Round 2 is all wrapped up, and it was a reversal of outcomes in comparison to round 1. In the first round, almost nothing went right, but in the second round, almost everything went as expected. That's positive and negative variance for you in a nutshell.
With the cream rising to the top, I'm expecting the Hawks and Bolts to meet in the finals. An upset wouldn't surprise me because both the Ducks and Rangers are good teams, but it's usually the best possession teams left standing at the end of the dance.
Here's another head-scratching number from the sportsbooks...or is it? All post-season I've been
saying that the Rangers have been overpriced, and yet here we are in the conference finals and the Rangers are still standing.
Right now the books have New York favored at -142 for this series, which is a 58.8% chance of reaching the final. Home ice advantage is factored into that, but they are also accounting for the fact that nearly everybody had them in their brackets to either make the final, or win the cup. And nothing in the first two rounds has seemed to alter those perceptions.
The Rangers have elite goaltending, high quality forwards, and playoff pedigree, but are they a better team in than Tampa Bay?
What they don't have is the ability to dominate teams on a game-to-game basis. They beat the Pens in five, but every game was a one-goal contest. In round 2 they had to claw from behind to win three straight against the Caps. This kind of struggle is no surprise when you consider they were a 50.5% SAF team during the season.
So what happens when they faceoff against what I consider the best team in the East?
If you're backing Tampa like I am, there are primarily two red flag areas that could prevent them from reaching the finals.
1) Ben Bishop. At times I've wanted Tampa Bay to put in Vasilevskiy. Bishop has had some good performances, especially in the biggest games, but he's also looked rather shaky, and that's not something you can continue to get away with if you want to be a contender. The margin of error will be smaller going up against Lundqvist.
2) Contender pedigree: I don't really know what else to call this, but when you watch a team you can just tell if they have that belief in themselves to win it all. It's something the Blues have lacked, and it's something the Bolts have lacked at times too. These are teams that are capable of winning the cup on paper, but it's another story to go out there and prove it. In both rounds, it seemed like Tampa forgot how good they were and didn't know how to sustain that level of play.
Yet, despite these faults, I'm going to stick with the Lightning in this matchup. They played up to their potential when it mattered most, and they've assembled a team that is much better equipped to take out New York compared to last year.
This series price opened up with coin flip odds, but we've seen a slight adjustment in favor of
Chicago. Even though the Ducks hold home ice advantage and had a smoother regular season and playoffs, the general public are likely to side with the team with championship pedigree. And once we take a closer look at this matchup, it's hard to blame them.
In previous years the Anaheim Ducks were considered paper tigers because they mostly got by on high percentages, and subpar possession numbers. Some made the argument that their superior offensive depth was a driving force behind their high team shooting percentage, while others said it just wasn't sustainable. That debate has fallen to the wayside this year because they didn't rely on a high PDO this year, and they've become a solid possession team to back it up. They aren't at the level of the Blackhawks in terms of puck control, but they did finish north of 51% SAF.
Rounding things out, the Ducks are a top 10 team on both the PP and PK, and they continue to get solid goaltending from Andersen.
The problem? The Ducks don't do anything great, and they will need some great performances to beat the Hawks four times.
I think this shapes up to be a very competitive series, but I have my doubts whether or not Anaheim is ready to take that next step. I'll roll with Chicago, especially at the price being offered.