The 2018 final eight is great: Why this year’s second round might be the best ever

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.

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.

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?

“It’s something about the Kansas City barbecue has gotten him going,” said White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito (1-3). “I come in after an inning, and guys are hitting home runs left and right and it makes me feel good. I’m ready to get back out there and put another zero on the board.”

Davidson is 6 for 10 with five home runs in three games this season at the Royals’ ballpark.

“I do love barbecue in general,” Davidson said. “It’s one of those things. It’s not like when I come here, `like man, I can’t wait to get here.’ It’s kind of a big park and the green backdrop. You see the ball well here.

“It’s pretty cool hitting here. It’s not necessarily a hitter’s park, but it’s gone pretty well so far. We’ve won every day we’ve been here. So let’s keep it going.”

Yoan Moncada homered to open the first inning for Chicago for the second straight game, and Yolmer Sanchez and Trayce Thompson also went deep against Jakob Junis (3-2), who became the third pitcher in franchise history to allow five homers in a game. The others were Chris Young, May 9, 2016 at the New York Yankees, and Sean O’Sullivan, May, 28, 2011 at Texas.

Junis gave up six runs and six hits with two walks over 5 2/3 innings.jets_028