The Stanley Cup Playoffs are always madness. They are generally impossible to predict because any team can win on any given night. In 2019, the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets swept the President’s Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning. The Qualifying Round of this year’s playoff offered upsets as well.
Both 12 seeds beat the 5 seed in their respective conferences, as the Chicago Blackhawks upset the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens took down the Pittsburgh Penguins. The eight teams who got a bye played a round-robin series to determine seeding. The St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins were the one seeds when the season ended. However, both teams lost out in the round-robin and will now be the four seeds moving forward. To quote Doc Emrick, “What Chaos!”
Will the teams that played in the Qualifying Round have an advantage over the top four seeds because they have already been playing meaningful hockey? Or will the top seeds reign supreme in both conferences? In the NHL, expect the unexpected. Before jumping into the matchups, let’s see how our contributors did in predicting the games in the qualifying round.
- Comiskey: 4-4
- Luce: 2-6
- Nonnie: 4-4
- Pedue: 3-5
Like we said, these playoffs have been chaos. Just ask Ron Luce and that 2-6 showing. Patrick Comiskey and Jonnie Nonnie stand in the lead with a .500 record, while Austin stands in third place at 3-5. There is still plenty of hockey to be played, however. Let’s see how the first round will shake out.
As you can see, the Vegas Golden Knights will be the one seed in the West, while the Philadelphia Flyers took the top spot in the East. In perhaps the most intriguing matchup, the Tampa Bay Lightning will get a shot to redeem themselves against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Which series intrigues you the most? Let’s dive in.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens
Preview: The Flyers won the top spot in the East after winning the Round Robin. The Canadiens, on the other side, pulled off a huge 12-5 upset over the Pittsburgh Penguins to get themselves into the playoffs. Carey Price is often the best goaltender on any ice surface and is a big reason for the upset over Pittsburgh, but Carter Hart actually had better numbers than the veteran this season. No team in the NHL allowed fewer shots on goal than the Flyers in the regular season, so goals may be hard to come by for Montreal. Philadelphia also scored the seventh-most goals in hockey. However, Hart and the Flyers will be up for a challenge, as the Canadiens averaged the second-most shots on goal during the regular season. Something has to give in this series.
Goaltender Matchup: Carter Hart (24-13-3, 2.42 GAA, .914 SV%) vs. Carey Price (27-25-6, 2.79 GAA, .909 SV%)
Leading Scorers (Playoffs): PHI: Scott Laughton (5 P), MTL: Shea Weber and Paul Byron (4 P)
Regular Season Series: Philadelphia (2-1-0) vs. Montreal (1-0-2)
Comiskey: Flyers in 6
The Philadelphia Flyers really snuck their way into being the top-seed in the East after missing the playoffs altogether last season. They are the better team all around. Montreal will benefit from playing very meaningful games beforehand and Carey Price will steal a game, but the Flyers win in six.
Luce: Flyers in 6
Man oh man do the Flyers look good. Not only that, but my prediction record is garbage. I need to get back on track and picking the top-seeded Flyers feels like a safe bet. However, don’t be surprised if Carey Price keeps looking good, as he arguably was the biggest reason the Canadiens upset the Penguins.
Nonnie: Flyers in 6
Philly fans believe this could be the year, and for good reason. I’m not predicting them to hoist Lord Stanley, but they’ll certainly win a couple of series in these playoffs. Montreal has already shown they can beat a much better opponent with their upset of the Penguins in the Qualifying Round, but Philly won’t let the Cinderella story continue any further out east.
Pedue: Flyers in 4
What a goalie matchup between Carter Hart and Carey Price. Price played as well as he needed to for the Canadiens to get by the Penguins while the Flyers look like the team to beat right now. I don’t think the Canadiens have another upset in them, so I’m taking the Flyers.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Preview: Well, well, well, we meet again. The Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in one of the biggest upsets in NHL history in last year’s playoffs. Do they have another miracle in them? They will have to do it without Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel this time, as Columbus lost a lot of key players in the offseason. Nonetheless, here they are again. Tampa Bay was great yet again this season, as they scored the most goals in the NHL and carried the fifth-best power play. As for Columbus, they really struggled to score goals as only three teams scored fewer, but they allowed the third-fewest.
Goaltender Matchup: Andrei Vasilevskiy (35-14-3, 2.56 GAA, .917 SV%) vs. Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%)
Leading Scorers (Playoffs): TBL: A. Killorn, B. Point, and T. Johnson (3 P), CBJ: Cam Atkinson (5 P)
Regular Season Series: Tampa Bay (1-0-0) vs. CBJ (0-1-0)
Comiskey: Lightning in 5
No, it’s not happening again. The Blue Jackets play as hard as anyone in hockey, but they simply don’t have the scoring depth to get past Tampa Bay this year without Panarin and Duchene. Oh, and the Lightning should be heavily motivated.
