The Penguins and Ducks emerged victorious in their Game 7 matchups on Wednesday night. USA TODAY Sports
The next round begins Friday when the Anaheim Ducks host the Nashville Predators at 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN).
Here’s how the USA TODAY Sports NHL staff sees it playing out.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS. OTTAWA SENATORS
Kevin Allen: Penguins in six. The Sidney Crosby-led Penguins showed their resolve in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals. This is a group that has the mental toughness to overcome whatever obstacle is in front of them. They had to conquer two Vezina Trophy finalist goalies (Sergei Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby) to defeat the No. 4 regular season team and the Presidents’ Trophy winners. The Senators’ run has been impressive, but they don’t have the depth of talent, nor the experience, necessary to topple the Pens.
Jimmy Hascup: Penguins in six. The Penguins passed their stiffest test. With Kris Letang hurt, Pittsburgh doesn’t have an Erik Karlsson type on its roster. But the Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Ottawa will need all to go right to win this series.
Mike Brehm: Penguins in six. Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury came up big in Game 7, so any worries about him slipping can be put to rest. The Penguins’ superior offense – they have four of the top five scorers who are still playing – will make the difference. But they’ll have to figure out a way to shut down Erik Karlsson, who’s averaging more than a point a game despite a foot injury.
Jace Evans: Penguins in six. Pittsburgh has its eyes set on a Stanley Cup Final return. A deep Penguins attack led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel could cause problems for a Senators team that struggles at times when Erik Karlsson is not on the ice. Add in the play of Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins should have a decisive edge.
ANAHEIM DUCKS VS. NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Allen: Predators in six. No playoff team, including the Penguins, has looked as consistently sharp as the Predators. They are 8-2, and have only surrendered 14 goals in 10 games. Their 1.40 goals-against average is a goal and a half better than Anaheim’s postseason GAA. Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne (.951 save percentage) has looked sharper than Anaheim goalie John Gibson (.908). There is plenty to like about Anaheim’s mobile defense, but Nashville’s defense has been stunningly impressive.
Hascup: Predators in seven. The forward groups, at least in terms of balance, are similar. But give me the team in mid-May that’s playing the best defense. In 11 playoff games, Anaheim has allowed 59 high-danger shots against, according to corsica.hockey, compared to 40 in 10 games for Nashville.
Brehm: Predators in six. Nashville’s magical ride will continue, as will the strong work of goalie Pekka Rinne. The Ducks have size, but the Predators have a deep defense and the knowledge that they beat the Ducks in the playoffs last year. Two of their meetings this year (6-1 Ducks and 5-0 Predators) were blowouts, but this should be a tight series. Nashville’s top line will have to play more like it did in the first round.
Evans: Ducks in six. Anaheim has home ice and momentum after finally getting its Game 7 monkey off its back. While the Nashville defense has a dynamic top four, the Ducks’ blueline is deeper and offers up more balance. That’s important this time of year as the minutes, and injuries, pile up.