The Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers waited 20 years and 16 years respectively to reach the conference finals.
And now the match could be one for the ages.
The key will be the play of two former No. 1 overall draft picks: Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado (2013) and Connor McDavid of Edmonton (2015), McDavid has 26 points in 12 games and MacKinnon had a spectacular run from end to end. in the end for a hat trick.
Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl is tied with McDavid in points while teammate Evander Kane leads the playoffs with 12 goals. Colorado defender Cale Makar is dangerous in the run and Nazem Kadri scored a big hat trick in difficult circumstances.
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The Tampa Bay Lightning, chasing a third straight Stanley Cup, will face the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals. In this series, the focus will be on goalkeepers. New York’s Igor Shesterkin is the expected Vezina Trophy winner and Andrei Vasilevskiy is playoff silver.
USA TODAY Sports’ NHL staffers make their predictions for the Conference Finals:
Colorado Avalanche vs. Edmonton Oilers
Jimmy Hascup: Avalanche in six. Nathan MacKinnon vs. Connor McDavid is a game that will have hockey fans salivating. While McDavid has kind of reached another level in this playoff, it won’t be enough against the Avalanche, who are a well-rounded team with offensive firepower of their own. I don’t really trust either goalie, so this could be a high-scoring streak, a streak where the Avs are battle-tested after a tougher-than-expected streak against the Blues.
Mike Brehm: Avalanche in six. Connor McDavid was impressive on both sides of the rink. But he will face a defense that is deep even with the loss of Sam Girard. If the Avalanche can keep McDavid from dominating — he’s had four assists in three regular season games — Colorado has the offensive depth to move forward.
New York Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Hascup: Rangers in six. New York defied expectations in the first two rounds, so why not now? Sure, the Lightning are the favorites and they’ve proven they can beat teams in different ways, but the Rangers’ time was going to come. Their best players have been playing better as the playoffs have gone on, the youngsters are stepping out and Igor Shesterkin is at the top of his game. Tampa is the most rested team in this series, but the core group still played a lot of hockey over the past two seasons, so the “fatigue” factor might not be as big of an issue against a Rangers team that played back-to-back seven-game series.
Brehm: Lightning in six. Away from a game, the Rangers haven’t faced a No. 1 goaltender in the playoffs. Now they face Andrei Vasilevskiy, winner of Conn Smythe last year. He had a .75 goals-against average and .981 save percentage in a sweep of the No. 1 overall Florida Panthers. If the Rangers continue to get overwhelmed and force Igor Shesterkin to save them, it could spell trouble against the playoff-tested Lightning.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL playoff picks: Here’s who experts say will make the Cup final