Luce: Lightning in 6
Lightning never strikes the same place twice. Last year the Bolts were struck by the lower-seeded Blue Jackets as they swept them out of the playoffs. This time, the Blue Jackets are without all of their stars but have a pretty decent young core in place. However, the Bolts’ firepower will be too much for the Jackets this year. Give me the Lightning in 6.
Nonnie: Lightning in 6
In our prediction article before the Qualifying Round, I picked the Bolts to win the Stanley Cup. I’m all in and there’s no turning back now. Thankfully, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Andrei Vasilevskiy and co. make this a pretty confident pick. The Lightning will not let history repeat itself in 2020.
Pedue: Lightning in 6
Tampa Bay has had to think about their first-round exit last season for too long. They will not let that happen again.
Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders
Preview: Do Ovechkin and company have another run in them? After the Capitals’ first trip of partying with the Stanley Cup, medical experts might have some COVID-related concerns about the Capitals winning the Cup. Washington scored with ease this season, as only the Lightning scored more goals then they did. However, Washington was in the bottom half of the league in allowing goals. The Islanders were just the opposite, as they found themselves in the bottom half of the league in scoring, but allowed the ninth-fewest goals in hockey. Do you like defense or offense?
Goaltender Matchup: Braden Holtby (25-14-6, 3.11 GAA, .897 SV%) vs. Semyon Varlamov (19-14-6, 2.62 GAA, .914 SV%)
Leading Scorers (Playoffs): WSH; Radko Gudas (2 P), NYI: Anthony Beauvillier (5 P)
Regular Season Series: Washington (2-2-0) vs. New York (2-2-0)
Comiskey: Islanders in 7
The Capitals will be going up against the head coach who led them to a Stanley Cup in 2018, and I believe Barry Trotz will give them issues. The Islanders will be able to keep Washington off the board just enough to win in 7 games.
Luce: Islanders in 7
I’m jumping with Comiskey in this one. The Islanders are the pinnacle of playing good defense while scoring just enough to win. If you look at their roster, players such as Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Matthew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and others up front don’t get enough love for how good they are. That said, their back end is kind of the same way. They have a great structure and Barry Trotz has always been a damn good coach. I think he gets revenge against the team he won a Cup with and keeps on keeping on.
Nonnie: Capitals in 7
Barry Trotz facing his former team will be a doozy of a matchup. Washington will try to fly up and down the ice, while the Islanders will look to make these games as boring as humanly possible. Comiskey asked if you like defense or offense in the preview section above. I absolutely love offense. Give me the Caps in a nailbiter finish.
Pedue: Capitals in 6
Braden Holtby looked sharp in the Capitals’ three round-robin games and there is no doubt that will continue in this series. The Capitals will have a challenge against the Islanders’ stout defense, but I think they are up to the task.
Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Preview: The Hurricanes will be looking for revenge, as the Bruins swept Carolina out of the Eastern Conference Final last season. The Hurricanes swept the New York Rangers to get here, while the Bruins has the best record in the East, but lost the Round Robin outright and find themselves as the 4-seed. Nobody in hockey allowed fewer goals than the Bruins in 2019-20 and they also carried the 2nd best power play and 3rd best penalty kill. As for Carolina, they like to play in their opponents’ end of the ice, as they averaged the 3rd most shots on goal, while allowing 2nd fewest shots. This should be a good one.
Goaltender Matchup: Tuukka Rask (26-8-6, 2.12 GAA, .929 SV%) vs. Petr Mrazek (21-16-2, 2.69 GAA, .905 SV%)
Leading Scorers (Playoffs): BOS; Chris Wagner & Charlie McAvoy (2 P), CAR: Sebastian Aho (8 P)
Regular Season Series: Boston (1-0-0) vs. Carolina (0-1-0)
Comiskey: Bruins in 7
Momentum can be a big thing in sports. The Bruins are coming in ice cold and Carolina is red hot. However, let us not forget that Boston was the best team in hockey this season. Carolina will push them as far as possible, but Boston finds a way to advance.
Luce: Hurricanes in 6
The Bruins looked like absolute crap in the play-in round-robin games. They didn’t have the scoring they needed and just looked flat. Sure, can they rebound? 100%. However, this Hurricanes team is riding high after sweeping the now #1 overall pick New York Rangers and are getting arguably their best offensive defenseman in Dougie Hamilton back for game one on their already stacked blue line. I like the Canes in 6. Plus, no one likes Boston anyway.
Nonnie: Hurricanes in 7
The Boston Bruins looked absolutely abysmal in their round-robin games. While one may write that off as conserving energy for when it counts, their game was not even a shell of typical Boston Bruins hockey. By the time they fully wake up, the Canes will be storm surging into the second round on the backs of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen.
