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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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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