NHL playoffs: 5 matchups to watch in 2nd round

As Tampa Bay's best defenceman and ice time leader, averaging 26 minutes 56 seconds in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs through Wednesday, Victor Hedman's list of on-ice responsibilities is long.

But there is probably no bigger challenge for the six-foot-six Swede in Round 2 than trying to contain New York Islanders' star centre John Tavares, who scored six goals and 11 points in his first seven games of this post-season, nearly double his seven-game output (six points) in last year's playoffs.

"He's a world-class player; he's one of the best players in the league," Hedman told the Tampa Tribune this week, adding Tavares is tough to get off the puck, a smart player who "can get lost" on the ice. "It's going to be a challenge. We're up for it."

The Tavares-Hedman showdown is one of many head-to-head matchups to keep an eye on during Round 2.

It's the New York Islanders' best forward against Tampa Bay's best defenceman. It's also a battle of the top-two overall picks from the 2009 NHL draft, with Tavares No. 1. The 25-year-old captain and early playoff MVP candidate almost singlehandedly ousted Florida in Round 1, scoring the tying and winning goals in Game 6, the latter in double overtime, to give him points on nine of the Isles' 15 goals (five goals, four assists) in the series and 20 points in his past 12 starts overall.

Hedman averaged 27 minutes of ice time in Round 1, so expect a good chunk of that time to be dedicated to covering Tavares. The six-foot-six Swede is coming off a regular season that saw him post 47 points and a career-best plus-21 rating, seventh among NHL blue-liners.

Capitals power play vs. Penguins power play

Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov on one side, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang on the other. The Pittsburgh troika had a 78-72 edge in power-play points during the regular season but Washington fired eight power-play goals in six games in a first-round win over Philadelphia after leading the Eastern Conference with a 21.9 per cent success rate in the regular season.

Pittsburgh, which had the NHL's fifth-best penalty-kill in the regular season and allowed only two power-play goals in 19 shorthanded situations in Round 1, can't ignore point men John Carlson (leads Caps with five power-play points) and Matt Niskanen. The Pens also boast the top power play in the playoffs, clicking at 38.1 per cent, but Washington's penalty kill went 23-for-24 against Philadelphia.

St. Louis shut down one Hart Trophy (MVP) candidate in Chicago's Patrick Kane, who mustered just one goal in the first-round, seven-game series. Can the Blues do it again? Kane topped the NHL with 106 points in the regular campaign, with Benn second at 89. The Dallas Stars left-winger followed up that performance with a league-high 10 points in a first-round win over Minnesota, despite the absence of highly skilled linemate Tyler Seguin, and could prove to be a handful for St. Louis.

Benn could see plenty of third-line centre Steen and big wingers Patrik Berglund and David Backes, who fought the Stars forward in a physical matchup last December. Backes is strong at getting on the puck and works well with Steen.

This head-to-head battle would have attracted very few eyes at the beginning of the season but could be among the most intriguing matchups of the second round. Bishop, who earned Vezina Trophy consideration as the NHL's top goalie in the regular season (2.06 goals-against average, .926 save percentage) has been better to start the playoffs (1.60, .950 through Round 1), carrying Tampa Bay through its periodic offensive struggles.

But Bishop may meet his match in Greiss, who took over the starting role from the injured Jaroslav Halak in early March. The 30-year-old German thrived after a disappointing 2014-15 season with Pittsburgh (.908 save percentage in 20 games) by posting a 2.36 GAA and .925 save percentage in a career-high 38 starts. With just 40 minutes of NHL playoff experience before this season, Greiss gave up only 13 goals to Florida in the first round over six games for a .944 save percentage.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette will be hoping his top defence pair of Shea Weber and Roman Josi rests well between rounds. After watching them shut down the Anaheim duo of Corey Perry (no goals, four assists) and Ryan Getzlaf (five points) over seven games, Laviolette no doubt will assign them to cover San Jose's Joe Pavelski, who led the Sharks with five goals in Round 1, and linemate Joe Thornton, fresh off a three-point, seven-shot series. Should Weber and Josi have similar success, the Predators have a good chance to advance to the conference finals for the first time in their 17-year history.

In the other two playoff meetings between the teams in 2006 and 2007, Thornton didn't score in a combined 10 games with Weber on the ice but posted 10 assists. Pavelski's first NHL playoffs was in 2007 when he had a goal and was a healthy scratch twice in five games versus Nashville. Earlier this season, Pavelski scored against the Preds after taking a beating in front of the net (see video below).

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