NHL playoff predictions: With second round starting Tuesday, which teams will advance?

·4 min read

The Tampa Bay Lightning's reward for a hard-fought win in the first round is a meeting with the top regular-season team.

The Lightning beat the in-state rival Florida Panthers in six games in last season's first round on their way to a second consecutive Stanley Cup title.

“Many people said that might have been the series of the playoffs,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “They’ve retooled their team and brought some big names in there and it should be a ton of fun."

Since that meeting, the Panthers have added Claude Giroux, Sam Reinhart and Ben Chiarot, plus No. 1 defenseman Aaron Ekblad is healthy. The Lightning had to rebuild their third line because of salary cap issues, and Brayden Point will miss Game 1 and possibly more because of an injury.

The Florida Panthers added All-Star right wing Claude Giroux at the trade deadline.
The Florida Panthers added All-Star right wing Claude Giroux at the trade deadline.

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The Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues also meet in a rematch from last year's first-round series (Colorado won in a sweep). The Carolina Hurricanes swept the New York Rangers in the 2020 qualifying round. The fourth series is the Calgary Flames vs. the Edmonton Oilers, the first playoff meeting in the Battle of Alberta since 1991.

USA TODAY Sports' NHL staffers make their predictions for the second round:

Colorado Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues

Jimmy Hascup: Avalanche in six. Not enough has been made of the Blues prevailing against the Wild with half of their regular defense. If Torey Krug and Marco Scandella return in this series, it will do wonders for the competitiveness of this series, but not necessarily the final result. The Avs are well rested and just too good.

Mike Brehm: Avalanche in five. The Avalanche are loaded with talent, and the Blues have nine 20-goal scorers. But Cale Makar was seemingly unstoppable in the first round. If the Blues can't slow him down, it will be a short series, especially with goalie Darcy Kuemper recovered from his eye injury.

Jace Evans: Avalanche in six. This has the potential to be a great series. The Avs have real pressure to get past this round, but they should be rested and ready.

Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers

Hascup: Flames in five. The Flames' 59% expected goals-for percentage in their seven-game win against the Stars was the second highest to the Penguins in the first round, highlighting how well goalie Jake Oettinger played. Couple the Flames' better finishing talent than the Kings and my lack of trust in Edmonton goalie Mike Smith and this could be a quick series.

Brehm: Flames in six. They played a 9-5 game this season (won by Calgary), which shows the teams' offensive firepower. But the playoffs are more about limiting chances and Flames coach Darryl Sutter has been doing that. Plus goalie Jacob Markstrom has been slightly better than Mike Smith in the playoffs.

Evans: Flames in seven: Two teams that hate each other with some of the best offensive players in the game. What could be better?

Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Hascup: Panthers in seven. It's the passing of the torch in Florida for conference supremacy, and NHL fans won't be disappointed with this series. The Panthers can compete with the Lightning in top-end talent on offense and defense and depth. The major questions will be in goal, where Andrei Vasilevskiy is simply better than Sergei Bobrovsky, and coaching adjustments. Tampa Bay's Jon Cooper has proven himself while Andrew Brunette is in his first playoffs.

Brehm: Panthers in seven. The Panthers appeared to put together this lineup to handle a rematch with the Lightning. If Point can't play or is limited, it could be the difference in this evenly matched series. Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who lost the crease in the first round last season, is playing better. The last three back-to-back champions lost in the second round. It could happen again.

Evans: Lightning in six. The comebacks were nice, but that Florida needed them to beat a mediocre Capitals team does not seem a great omen.

Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers

Hascup: Hurricanes in six. After becoming the first team to notch three consecutive comeback wins in playoff elimination games in one series, per ESPN Stats & Info, the Rangers' resiliency cannot be questioned. But the Hurricanes are a much deeper and more skilled team than the Penguins and the Rangers are seemingly too reliant on their top two lines and goalie Igor Shesterkin.

Brehm: Hurricanes in six. The Hurricanes play a highly structured game, so it will be difficult for the Rangers to come back if they fall behind. Igor Shesterkin hasn't played as well as he did in the regular season.

Evans: Hurricanes in five. Credit to the Rangers for clawing back from a 3-1 deficit to reach the second round in dramatic fashion, but Carolina is a different class of competition than the banged-up Penguins.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL playoffs picks: Who will win the second round?

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