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Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos, far right, heads to the bench after celebrating his goal with teammates the third period of Game 4 against the Boston Bruins in an NHL hockey second-round playoff series, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The final five days of action in the second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs should produce the most drama in the postseason to date. 

Outside of Tampa Bay’s 3-1 lead over Boston, each of the conference semifinals could go either way. 

In addition to Tampa Bay, Vegas holds an advantage in its series following a Game 5 victory over the San Jose Sharks. 

The other two series are deadlocked at two games apiece, with critical Game 5s coming up Saturday in Nashville and Washington, D.C. 

Selecting winners from each series is a difficult task, even in the Lightning’s case since the Bruins possess a dynamic attack. 

Below is a look at how each of the four conference final participants will be determined over the next week. 

Stanley Cup Playoffs Schedule

All times ET    

Saturday, May 5

Game 5: Pittsburgh at Washington (7 p.m., NBC)

Game 5: Winnipeg at Nashville (9:30 p.m., NBCSN)

Sunday, May 6

Game 5: Boston at Tampa Bay (3 p.m., NBC)

Game 6: Vegas at San Jose (7:30 p.m., NBCSN)

Monday, May 7

Game 6: Washington at Pittsburgh (7 p.m., NBCSN)

Game 6: Nashville at Winnipeg (9:30 p.m., NBCSN)

Tuesday, May 8

Game 6: Tampa Bay at Boston (Time TBD, NBCSN)*

Game 7: San Jose at Vegas (Time TBD, NBCSN)*

Wednesday, May 9

Game 7: Pittsburgh at Washington (7:30 p.m., NBCSN)*

Thursday, May 10

Game 7: Boston at Tampa Bay (Time TBD, NBCSN)*

Game 7: Winnipeg at Nashville (Time TBD, NBCSN)*

Games can be live-streamed on NBC Sports Live or NBC Sports App.

* if necessary

     

Picks

Pittsburgh over Washington 

Washington gave its fans a false sense of security by jumping out to a 2-1 lead over Pittsburgh. 

The Penguins brought the Metropolitan Division series back to reality with a 3-1 victory in Game 4 that leveled the series as it moves back to Washington, D.C. 

Pittsburgh’s postseason has been driven by the duo of Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby, who have 14 combined points in the series. 

Guentzel’s play is the most surprising development of the postseason, as he has 21 postseason points after picking up 48 in regular-season play. 

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 26: Jake Guentzel #59 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (l) celebrates his game winning goal at 7:48 of the third period against the Washington Capitals and is joined by Sidney Crosby #87 (r) in Game One of the Eastern Conference Second R

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With Guentzel flying high and Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup, the Penguins have too much for the Capitals to handle. 

Washington’s stars stepped up in the first four games, as Alexander Ovechkin has three goals and two assists, while Nicklas Backstrom possesses one goal and four assists. 

With Tom Wilson suspended for two more games, the Capitals have to find a way to reconfigure their lines to match up well with the Penguins, which proved to be a harder task than expected in Game 4. 

Given the absence of Wilson, Washington trying to do too much under pressure and the red-hot Penguins offense, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion should finish off the Caps in six games. 

Tampa Bay over Boston 

Tampa Bay moved one giant step closer to the Eastern Conference final with an overtime win at TD Garden over Boston Friday. 

The Lightning’s Game 4 road win was their third of the postseason, and it moved their winning percentage in road overtime postseason games to 0.75, which is the best in the league, per NHL Public Relations on Twitter:

What made Friday’s victory more impressive was the Lightning conceded three goals to Boston’s top line and still found a way to move the contest into overtime through Steven Stamkos’ game-tying tally. 

Dan Girardi finished off Game 4 with a goal three minutes and 18 seconds into overtime to set the Lightning up to clinch the series Sunday at Amalie Arena. 

While it is concerning the trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak got on the scoreboard three times, the Lightning were able to limit the chances of the rest of the Boston attack.

As long as Tampa Bay makes defensive adjustments similar to Game 2, when Brayden Point played a major role in silencing Boston’s top line, it should be the first team to secure passage to the third round of the postseason. 

Vegas over San Jose

San Jose deserves plenty of credit for sticking with Vegas throughout the Pacific Division series, but the Golden Knights proved they were once again too much to handle in Friday’s Game 5 victory. 

Vegas was in total control for 50 minutes, as it broke out to a 4-0 advantage and forced the Sharks to pull goalie Martin Jones. 

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 04: Brayden McNabb #3 and Jonathan Marchessault #81 of the Vegas Golden Knights high-five after Marchessault scored an empty-net goal against the San Jose Sharks in the third period of Game Five of the Western Conference Second Round

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Sharks must play with the same level of desperation and hunger they displayed in the final 10 minutes of Game 5 in what could be their final game of the season Sunday.

The Pacific Division rivals alternated wins through five games, which means the trend favors San Jose in Game 6. 

Even if the Sharks benefit from the momentum gained by the trio of late third-period goals scored Friday and come out victorious in Game 6, it’s going to be hard for them to go back to Vegas and win Game 7. 

Although the Golden Knights haven’t faced a Game 7 as a franchise yet, they possess one of the best postseason goalies in Marc-Andre Fleury, who is going to bank off his three Stanley Cup wins with the Penguins. 

Vegas’ offense has come alive throughout the series, which could be the X-factor in Game 7, as one or two early goals could be enough with Fleury thriving in net. 

Nashville over Winnipeg

It’s hard to pick a winner from the Central Division series since it’s seen so many ups and downs over the course of four games. 

Just like the other Western Conference series, Nashville and Winnipeg alternated wins ahead of Saturday’s Game 5 at Bridgestone Arena. 

The Jets appeared to have the upper hand following a seven-goal Game 3, but the Predators stole the momentum back by way of a 2-1 win in Game 4.

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - MAY 3: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Winnipeg Jets checks Scott Hartnell #17 of the Nashville Predators in Game Four of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 3, 2018 at Bell MTS Place in Win

Jason Halstead/Getty Images

Most of the stars on each roster made significant contributions, but the Predators are still waiting for one player to catch fire. 

After producing four goals and three assists in the first-round series against Colorado, Austin Watson disappeared from the scoresheet with one goal versus the Jets. 

If Watson is able to become a force once again in the attacking zone, the Predators have the chance to wreak havoc around the Winnipeg net, with Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen already combining for 11 points. 

Although 28 goals were scored in the first four games of the series, the goalies could determine the victor, as Pekka Rinne and Connor Hellebuyck are both capable of turning in otherworldly performances. 

With the small margins expected to decide the series, Nashville takes it by way of home-ice advantage and a strong Game 7 from Rinne. 

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from Hockey Reference

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