Congratulations to the four teams for making it this far. We saw a ton of surprises in the first round, but none bigger than the Florida Panthers coming back from down 3-1 to upset the Boston Bruins in overtime. We also saw Toronto make it past the first round for the first time in 19 years. The second round is about to begin, so let’s take a look at who will be advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.

As always, you can send your love/hate tweets to me on Twitter @fuzzychris91. 


Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Florida Panthers

Toronto Maple Leafs fans can finally say that the curse is broken. After not being able to make it out of the first round in close to 20 years, they are finally back to playing hockey in May. Florida did the impossible to upset the Presidents Trophy winners in seven games, and if you think they are going to roll over and die in this round, you’re mistaken.

The Maple Leafs advanced thanks to their big boys coming to play. Mitch Marner led the way with 11 points in the first round, while Auston Matthews found the back of the net five times. We also saw contributions from everyone down the lineup, including from the back end. The one weakness for Toronto was in goal, but Ilya Samsonov has shown us that he can step his game up when needed. 

Florida got here thanks to Matthew Tkachuk and his leadership. He did everything an elite player is supposed to do. Like Toronto, the Panthers got a lot of goal scoring from all over the lineup, but the play of Sergei Bobrovsky really changed the series for them. It’s crazy to think that he wasn’t even the Game One starter for his team, but he was clutch when his team needed him the most. 

There are rumours that Linus Ullmark was dealing with a pretty significant injury that didn’t allow him to reach his full potential in the playoffs. If that is true, then maybe the Panthers got a tad lucky. The Leafs are a complete team that can score goals from everywhere, but Florida was able to shut down the best team in the regular season when it needed to, and some could argue that they did it with David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron back in the lineup. The health of those players is obviously an issue, but despite that, the Panthers can compete with Toronto.

I do think that the Leafs can still tidy some things up and play better. They have a ton of momentum going into this series and they have the pieces to get it done. Maybe the Panthers benefitted from some injury luck, but they will push the Leafs to the edge. We should see another great series that goes the distance, but I have the Maple Leafs making it to the next round on the back of Ilya Samsonov.

Prediction: Toronto in 7

Carolina Hurricanes Vs. New Jersey Devils

Despite all the moves the New York Rangers made, they were unable to score goals when it counted the most. Akira Schmid stole the show down the stretch and he is looking like a real star in the making. Carolina was able to get past the Islanders without really breaking a sweat, but they didn’t look that great in their series.

The Hurricanes are a good hockey team, but they really struggled to generate offense and score against Ilya Sorokin. They come into the second round ranked 14th in goals per game. They are second in goals against per game, but that was to be expected against a team with no offensive threat. Now they have to deal with the Devils; a team that is loaded with goal-scoring players who can strike at any moment.

The biggest issue for the Hurricanes may be Akira Schmid, who posted two shutouts in the last four games. He stumbled in just one start, but outside of that, he was almost perfect. He gives his team the confidence needed to just up into the play and create scoring chances. We haven't seen players like Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt hit their peak yet. One could even say they weren’t very good in that first round, but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort. The puck just didn’t find the back of the net. As good as the Hurricanes are defensively, the Devils have more than enough skill up front to find the back of the net. If Schmid can play just as well in this round as he did in the previous one, Carolina has no chance of advancing. Some might be hoping for a long series, but this could be over in five games. 

Prediction: New Jersey in 5