The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs continue to roll on as we enter June. The first round was filled with exciting matchups and great play, but the second round might be even better. The Tampa Bay Lightning vs Carolina Hurricanes is a massive part of that. Two high-skilled teams that can win in many ways, this should be a thrilling series. Let’s break down the Tampa Bay Lightning vs Carolina Hurricanes.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Carolina Hurricanes Preview
Skill on Skill
This is a matchup many fans were really excited to see when the playoff format was released. And as much fun as Tampa’s first series was, this could be better from a hockey standpoint. Both of these teams play with some incredible speed up and down the ice. They both have the ability to take advantage of your mistakes, however, neither team gives much up. What we should get is some high-speed and very skilled hockey. Who doesn’t love that?
The Lightning top-six is one of the best in the league with Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and more. However, Carolina has threats of their own in Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, and Martin Necas. On top of that, both teams boast some outstanding depth that can take them a long way. Everyone knows the likes of Pat Maroon, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow on Tampa. However, Jordan Staal is going vintage mode so far and names like Brock McGinn have been a huge part of the Cane’s success too.
Both of these teams have a ton of firepower up and down the lineup, which side can get more from their depth may play a pivotal role in the series.
This is one area that the Hurricanes have an advantage in. That’s not to say Tampa has a poor blueline either. However, the Hurricanes post one of the best and deepest bluelines in the league. Jaccob Slavin has battled injuries but is an absolute stud on the defensive side of things. And while many call him the most underrated player, that may be his teammate in Dougie Hamilton who is an absolute monster. Hamilton has great ability with the puck, moving it, helping in the offensive zone with his abilities. He is also not near as bad as people think in his own end. Surround that with Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei, and plenty of other options, this is a defence core to be feared.
For Tampa, the biggest question mark is their Norris calibre player in Victor Hedman. It had been reported he was dealing with an injury to end the season and it was pretty obvious going in. This Tampa blueline is also very strong and deep, but maybe not quite the level of Carolina, especially with Hedman not fully healthy. Regardless, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, and David Savard surround him, which is a great place to be. The Lightning need Hedman as close to 100% as he can be if they want to win this series though. Almost all of their defenceman were under 50% in CF% and xGF% in round one, and that can’t happen again.
The battle of the bluelines will be interesting to watch. Both sides have so many names they can use and also feel relatively comfortable regardless of who is on the ice. Because of that, there likely won’t be too many mismatches that we see in coaching matchups.
In the Crease
Here is where Tampa obviously feels the most comfortable. Andrei Vasilevskiy is an absolute stud in net. The only one to come close to him over the past few years combined is Connor Hellebuyck. Still, Tampa will always feel good about their starting goalie. The odd time they really screw up, he is there to bail them out. A massive part of why they are into the next round, he is someone the Canes need to get to quick. If they can’t, they will find themselves behind very quickly.
On the other side of things, Alex Nedeljkovic has played himself into the crease for good for Carolina. Petr Mrazek is a very capable backup too, but Nedeljkovic has been solid. He has a .922 save percentage through six games so far in the playoffs which is a dip from his .932 in 32 games for the regular season. The Canes probably don’t feel as good as Tampa about their goalie but it is hard to feel bad with what he has shown so far.
Fans Will be Loud
The most interesting part about the Tampa Bay Lightning vs Carolina Hurricanes from a totally neutral standpoint may just be the crowd impact. Raleigh was buzzin’ in round one and they have basically said they are ready to go for the next one too. Over 16,000 fans will be in attendance and basically, everything will be open for seating but behind the benches. Those will remain tarped off from league policy. It will be interesting to see if this has any effect on either team or if it just makes the players more motivated.
Tampa didn’t release full capacity to start, but as time goes on it feels like it will be more and more of an option. Even then, there is still a decent amount of fans in their building too.
This should be a must-watch series for any hockey fan. Two absolutely elite teams in the NHL going at it. It would be to no one’s surprise if this series went the distance as it is basically a coin flip. For the neutral fan, that is all you can ask for. Seven games of physical, fast, and skilled hockey. It would be disappointing if the series brought anything but it.
This is a really hard one to call. However, the health of Tampa has been in question all year. Hedman is the scariest one and they really need him at full health, if he’s not, the Canes offence may be too much.
Prediction: Hurricanes win in Game 7.