New York Rangers @ Pittsburgh Penguins @7PM EST
Of the three teams who can clinch round-one victories tonight, Pittsburgh alone can do so on home ice. Despite injuries in the crease the Penguins can complete the “upset” over the Rangers (I use scare quotes because the Rangers had far superior goaltending in the regular season but a lot of analysts pointed to the Penguins’ better five-on-five rates as a significant advantage in this series). Of note, Rickard Rakell and Sidney Crosby had day-to-day statuses last I checked.
Speaking of rates and advantages, neither team has excelled on the penalty kill in the postseason with New York and Pittsburgh ranking eighth and tenth respectively in post-season expected goals against per 60. Igor Shesterkin has outplayed the Penguins’ netminders but given their aforementioned injury woes, that ain’t saying much (and we expected a lot from Shesterkin given his regular season numbers). Both teams have gotten middle-of-the-pack five-on-five goaltending this series. The Penguins’ big Crosby-Rust-Guentzel line still looks as lethal as ever and to that effect, the Penguins have had the most pronounced series advantage in terms of five-on-five expected goals for percentage coming in at over a 60/40 series split.
Florida Panthers @ Washington Capitals @730PM EST
It feels the most dubious of the possible outcomes tonight but, yes, the Panthers can clinch a series victory in Washington. Much like the Rangers-Penguins series, I would just throw away regular season win-loss record here. Yes, the Cats had a great regular season statistically, but the Caps have kept this series very interesting nonetheless.
Going through the numbers, Washington has had the second best penalty kill in the playoffs (4.82 xGA/60 (with a perfect penalty kill save percentage for good measure!)). The Panthers meanwhile rank fifth on the penalty kill with 6.07 xGA/60 (but the fourth worst shorthanded save percentage at 82.5 %). Sergei Bobrovsky has outplayed Ilya Samsonov slightly at five-on-five where expected goals have hovered around 50/50 throughout the series. I see no reason why game six (and/or seven) shouldn’t come down to special teams or goaltending based on what we’ve seen so far in this series.
Calgary Flames @ Dallas Stars @930PM EST
If you also grew up with nineties hockey then of all the series so far this one probably just feels the most natural. Calgary can clinch tonight despite the absence of Sean Monahan. Calgary has certainly played like the team with the better regular season record and rates, but Jake and Jakob (Oettinger and Markstrom) have played well enough to render those other factors irrelevant (almost). For a bit of context into how tight this series has gone defensively, only Johnny Gaudreau has produced a point-per-game, and Joe Pavelski leads the Stars with four points in five games. I love nineties hockey.
Calgary’s elite defence has arrived as advertised with the third best penalty kill in the postseason (4.97 xGA/60 (90.5 save percentage ranks fourth). Dallas meanwhile has made it this far despite the second worst penalty kill (10.47 xGA/60 (93.3 Sv% ranks third though so further credit to Oettinger)). The Flames have also handily controlled five-on-five play but both teams have enjoyed great five-on-five goaltednding so in conclusion Oettinger can steal the series for Dallas or Markstrom can seal the series for Calgary.
Stats as always courtesy of naturalstattrick.