs in his career. Whatever it is, let's hope he figured it out.
Another glaring issue that the Rangers had in the first round was the disappearance of the Artemi Panarin that we all know and love through the first six games. Panarin suffered an injury at the end of the regular season, so it is perfectly plausible that he might just still be dealing with the lingering effects of that.
But his disappointing performance is now behind him, as Panarin was the hero for the Rangers, scoring the series winning goal in overtime of Game 7, effectively sending New York to the next round.
Carolina got the better of New York in the regular season series, winning 3 of the 4 matchups between the two teams. Putting all into consideration, obviously Carolina is the heavy favorites going into the second round. The only thing the Rangers and their fans can really take comfort in is hoping that Shesterkin and Panarin return to form, and remembering that Carolina let the Boston Bruins -- a team that many believed they should've made quick work of -- push them to seven games.
Carolina is also without starting goaltender, Fredrik Andersen, and although backup goalie, Antti Raanta, performed well against Boston, not having to face Andersen is another thing for the Rangers to try and take advantage of while they can.
Guys, by principle I have to do it, I'm sorry. What kind of man would I be?
Prediction: Rangers in 7
Matchup 1: Colorado Avalanche (C1) vs. St. Louis Blues (C3)
Had it not been for those pesky boys in St. Louis, I'd still be running with a perfect bracket. I did say that the first round matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild could go either way, and it almost did, as the Blues defeated the Wild in six games. I'm sorry for doubting you, St. Louis, but I won't be sorry for long because I'm about to do it again.
Please, don't make me talk about the Colorado Avalanche anymore. I've done it so many times over the season and I'll have to continue to do it well into the month of June, because the Colorado Avalanche are winning the Stanley Cup this year. So, spoiler alert, but you know who I'm going with in this series.
Prediction: Avalanche in 6
Matchup 2: Calgary Flames (P1) vs. Edmonton Oilers (P2)
Alright, the moment you've been waiting for... the moment we've all been waiting for: The Battle of Alberta.
Perhaps the most heated rivalry in the NHL, hockey fans all over the world will be gathering around their televisions to watch what is sure to be a highly contested, highly violent, highly entertaining second round matchup between two teams that hate the very sight of each other.
Both of these teams were pushed to the brink of elimination in the first round. Calgary defeated the Dallas Stars in overtime of Game 7, and the Oilers had to overcome a 3-2 series deficit and win two games in a row to send the Los Angeles Kings packing.
It'll be the two best hockey players in the world, Edmonton's Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, going up against Vezina Trophy finalist, Jacob Markstrom, and the Calgary Flames who boasted the top defense in the regular season this year.
I can hype this rivalry up all I want, but anyone who knows me knows that in my mind, the Western Conference was pretty much set before the regular season could even come to an end. I strongly believe that if there's any team in the West that can give the Colorado Avalanche a run for their money, it would be the Calgary Flames.
I know it's hard for those of us on the east coast to stay up for these late games, but if you can, I highly recommend you do, I know I will be. It 100% will not disappoint.
Prediction: Flames in 6