Who will advance?

NHL playoff matchups, predictions for Round 2

Want to get a puck past Ben Bishop of the Dallas Stars? Good luck. Getty Images

Round 2 of the NHL playoffs is here, and if it is anything like Round 1, we have no idea what was going to happen. I went a wonderful 1-7 in Round 1, so you should probably fade me in Round 2. I did pick three underdogs, and they were the only three who failed to win. Oh well. We move on:

Boston vs. Columbus

The Jackets have had some time off since sweeping the best team in hockey in Tampa. Boston just finished a grueling seven game series with Toronto, which simply can't beat the Bruins. Boston has one of the top lines in hockey, but the Jackets have a goalie who can play at an elite level. They also added several players at the trade deadline, and with the time off, they have had more time to work on chemistry. Boston's depth proved too much for Toronto, but the Jackets should be able to match. Columbus matches up better with Boston than they did Toronto, and look for them to pull off another mild upset.

Prediction: Jackets in 6.

Carolina vs. the NY Islanders

Wow. What a Game 7 by the Canes, who slapped the defending champion Capitals in seven games, winning in double OT. They catch a gritty Islanders team, who knocked off Pittsburgh. Neither team is pretty; the Isles, however, are less ugly and have had time off. No one has played better than the Islanders goalies this season, and they relied on Robin Lehner in the first round upset. Don't see them winning the Cup, but they should make the conference finals.

Prediction: Isles in 6.

San Jose vs. Colorado

Let's be honest, the Sharks had no business beating Vegas. But they did. If Joe Pavelski is out, they are very vulnerable, especially since goalie Martin Jones is inconsistent. He won Game 6 for the Sharks but has also been a sieve at times. Colorado has the best top line in hockey and maybe the best player left in the playoffs in Nathan MacKinnon. The Avs don't have the depth the Sharks have, but they are talented. If Martin Jones plays well for San Jose the Sharks should advance. But don't be shocked if the Avs pull off the upset.

Prediction: Sharks in 7.

St. Louis vs. Dallas

The Blues play heavy hockey, and have been the best team in the NHL over the past couple months, mostly thanks to goalie Jordan Binnington, who has gone full Kurt Warner and sold his soul. They really should not have gotten past Winnipeg, but they did. The Stars are completely different from past Dallas incarnations. They play conservative and hold back and play amazing defense. And they have the best goalie left in the playoffs. They will remind you of the Kings teams that won two Cups.

Prediction: Stars in 7.

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5 observations from the Ravens win over the Texans

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Let's be honest; the Texans were not going to beat the Ravens. Baltimore has better players, a better quarterback and a better coaching staff. (And oh, a better kicker). All of that was on display in the Ravens' 33-16 win.

The Ravens move to 2-0, while the Texans dropped to 0-2 after facing the AFC's two best teams.

The Texans will still likely contend for a playoff spot, but nothing the last two weeks indicates they are anywhere near contending in the AFC. A look at five things from the Ravens win:

1) Oh, Brien...It did not take long for Bill O'Brien's goofy coaching to rear its ugly head. Down 3-0 at their own 34 as the first quarter was running out, O'Brien chose to go for it on fourth and one. The play was predictably blown up, the Ravens quickly scored to make it 10-0, and the Texans were instantly in a hole against a superior opponent. You can't give points away against the Ravens. They might have scored anyway with a punt, but there was no stopping them with a short field.

2) Some positives on defense. Despite the score, The Texans looked much better on that side of the ball against an explosive offense. J.J. Watt had two sacks, the team had four total, and they kept Lamar Jackson from destroying them. Seven of the points were scored by the Ravens defense, and O'Brien's gaffe led to seven more. The Ravens wore them down in the fourth quarter, but they played well enough until then to keep the team in the game had the offense been better. They did not force any turnovers, however, and that was one of the differences in the game. They were also blown off the ball on a fourth and one in the fourth quarter that led to the Ravens' 30th points and could not stop the run at all in the fourth quarter. But that's what the Ravens do with a lead, and the Texans offense gave them no breaks by being unable to stay on the field.

3) The difference between real contenders...The Ravens were just so much more skilled on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they focused on taking away the run. David Johnson averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Will Fuller had as many catches as you did. The Ravens forced two turnovers on just really good football plays. The Texans don't make plays like that. They might against lesser teams, but if your goal is to compete with the best, it's just not good enough.

4) Deshaun Watson needs to be better. His numbers looked so so on the surface (25 of 36, 275 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception). He was sacked four times and added 17 rushing yards on five carries. He did not make plays late when they needed one here or there to maybe get back in the game. With his big contract, it's time for Watson to stop being close to elite and take the next step. His interception was more of being fooled by Marcus Peters than throwing a bad ball, but the Texans were just 3 of 9 on third downs. Throw in the ill-advised fourth down play, and they were just 3 of 10 extending drives. Give the Ravens a lot of credit, but again, to compete with the best, you have to be better than that.

5) Now what? The Texans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, who have not been impressive in their two wins. Still, it's hard to see Houston as anything but serious underdogs. They are last in the AFC South, and have a lot of work to do. The defense showed some promise at times, but will have to continue to improve. The offense has a long way to go. They match up better with the Steelers than they do the Ravens and Chiefs, but that does not mean they can win. If you were hoping they would give you some indication they can be more than just also-rans, they failed to do that on any level against either the Chiefs or Ravens.

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