NHL Playoff Bracket 2018: Updated Dates, TV Schedule and Projections

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMay 15, 2018

WINNIPEG, MB - MAY 14:  Jonathan Marchessault #81 of the Vegas Golden Knights is congratulated by his teammate William Karlsson #71 after scoring a third period goal against the Winnipeg Jets in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Place on May 14, 2018 in Winnipeg, Canada.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

It's hard to believe the NHL Eastern Conference final has reached must-win territory in Game 3, but that's the situation facing the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Down two games to the Washington Capitals, the Lightning must find a way to get back into the series on the road, as the possibility of a sweep becomes more real.

Over in the Western Conference, the Winnipeg Jets could be headed toward a must-win situation if the Vegas Golden Knights put together a performance similar to Game 2. 

Although Washington and Vegas have to feel comfortable about where they stand in their respective series, they both have plenty of work to do in the remaining games of their conference final matchups. 

      

TV Schedule 

Tuesday, May 15

Game 3: Tampa Bay at Washington (8 p.m., NBCSN) 

       

Wednesday, May 16 

Game 3: Winnipeg at Vegas (9 p.m., NBCSN) 

       

Thursday, May 17

Game 4: Tampa Bay at Washington (8 p.m., NBCSN) 

        

Friday, May 18

Game 4: Winnipeg at Vegas (8 p.m., NBCSN) 

     

Saturday, May 19

Game 5: Washington at Tampa Bay (7:15 p.m, NBC)*

      

Sunday, May 20

Game 5: Vegas at Winnipeg (3 p.m., NBC)

      

Monday, May 21

Game 6: Tampa Bay at Washington (8 p.m., NBCSN)*

     

Tuesday, May 22

Game 6: Winnipeg at Vegas (9 p.m., NBCSN)*

      

Wednesday, May 23

Game 7: Washington at Tampa Bay (8 p.m., NBCSN)*

      

Thursday, May 24

Game 7: Vegas at Winnipeg (8 p.m., NBCSN) 

*If necessary

     

Projections 

Washington Takes Care Of Business At Home In Game 3

The Capitals have come a long way since dropping the first two games of the postseason to the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

Since then, Washington used four straight wins to clinch a first-round victory, defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins and rushed out to a 2-0 series lead over the Lightning. 

Entering Tuesday's Game 3 at Capital One Arena, the Capitals have the opportunity to bury the Lightning deeper in the Eastern Conference final, and based off their performance in the first two games, there's a high probability of that happening. 

The last thing the Capitals want is to let Tampa Bay, who won three of its four road games in the first two rounds, back into the series, which is why head coach Barry Trotz has his team focused on the task at hand, per Mike Vogel of the team's official website

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

"I think from our standpoint, we've got an opportunity to really put Tampa with their backs against the wall," Trotz said. "We don't want it to slip away and allow them to get back in. So we'll be focused. They will. You're going to see their absolute best effort [Tuesday] night, so we've got to come with our best effort." 

Washington scored 10 goals in the first two games at Amalie Arena, but even with the Capitals seemingly scoring at will, the Lightning aren't considering a goalkeeping change. 

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper professed full faith in goalie Andrei Vasilievskiy, per Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Bay Times.

"It's the chances we're giving up," Cooper said. "It's the five-man unit in front of him. You've got to feel for him. The choice for the guy going over the boards in any situation is Vasilevskiy."

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Although he's experienced a rough start to the Eastern Conference final, there's reason for the Lightning to believe in Vasilevskiy, as he boasts a .916 career postseason save percentage to go along with 12 wins. 

In the regular season, the 23-year-old produced 44 wins while the Lightning earned home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference. 

If Tampa Bay is able to limit the turnovers and penalties leading to Washington's scoring chances, it will put Vasilevskiy in a better situation to thrive in between the pipes. 

Although the Lightning are a good enough side to dig out of the two-game deficit, they haven't proven they're capable of responding well to Washington's pressure.

Given how hot the Capitals offense is at the moment, it's going to be hard to contain them on home ice, which should result in a 3-0 series advantage. 

        

Vegas Uses Game 2 Win To Propel It Into Series Lead 

Unlike the Lightning, the Golden Knights provided a strong response to a rough Game 1 performance, as they knocked off Winnipeg to level the Western Conference final at one game apiece. 

Vegas returns home with plenty of momentum following the 3-1 victory, and it's in a great position to take a 2-1 advantage Wednesday.

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves in the Game 2 triumph, and in the process, he earned his 71st postseason victory, which ties with him Jacques Plante for ninth on the NHL all-time list, per NHL PR: 

While Fleury doesn't have to be the brick wall he was in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings—in which he gave up three goals—he needs a performance similar to Monday's in order to ensure Vegas of earning an advantage over the Jets. 

In Game 2, the Vegas defense limited Winnipeg center Blake Wheeler and right winger Mark Scheifele to six shots, and neither attacker played a role in the Jets' lone goal of the contest. 

If the Golden Knights produce a similar defensive showing in Game 3, they will put themselves in position to take a commanding 3-1 leading in Game 4. 

In the scenario in which Scheifele and Wheeler can't contribute to a goal, the Jets need a player to step up to fill the void. 

Patrik Laine appears to be the perfect candidate for that role, but he's struggled throughout the postseason after putting up 44 goals and 26 assists in the regular season. 

WINNIPEG, MB - MAY 14:  Patrik Laine #29 of the Winnipeg Jets is defended by Reilly Smith #19 of the Vegas Golden Knights during the second period in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Place on M
Elsa/Getty Images

The 20-year-old has four goals and seven assists in the playoffs, but he has one goal in the last five games. 

In order for the Jets to deal with the limited production of Schiefele and Wheeler, Laine must draw attention to himself by creating scoring opportunities every time he steps on the ice. 

If Laine is unable to come through with key offensive plays, Winnipeg has to look deeper down the roster for contributions, which didn't go well for it in Game 2. 

With a blueprint from Game 2 in front of them as to how to shut down the Jets, the Golden Knights should be able to do more of the same with Fleury continuing to shine in net.

      

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from Hockey Reference.

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