NHL Playoffs: Breaking down the next round

The NHL has released its official playoff schedule following the end of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, where eight teams were eliminated to form the 16-team playoff bracket. While this year has been a year like no other, what with the COVID-19 pandemic halting play before the end of the regular season, the NHL will hold the Stanley Cup Playoffs now in its two hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton.


Eastern Conference


#1 Philadelphia Flyers (49-21-7) vs #8 Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9)


Both of these teams have underdog status after Philadelphia went from second place in the Metropolitan Division to the #1 seed after winning its three round robin matches and the Canadiens finished off an improbable 3-1 series versus the 5th seed Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round.  While the Flyers are favored to win this series, they have been known to get lazy when they feel an easy matchup in the wind. The Canadiens are also coming off those big wins versus the Penguins, led by Jeff Petry (two game-winning goals) and goaltender Carey Price, whose experience far outpaces that of the Flyer’s 21-year-old goalie, Carter Hart. Price will have his work cut out for him defending the Flyers’ four 20+ goal scorers (Giroux, Couturier, Hayes, Konecny), however, so look for goaltending to make or break this series and don’t be surprised if Montreal pulls off the upset.


Game 1: Wednesday, Aug 12 8pmEST



#2 Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6) vs #7 Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15)


The Blue Jackets shocked the NHL when they swept the #1 ranked Lightning last season in the first round, which makes this rematch one of the most interesting series of the 2020 playoffs. The Lightning, who had tied the NHL regular season record for wins that year, as well as scoring a record-breaking 128 points, psychologically crumbled versus the Blues. This year, they’ll look to prove that last season’s early exit was just a fluke. However, Tampa Bay will be without Captain Steven Stamkos, who is dealing with a leg injury, for the foreseeable future. This should be a high-scoring series between two teams familiar with the playoffs (and with each other).


Game 1: Tuesday, Aug 11 3pmEST



#3 Washington Capitals (41-20-8) vs #6 New York Islanders (35-23-10)


The story to watch in this matchup will be that of Barry Trotz going up against his former Stanley Cup winning squad. The current Islanders head coach helped the Capitals win the franchises’ first championship just a couple of years ago, but now his road to the Cup leads through the Caps instead of with them. Despite the Islanders being the lower ranked seed, Trotz’s knowledge of the Capitals, who still have 12 players who were on that Cup-winning roster in 2018, will be imperative in this matchup, and could lead to the Isles stealing the show like they did in their qualifying round series versus the Florida Panthers.


Game 1: Wednesday, Aug 12 3pmEST



#4 Boston Bruins (44-14-12) vs #5 Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5)


The Bruins return to play has been less than ideal, with the team losing all three of their round robin matches against the Flyers, Lightning, and Capitals. During that time, Boston only put together four goals, but their play did improve with each game and star goaltender Tuukka Rask was ruled unfit for play twice, which could have something to do with the losses. Rask is expected to play on Tuesday. Look out for individual play from the Canes’ Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho and the Bruins’ David Pastrnak. Svechnikov had his first NHL hat trick in Game 2 of the qualifying round versus the Rangers and has had a breakout season with 61 points in 68 games. Aho has momentum of his own as well, with eight points against New York (three goals, five assists) and 20 points in 18 NHL postseason games. But Pastrnak has been a machine this season, tying Alexander Ovechkin for the most goals (48) and finishing first in power-play goals (20) and third in power-play points (38).


Game 1: Tuesday, Aug 11 8pmEST


Western Conference



#1 Vegas Golden Knights (39-24-8) vs #8 Chicago Blackhawks (32-30-8)


The Blackhawks finished at the bottom of the Western Conference rankings in the regular season with just 72 points but managed to scrape into the Qualifiers with the 12th seed. In their return to play, Chicago has looked like a completely different team, winning the qualifying series versus the 5th-seeded Edmonton Oilers 3-1 with 16 total goals. The Hawks’ regular season woes are clearly behind them and they come into the series with a core of three-time Cup winners in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith. However, the Golden Knights are having another championship-worthy season, finishing at the top of the Pacific Division in the regular season and winning all three of their round robin matchups versus the Stars, Blues, and Avalanche. Vegas also has upside at goalie with three-time champion Marc-Andre Fleury in the net, backed up by Robin Lehner, who played twice in the round robin games, winning each with a combined .903 save percentage. Meanwhile, Chicago’s goaltender Corey Crawford has been trending upward after struggling in the first two games of the qualifying round series. Though the Blackhawks have a lot going for them, it will probably not be enough to beat out the Golden Knights, who are quickly becoming familiar faces in the playoffs in only their third year of existence.


Game 1: Tuesday, Aug 11 10:30pmEST



#2 Colorado Avalanche (42-20-8) vs #7 Arizona Coyotes (33-29-8)


The Avalanche looked good in their round robin play with two victories over the Blues and Stars, including a shutout versus the latter, and a one-goal loss to the Golden Knights. General manager Joe Sakic, who had an illustrious 21-year career with the Avalanche, including two titles in ’96 and ’01, has stayed with the team long after his retirement from playing to put together one of the deepest rosters in the NHL. The Avalanche are led by young stars Nathan MacKinnon, a finalist for the Hart Trophy, and Cale Makar, a finalist for the Calder Trophy. Meanwhile the Coyotes are on somewhat new territory, this being their first time in the playoffs since 2012. However, they pulled off the upset over the sixth-seeded Nashville Predators in the Qualifiers and have lots of momentum coming into the first round. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper is hot right now, with a .933 save percentage versus the Preds.


Game 1: Wednesday, Aug 12 5:30pmEST



#3 Dallas Stars (37-24-8) vs #6 Calgary Flames (36-27-7)


The Stars have had a newsworthy season, if only because of the firing of head coach Jim Montgomery in December. Dallas replaced him on an interim basis with Rick Bowness, who was previously an assistant coach in the organization. It should be interesting to see how Bowness shakes things up, but both teams should have a fairly straightforward approach to the playoffs. The Stars will be looking for a shift in momentum, as they’ve been trending down for some time now, losing eight of their last nine, with the one win coming on Sunday’s round robin matchup versus the Blues, where Denis Gurianov managed to pull out the W in shootouts. The Flames, meanwhile, have been scoring big with 16 total goals in their 4-game series versus the Jets, including one six-goal outing and a 4-0 shutout to decisively take the qualifying round. Expect this series to be close and physical.


Game 1: Tuesday, Aug 11 5:30pmEST



#4 St Louis Blues (42-19-10) vs #5 Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6)


While the Blues took first place in the Central Division at the end of the regular season, not to mention winning the Cup last year, their return to play in 2020 has been shaky at best. St Louis lost all three of their round-robin contests versus the Avalanche, the Golden Knights, and the Stars, the last in a heartbreaking shootout. And history is not on their side in this matchup versus Vancouver. The Canucks have played the Blues three times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the latest in 2009, and won all three times. Furthermore, Vancouver is hot from a 3-1 qualifying series versus Minnesota where they managed to shut out the Wild once and win the series in an OT thriller off a Christopher Tanev wrister 11 seconds into overtime. The Blues will need to take over the third period if they hope to win this series, as they entered the third with the lead in all three of their round robin games, only to be outscored by a total of 6-0.


Game 1: Wednesday, Aug 12 10:30pmEST

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