The Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when Game One kicks off Sunday.
Tampa beat the Florida Panthers in the first round of the postseason.
The Hurricanes enter as the top seed in the Central Division. They picked off the fourth-seeded Nashville Predators in six games.
Tampa went 4-3-1 against the Hurricanes in the regular season.
“The games that we’ve had with them have been pretty intense,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Somewhat similar to what we experienced with Florida. There’s a reason they were almost the Presidents’ Trophy winners up until the end of the season because they have a [heck] of a hockey team.”
Carolina advanced to the second round with back-to-back overtime wins. They were behind in the count going into the third period in each of those OT conquests, a tribute to their comeback appeal.
But getting behind in the count to Tampa is another story, as the Lightning is stacked to the rafters with firepower.
Nikita Kucherov had 11 points against the Panthers, including three goals and eight assists. This after missing the entire regular season after hip surgery. He’s a rather good hockey player.
Killorn, Hedman, and Steven Stamkos all have eight points. Brayden Point has four goals, two of which came on the power play.
The Hurricanes push the offence with Sebastian Aho. He scored the winner in Game Six and yielded seven points against Nashville, including five goals and two helpers. He also had 57 points in 56 regular season games.
Jordan Staal and Martin Necas had five points each against the Predators.
Carolina’s been able to activate its defence to add scoring pressure, with Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce producing four points apiece.
Tampa’s power play is lethal. They were eight for 20 against Florida, scoring three power play goals in the first game of the series. Hedman had seven assists on the man-advantage.
If there’s a hole Carolina can drive through, it might be the Lightning penalty kill. Tampa was just 72.7 percent when down a skater against Florida.
Goaltending is a huge plus for the Lightning, with Andrei Vasilevskiy posting a .929 save percentage with a 2.64 goals against average. He led the regular season in wins with 31, was fourth overall in starts with 42, and was fourth overall in shutouts with five.
Rookie Alex Nedeljkovic will face substantial challenges in the second round, but he’s impressed thus far. He started all six contests against the Preds and showed the world why he won the starting role. His 2.22 goals against average and .922 save percentage gave his club a chance to win every single game.