These Stanley Cup Playoffs have featured some of the most tightly contested matchups in years, but there have been several lopsided individual battles that teams have exploited.
As we prepare for the start of the two conference final series, all four teams have at least one such opportunity they’ll be looking to take advantage of.
So, before you grab a smart snack like Wonderful Pistachios and talk about the NHL’s final four with your friends, do a little homework and read up on four players who are primed to capitalize on a mismatch in the third round:
The Carolina Hurricanes have their share of talented offensive players who will undoubtedly present a challenge for Rask, but the Bruins netminder does have a significant advantage when it comes to the goaltending matchup.
Rask has a wealth of playoff experience compared to either of his Carolina counterparts, and the 32-year-old has shown no signs of slowing down in these playoffs, posting a .938 save percentage while allowing only 27 goals in 13 games.
In the other crease, Petr Mrazek is banged up and hasn’t been as good as Rask when healthy. Curtis McElhinney stymied the defensive-minded New York Islanders in three games while filling in for Mrazek, but regardless, Boston has the clear advantage in goal.
Aho will definitely be in tough against two-way stalwarts Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, but the Hurricanes star has enough speed to put significant pressure on Zdeno Chara and the rest of Boston’s defense corps, so that’s the mismatch on which he’ll look to feast.
The 42-year-old Chara is twice Aho’s age, so the veteran blue-liner will likely have trouble keeping up with Aho and containing the dynamic forward’s skill.
Charlie McAvoy‘s absence from Game 1 due to a suspension will make that task even tougher for Chara and his teammates on the Boston back end.
Hertl is tied with Sharks center Logan Couture for the playoff lead with nine goals, and should continue to benefit from his teammate eating up extra minutes against tougher competition.
With Couture presumably facing the Blues’ top forward line, anchored by Selke Trophy candidate Ryan O’Reilly, along with St. Louis’ No. 1 defensive pairing, it opens the door for Hertl to keep capitalizing on more advantageous matchups and continue producing gaudy offensive numbers.
Schwartz is an incredibly versatile player and one who can tilt the series in the Blues’ direction because of his vast skill set.
The 26-year-old winger leads the Blues with 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in 13 playoff games, and can be plugged anywhere in the St. Louis lineup and be counted on to produce. Schwartz has recently suited up alongside Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko, but has put up incredibly positive possession numbers no matter his linemates throughout the postseason.
Schwartz won’t be able to avoid the Sharks’ group of star defenders all series, but if head coach Craig Berube can find an extra shift or two for an easier matchup here and there, it could be all he needs to make a significant difference.
Are you ready for the conference finals? Make sure you have lots of snacks handy, like Wonderful Pistachios. Wonderful Pistachios are a great-tasting, filling, nutrient-dense snack that come in a variety of flavors such as, Roasted & Salted, Roasted Unsalted, Salt & Pepper, Sweet Chili, and Natural Raw.
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