For all the criticism of the NHL's divisional playoff format, this year's second-round series are loaded with compelling matchups. In the Western Conference, we have the Vegas Golden Knights vs. the San Jose Sharks, two teams that swept their first-round opponents, and the Winnipeg Jets vs. the Nashville Predators, the teams with the two best records in the Western Conference.
And all eight teams remaining in the field finished the regular season with at least 100 points, a feat that has never happened before in NHL history.
Using Hockey-Reference's Simple Rating System (SRS), we can chart the combined strength of each matchup. Below are the four second-round matchups and their combined SRS.
To put the strength of the top two 2018 series into perspective, we looked at the past 10 years of Stanley Cup playoff second-round matchups, to find the highest SRS scores for each series. The Predators-Jets series and the Lightning-Bruins series both rank among the top five most-stacked second-round showdowns of the past decade. Last year's Capitals-Penguins series provided the best combined matchup of teams, per SRS.
In fact, when the Jets and Predators begin their series on Friday in Nashville, it will mark the second consecutive year that the teams with the league's two best records match up as early as the second round. It's a statistical oddity that never happened under the old system, which was in place from the 1994 playoffs through 2013 and ranked teams first through eighth in each conference. As we saw in 2017, when the Capitals and Penguins played in the second round, these division-rival showdowns have the potential to happen more often.
The remaining teams in 2018 make up the strongest class of quarterfinalists in the past decade, beating out the 2013 octet that featured the Chicago Blackhawks, Bruins, Los Angeles Kings and other heavyweights.
Winnipeg and Nashville might both have had easier matchups under the old playoff system. And, yes, there are still questions about the fairness of divisional playoff systems, especially during the seasons when one division is markedly better than another. But the 2018 second round is loaded with what are arguably the league's eight best teams, including a two-time defending champion looking to reign again, a Presidents' Trophy winner looking to avenge its Cup Final loss and a rock-solid expansion team looking to make history. What's not to love about that?