Well, it delivered with three of the matchups going at least six games along with five overtime battles thus far. Now, the conference finals will feature a ton of storylines with some familiar faces in Tampa Bay and possibly Nashville meeting some new party crashers in Vegas, Washington and possibly Winnipeg.
The Predators and Jets still have a much-anticipated Game 7 to play, while the schedule for the conference finals has yet to be announced.
Nashville vs. Winnipeg Game 7 Schedule
When: Thursday, May 10 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennessee
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live
Game 7 Preview
Before the playoffs even started, many pointed to this series as possibly the best matchup of the entire playoffs, and it has not disappointed.
Nashville and Winnipeg are arguably the two best teams in the NHL, and they have battled each other every step of the way to reach a decisive Game 7. But the way we have ended up at this point was unexpected.
The Jets and Predators boast two of the most hostile home environments in the league, yet each team has more road victories (two) than home wins in this series. The last two games, in particular, have been substantial, with Winnipeg routing Nashville 6-2 in Game 5 before the Predators notched a 4-0 shutout in Game 6.
The series is shifting back to Nashville, where the Predators were 15-5 over the last three postseasons entering the 2018 version. This year, home ice has not been as helpful, as the Predators are 3-3 so far with a porous 22-19 scoring differential in favor of their opponents.
Both teams will also get an extra day of rest, which has to be beneficial to both sides considering how fast and physical this series has been through six games. According to SportsNet, though, history says this break favors the Jets:
For that to matter, Connor Hellebuyck must best fellow Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne in net.
The young Winnipeg netminder has been stout in his first-ever postseason, posting a 2.36 goals-against average in addition to a .922 save percentage. On the road, he has either been decent or outstanding. Twice he was lit up for at least five goals in these playoffs, while he also posted a save percentage of at least .950 in the other three road starts, including a shutout.
Rinne has been there plenty of times before, with 82 career starts in the playoffs, but he has not been on his game this postseason. Even after a 34-save shutout in Game 6, Rinne sports a 2.94 GAA and .907 save percentage in 12 starts.
As it has been all series, this matchup is too close to call. Recent history suggests Nashville should be outstanding at home, especially with this being its first home Game 7 in franchise history. However, do not be surprised if the Jets' elite top-six forwards are able to outscore the Predators. Either way, expect a memorable night on Thursday.
Tampa Bay vs. Washington Preview
The Capitals finally overcame their kryptonite, but can it translate into a Stanley Cup final berth?
Before Monday's Game 6 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington had lost nine of its last 10 postseason matchups against the Penguins, including all four Game 7s. Now, Alex Ovechkin is in his first-ever conference finals and his team has the monkey off of its back. But as is the case in the NHL playoffs, an even greater challenge awaits in the next round.
The Lightning have been the only team to cruise through both rounds, handling the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils in five games each while channeling the depth, skill and speed that made them the conference's best team all season.
Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos garner most of the attention as elite scorers who combined to put up 186 points this season, but it is the scoring depth of Tampa Bay that has made the difference this postseason. Kucherov leads the team with 12 points, but he did not record a point in the first three games against Boston, while Stamkos went the first two games scoreless.
It has been the dominant second line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point that have made the Lightning dangerous. They have a combined 23 points through 10 games, and ESPN's John Buccigross points out that they were the difference in the Boston series:
Tampa Bay can also roll out Yanni Gourde, 64 points this season, and Alex Killorn, 47 points, in their loaded top nine while sending out Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman along with Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman on defense.
The Lightning should be the favorite as the more rested team with more firepower, but the Capitals have a shot.
They are fresh off of taking down a similar team in the Penguins that plays an up-and-down game based on speed and connecting passes to open ice. Washington was able to clog the neutral zone against Pittsburgh and force turnovers or chips into their zone, where its defensemen are good enough to win races to the puck and clear it.
This style of counter-play from the Capitals allows them to use their size and physicality as a weapon in the corners. They boast a much bigger lineup that the Lightning, so making it a dump-and-chase type of game should ideally lead to more puck possession for Washington to wear down the Lightning.
Whether or not that happens is debatable, since the Bruins tried to implement a similar type of strategy before being skated into the ground. Expect Tampa Bay to emerge from this series, but Braden Holtby and his fantastic 2.04 GAA and .926 save percentage this postseason will give Washington a shot at pulling the upset.
Statistics are courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.