Tampa Bay center Brayden Point

Chris O'Meara - Associated Press

Just over a month after getting back on the ice, the NHL playoffs have already reached the conference finals.

Dallas Stars v. Las Vegas Golden Knights

Over in the Western Conference, top-seeded Las Vegas has already found themselves in a one-game hole against the Dallas Stars. The Golden Knights have only been in the NHL for three seasons, but this is already their second trip to the Western Conference Finals, with their first trip coming in their expansion season where they downed Winnipeg 4-1 in 2018.


There were plenty of similarities in the conference semifinals for both teams, as Dallas and Las Vegas jumped out to 3-1 series leads. The Stars and Golden Knights couldn't make quick work of their opponents though, as they needed to go to a Game 7 before securing their spot in the Western Conference Finals.

Las Vegas was cruising agains Vancouver before they ran into back goaltender Thatcher Demko, who was forced into action after Vancouver saw goalie Jacob Markstrom injured in Game 4. Demko resembled a brick wall, allowing just one goal in Games 5 & 6 before Shea Theodore scored the game-winning goal in the third period of Game 7. Theodore is leading the Golden Knights with 16 points so far in the playoffs.

Las Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore Las Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea TheodorePaul Sancya - Associated Press

Las Vegas is such a tough team to beat in a seven-game series because of their goaltender depth. Robin Lehner, who was acquired from Chicago before the trade deadline, has seen most of the ice-time between the pipes for the Golden Knights in the playoffs, sporting a 1.99 goals against average and three shutouts in 12 games. 14-year veteran Marc-Andre Fleury has seen some spot starts to give Lehner a rest, and has been solid when called on.

After struggling to find consistent offense during the regular season, Dallas has found their scoring touch in the postseason. Defenseman Miro Heiskanen has 21 points to lead the Stars, while Denis Gurianov and Joe Pavelski have each scored a team-high eight goals. The most impressive performance of Gurianov's career came in Game 6 against Calgary when he notched a hat trick in the second period, and scored another goal in the third period to help the Stars secure a spot in the conference semifinals against Calgary.

Dallas Stars forward Denis Gurianov Dallas Stars forward Denis GurianovRonald Martinez - Getty Images

Dallas has been able to work around some early inconsistencies at goalie in the playoffs. Starter Ben Bishop was awful early on, allowing 12 goals in three games. That lead head coach Rick Bowness to turn to Anton Khudobin, who has steadied the position a little. Coming into this series, Khudobin had a 2.94 goals against average, which isn't great, but showed how good he can be in the Game 1 shutout of Las Vegas, where he stopped all 29 shots.

The Stars may have stolen the first game, but there is still a long way to go in this series. The Golden Knights have a little too much depth and scoring punch for the Stars to match. Dallas has caught a couple teams in bad spots already in the playoffs, most notably Colorado last round when the Avalanche lost a number of key players due to injury. I don't think they were get as lucky against a strong Las Vegas squad. The Golden Knights win this series in six games.

New York Islanders v. Tampa Bay Lightning

After a short, embarrassing showing in last year's playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning have some unfinished business to take care of this year. The only team standing in Tampa Bay's way from their third Stanley Cup Final appearance is the New York Islanders, who are making their first Eastern Conference Final appearance since 1993.

The Lightning found themselves as the second seed after the round-robin seeding round, which matched them up with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who swept Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs last year. Tampa Bay survived a five overtime thriller in Game 1 against the Blue Jackets, and it has been relatively smooth sailing for the Lightning since, as they have only dropped two games in the first two rounds.

Not many teams can matchup with Tampa Bay, who have stars on offense, defense, and at goaltender. Nikita Kucherov is the reigning NHL MVP, Victor Hedman has been a finalist for the Norris Trophy in each of the last four years. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy last year, and is finalist for the award again this year.

Brock Nelson led the Islanders during the regular season with 26 goals, and has added seven tallies in the postseason. Mathew Barzal is a playmaker, as evidenced by his 50 assists between the regular season and playoffs.

New York Islanders forward Mathew BarzalBrad Penner - USA TODAY Sports

After the Islanders slumped in the middle of the season and nearly missed the playoffs following the injury to Adam Pelech, the return of the defenseman has seen a spark in play from New York in Toronto. Even with Pelech back healthy, it's hard to see the Islanders keeping the potent Tampa attack off the scoreboard. We saw the problems the Lightning can cause already, as they chased starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov in Game 1 after putting five pucks past Varlamov. Islanders head coach Barry Trotz will have a decision to make on whether he wants to go back to Varlamov, or give backup Thomas Greiss a shot at slowing down the Lightning.

If the Islanders don't make some changes quick, they'll see their season end in the next week. New York can't afford to play from behind against Tampa Bay, as the Islanders won't be able to find the offense to keep up with the Lightning. While it has been a fun ride for the Islanders and their fans, Tampa Bay is a team on a mission right now. The Lightning take this series in five games.

Paul George grabbing a rebound in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals

Barry Gossage/Getty Images

In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.

After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.

The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.

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Ben Simmons disappointed in the playoffs this season

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Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.

Offense being the key word here.

Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.

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The Lakers looked lost in the Valley

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.

After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.

LeBron James LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.

The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.


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