NHL Playoffs 2018: Updated Eastern, Western Conference Bracket and Predictions

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2018

Pekka Rinne is coming off a shutout in Game 6 against the Jets.
Pekka Rinne is coming off a shutout in Game 6 against the Jets.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Nashville Predators found a way to play their best game of the 2018 NHL playoffs with their backs against the wall to defeat the Winnipeg Jets 4-0 in Game 6 at Bell MTS Place on Monday night.

That result was somewhat shocking considering the Preds had dropped a 6-2 decision at home in Game 5, and they had been outskated, outchanced and outscored by the talented Jets. That Nashville was able to rally after such a disquieting loss is testimony to their ability and Peter Laviolette's coaching skill.

The Jets and Preds will meet Thursday night in Game 7, and that game will decide the last of the four second-round series.

Here's a link to the NHL Stanley Cup Bracket.

        

Thursday's Stanley Cup Schedule

Winnipeg Jets at Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN. Series tied 3-3.

                 

The Washington Capitals defeated the two-time defending champions Pittsburgh Penguins in six games, and they will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning defeated the Boston Bruins in five games to reach the third round of the playoffs.

The Vegas Golden Knights defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games, and they will meet the winner of the seventh game between Nashville and Winnipeg. Either the Preds or the Jets will have home-ice advantage in the Western Conference Final.

Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne was sharp in the Preds' 2-1 victory in Game 4 as well as the shutout in Game 6. However, he has been erratic this postseason. Winnipeg scored 21 goals in the four games of the series.

The Predators' ability to put poor games in the past and bounce back has left them in the position of playing the seventh game in front of their raucous home fans.

Roman Josi helped get the Predators to a seventh game.
Roman Josi helped get the Predators to a seventh game.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

"It's two really good teams playing each other," Nashville captain Roman Josi said, per Robby Stanley of NHL.com. "I think every game is really tight. Obviously sometimes the score doesn't show it, but every game is really tight. I mean, they're a great team over there. It's been a real tough battle. Just both teams playing well makes it so hard, and that's why it kind of went back and forth."

Winnipeg will try to get back to the high-scoring ways that saw the Jets score seven goals in Game 3 and six more in Game 5.

Jets coach Paul Maurice is 2-0 in his career in Game 7s. Both of those wins came in 2009, when he coached the Carolina Hurricanes to seventh-game road triumphs over the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins.

"There's absolutely a different feel to it, right? Because it's the final game for one team," Maurice said, per Scott Billeck of NHL.com. "So there's a lot of emotion, lots of excitement. But there's definitely a calmness to it. There's a finality coming. It brings out the best, I think."

Winnipeg has been led by Mark Scheifele (14 points), Blake Wheeler (13 points) and Dustin Byfuglien (12 points). If the Jets can get their offense going early in the game, it may be difficult for Nashville to play catch-up on home ice.

            

Predictions

No team has won two games in a row in this memorable series. Expect that trend to continue in Game 7, as the Jets will find a way to win on the road and advance to the Western Conference Final against the Golden Knights.

Vegas has found a way to beat two experienced teams in the Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Most will expect the survivor of the Winnipeg-Nashville series to eliminate the first-year expansion team. However, why should the magic stop now? Look for Marc-Andre Fleury and the Golden Knights to earn a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Lightning have beaten both the New Jersey Devils and Bruins in five games, while the Caps have been pressed hard by both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Penguins. Both of those series went six games, and Barry Trotz and the Caps have been through the emotional ringer.

The Lightning should have a bit more left in the tank than the Caps, and that will allow them to survive and advance to the championship series.

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