Andrei Vasilevskiy, TB at WAS ($7,500): It’s a little inconceivable, even with the Caps holding a 2-0 lead in the series and heading home for Game 3, that the Lightning will simply just roll over. This is the first time Vasilevskiy has lost two games in a row in the postseason and he’s been excellent on the road throughout the regular season and playoffs, going a combined 21-11-1. If the Lightning want to make a statement and keep the series competitive, Game 3 is a must-win.
Mark Scheifele, WPG vs. VGK ($7,200): The train keeps on rolling for the Jets, who held on for a two-goal win in Game 1 with Scheifele scoring a goal and an assist. At this juncture in the playoffs he is arguably the best center in the league, and with the Jets having last change on home ice, expect Paul Maurice to get Scheifele in optimal scoring situations once again.
Steven Stamkos, TB at WAS ($6,400): The Lightning captain was just one of three forwards to register a point in Game 2, and after a slow start against the Bruins he now has at least one point in five consecutive games. It’s true that Stamkos’ line has struggled at times and even played second fiddle to Brayden Point’s line, but the talent Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov possess is elite, and the Caps seem pretty married to the idea of putting John Carlson on Point’s line.
Alex Ovechkin, WAS vs. TB ($7,800): It feels like the Caps’ year, doesn’t it? Even without Nicklas Backstrom (hand), the Caps have looked much better than the Lightning, and it starts with Ovechkin, who has two points in each of the first two games. Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh have been ineffective so far, but even if they decide to switch it up and play Victor Hedman against Ovechkin instead, remember that the Caps have last change on home ice.
Patrik Laine, WPG vs. VGK ($6,000): Laine has been held without a point just once since the series against the Predators, and in Game 1 against the Knights fired a rocket Marc-Andre Fleury had virtually no chance on. The Knights have steamrolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs but the Central Division is another beast, and the Jets are a far more dangerous opponent than either the Sharks or Kings. Penalties will surely be called since the series is expected to get more physical – who doesn’t want a Byfuglien-Reaves tilt? – and the Jets’ power play is lethal.
Jakub Vrana, WAS vs. TB ($3,500): Give credit to Barry Trotz for recognizing that Vrana needs to stay in the lineup. A skilled winger and a proven scorer in the AHL, Vrana assisted on Lars Eller’s second-period goal to give him his first point of the series. He’s established some interesting chemistry with Eller, but perhaps the most important part is that the Caps are using him in a scoring role and putting him in a position to succeed. With the way their second line is playing, Vrana can provide some really good value.
Dustin Byfuglien, WPG vs. VGK ($5,900): This is the best Byfuglien has played since… ever? The league’s biggest player made an incredible finesse play at the blue line on a power play that eventually led to Patrik Laine’s goal, finishing the night with two points and over 24 minutes in ice time. This series features a lot of very good defensemen, but Byfuglien is clearly a cut above the rest. Byfuglien is one point shy of tying his career postseason high of 16, set with Chicago in 2009-2010, and leads the Jets in ice time by a significant margin, averaging four minutes more than Jacob Trouba.
Mikhail Sergachev, TB at WAS ($3,500): After playing less than 10 minutes in two of their last three games against the Bruins, Sergachev has played over 16 minutes in each of the first two games against the Lightning. He’s starting the games with Braydon Coburn but getting shifts with Hedman, and Sergachev might end up there more often if McDonagh and Stralman continue to get beat. It’s close to desperation time for the Lightning and they have at least two defensemen who just can’t keep up, so if Jon Cooper chooses to cut his bench short, he has to go with the guys who can skate, and one of those is certainly Sergachev. He has six shots on goal in the series already.