It was definitely a different start to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the first time ever, 24 teams qualified for the postseason, 12 teams from each conference, meaning that the field was wide open for anyone to make a shock run.
There were eight five-game series to qualify for a spot in the final 16. Those that didn’t make the cut were the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and the Montreal Canadiens. Each one of those teams was defeated in five games and therefore eliminated from the playoffs.
While these series were taking place, the top four teams from each conference played a round robin against one another to determine the seeding for the first round. It made for some interesting and exciting matchups. So, what happened, and what’s going to happen next?
The Las Vegas Golden Knights were pitted against the experienced Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks didn’t even belong in the playoffs in the first place, so it’s no surprise they went out in the first round. And when you pit them against one of the best and well rounded offenses in the league, it was a no brainer. Vegas took the series in five.
They’ll take on the Vancouver Canucks, who defeated the defending champions St. Louis Blues in six games. Vancouver’s Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller have lit up the playoffs, scoring six and five goals, respectively. And then there was Quinn Hughes. This rookie defenseman really proved to everyone that he was the real deal in these playoffs with his one goal and nine assists. Their combined efforts made the Blues’ defense look like a pee-wee hockey club. The Blues’ 2-8 record coming back from the break didn’t help them either. They had no momentum and never really stood a chance against a fast and highly skilled team like the Canucks.
My prediction for round two: Canucks in seven.
In a rather shocking turn of events, the Dallas Stars eliminated the Calgary Flames 4-2. I say that because Calgary is another one of those young, fast and skillful teams that have the potential to make a deep run if not win it all. Dallas’ rookie right winger Dennis Gurianov has six goals to his name in these playoffs and they also have the leading defenseman in points, Miro Heiskanen with 13. I guess it’ll be a couple years before Calgary really has it in them, but this year wasn’t the year.
Dallas will be taking on yet another young, fast and skillful team, this time in the Colorado Avalanche. The Av’s beat the Arizona Coyotes in five games in convincing fashion. They scored a combined 22 goals in just five games with huge back-to-back 7-1 wins in games four and five to wrap up the series. Everyone expected center Nathon MacKinnon to breakout these playoffs and he certainly did with his six goals and 10 assists.
It’s possible the Stars wear down the Av’s during this series, but I don’t think it’ll matter. Dallas already has a 1-0 series lead and great defense wins championships, but I’m calling Colorado to come back and win it in seven.
Now onto the east. The Philadelphia Flyers took down the Montreal Canadiens in six games. Everyone thought Philly could make a deep run and it’s not over yet. The big question for the Flyers was their goalkeeping, and it hasn’t bothered them at all. Starter Carter Hart as well as his backup Brian Elliot have exceeded expectations. Elliot boasts a 1.47 GAA while Hart has a 1.71 GAA. Philly’s offense was nothing special, but they are starving for something to happen. They don’t exactly have a tough task in front of them either.
They’ll be taking on the New York Islanders. The Isles beat the Washington Capitals four games to one, ending the series with a big statement 4-0 win. Left winger Anthony Beauvillier has six goals in these playoffs and right winger Josh Bailey has 10 points thus far. They’ve got a great head coach behind them in Barry Trotz who was able to take down his former club and the 2018 Stanley Cup Champions.
I really don’t know who will take this series. It’s honestly the one I care the least about because neither of these teams particularly excite me, but I guess I’m going to pick New York in six.
The Tampa Bay Lightning made a mockery of themselves last season in the playoffs getting swept in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was a rematch from last year, but this time they were able to come out the other side, winning the series in five games. Center Brayden Point has scored five goals so far and Andrei Vasilevskiy has looked solid as always. This time around, Tampa Bay has a chip on their shoulder.
The Lightning will be taking on last year’s runners up Boston Bruins. Talk about a team with experience and depth. Tukka Rask might have backed out for personal reasons, but it didn’t bother this team at all. While no one has particularly been on fire for them, they’re still the Bruins. They know what they’re doing and they know how to get back there. They made easy work of the Carolina Hurricanes in five games but will have a rough road again ahead of them.
Many people thought Tampa Bay was a lock to win it all last season and then proceeded to get absolutely embarrassed. I don’t think it’ll happen again this year. I think this will be the best series of the entire playoffs, and I think it’s the Lightning’s year. Tampa Bay in seven.
Some people say that this year’s champion will have an asterisk next to their name in the history books. I completely disagree. The Stanley Cup is still the hardest championship to win in sports. Take into consideration that there is no more home ice advantage and I think it makes it even more difficult. They have to deliver night in and night out in an empty arena and they do so because there is still everything to play for.
I commend the NHL for how they’ve handled the playoffs this season, and even though my St. Louis Blues are out, I’m still excited to see how it will end.