Only one first-round matchup is yet to be resolved in these 2015 NHL Playoffs as the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings go in to Game 7 tonight.
The Bolts bagged a gutsy win on the road last night on the back of another sensational effort by Tyler Johnson, now six goals in as many games for their breakout star. Getting to Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek has been the big task after being shutout twice by the Czech, early goals have been the key in not letting him get into a rhythm.
Other than scoring first, special teams could also play a major role in who comes out on top. Mimicking the fortunes of captain Steven Stamkos, the Lightning's powerplay has not been a real factor in the series, especially when the Red Wings have five PP goals to their name. Game 7 often leads to lenient refereeing however, so it is more a case of taking the few opportunities you get or being better at strength, which is where Jon Cooper's side have been on top. Home ice for a decider is far from a guarantee but Tampa look the more likely to edge this one and progress to face Montreal.
Last night did see one series finish as the Washington Capitals saw off the New York Islanders in a tight final clash. Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov netted the series winner and the 22-year-old seems to be relishing his first playoff campaign. Doing a New York double is the aim now they've booked a showdown with the Rangers, who are deservingly still the favourites to lift the Stanley Cup at 4.00. After managing to contain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Blueshirts will be focussing their efforts on Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
If Washington can pass the Rangers they will have certainly proved their credentials and odds of 12.00 to win the Cup will shorten very quickly. There's little doubt the Capitals have made huge strides defensively under coach Barry Trotz, but they still look outmatched by New York's blue line.
Just as they did in 2014, the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild will meet in round two. Chicago took the series in six games last year thanks to a clinching overtime winner from Patrick Kane, they should be even more closely matched this time around. Only two points separated them over the regular season and the Wild have improved offensively from last May. They are also fascinating defensively - no side throws fewer hits but Mike Yeo has made them extremely tough to break down.
The game breaking talents of Kane, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews are likely to be needed for Chicago. It seems Corey Crawford will be back in net for the Hawks after briefly losing his spot to Scott Darling, neither has looked totally unconvincing but Crawford has the big game experience. Minnesota have great momentum and odds of 3.25 on them stealing the opening contest make it a solid pick.