Pedue: Hurricanes in 7
Bruins fans have to be nervous. After going 0-3 in the round-robin games, they now have to face one of the hottest teams in the league. This has the makings of being one of the most entertaining of all series and I think it goes the distance. The Hurricanes are clicking and I think they find a way to get past the Big Bad Bruins.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Preview: Who the hell thought the Chicago Blackhawks would be here? They were written off right away. Corey Crawford had little time to prepare for the playoffs, as he was recovering from COVID-19. The core was old and surrounded by inexperience. Nonetheless, they beat the Edmonton Oilers in four games and here they are. As for Vegas, they won the West’s Round Robin and will be the top seed. The ice might look a little tilted in this one, as Vegas averaged the most shots on goal in hockey this season, while the Blackhawks allowed the most. Vegas also allowed the second-fewest shots on goal, but the Blackhawks were in the top half of the league in shots. The big story is Corey Crawford vs. Robin Lehner. The two were teammates for most of the season before Chicago dealt Lehner to Vegas at the trade deadline.
Goaltender Matchup: Robin Lehner (19-10-5, 2.89 GAA, .920 SV%) vs. Corey Crawford (16-20-3, 2.77 GAA, .917 SV%)
Leading Scorers (Playoffs): VGK: Mark Stone (5 P), CHI: Jonathan Toews (7 P)
Regular Season Series: Vegas (2-1-0) vs. Chicago (1-1-1)
Comiskey: Golden Knights in 6
The Hawks are about as big of an underdog as we have seen in some time. This is for good reason as Vegas is a much better team. However, the Blackhawks are playing really well and should be able to be somewhat competitive. They won’t be close enough to win this series, however.
Luce: Golden Knights in 7
I have to agree with Patrick on this one, however, I think the Hawks put up a damn good fight. They have absolutely nothing to lose (especially now that they can’t pick in the top 15 of the draft), so why not play balls to the walls and see what happens? Vegas is super deep and rolls all four lines well, so that will present a challenge. However, something Jonnie Nonnie has called out many times, the VGK penalty kill is pretty bad, so it would be huge if the Hawks could take advantage of that. I still think Vegas pulls it out in seven games.
Nonnie: Golden Knights in 6
Vegas is as complete of a team as there is in the NHL. They get scoring from all four lines and all three pairs. While Jonathan Toews will continue to play with his hair on fire to help the Hawks take a couple of games, Vegas’s ability to roll all their lines confidently will inevitably wear down double-shifted Blackhawks’ stars.
Pedue: Blackhawks in 7
The Blackhawks are playing with house money. Most people wrote them off against the Oilers and now are doing the same for this series against the Golden Knights. If Corey Crawford can build off his strong 43-save win in his last game against the Oilers and they continue to get scoring from up and down their lineup, I think the Blackhawks have a chance to surprise some people.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Arizona Coyotes
Preview: This series may get overlooked, but it has the potential to be one of the best of the first round. Colorado might be the fastest team in hockey and Arizona is criminally underrated. Arizona pulled off an 11-6 upset over the Nashville Predators to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Colorado lost to Vegas in the Round Robin championship and became the two seed in the West. Colorado ranked in the top-six in both goals scored and goals allowed this season, so they play both sides of the ice well. The Coyotes struggled to score this season but were tied for third in allowing the fewest goals. Can they slow the Avs down?
Goaltender Matchup: Phillipp Grubauer (18-12-4, 2.63 GAA, .916 SV%) vs. Darcy Kuemper (16-11-2, 2.22 GAA, .928 SV%)
Leading Scorers (Playoffs): COL: Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri (4 P), ARI: 4 Skaters Tied (4 P)
Regular Season Series: Colorado (1-1-0) vs. Arizona (1-0-1)
Comiskey: Avalanche in 6
I would like the Coyotes’ chances of advancing if they got a different matchup here. They look legit, but so is Colorado. The Avs could very well be the best team in the West and they will advance.
Luce: Avalanche in 6
As a Blackhawks fan, I’m happy the Avs got the two seed. The Hawks match up better against Vegas than they do against Colorado, believe it or not. That said, Colorado is certainly a Stanley Cup favorite out of the west and I expect them to make easy work of the Coyotes. The Coyotes upset Nashville (yay!) in the Qualifying Round, but I don’t think they have enough to beat the speed that the Avs bring to the table over a seven-game series. I expect the Avs in the Western Conference Final when it’s all said and done.
Nonnie: Avalanche in 5
Two words: speed kills. The Avalanche will skate circles around the Coyotes and only drop one game as they easily move on to round two. Arizona would be in a much better position if all of their top scorers were clicking, but the Qualifying Round proved that is not the case with the desert dogs right now.
Pedue: Avalanche in 6
This is a sneaky good series. The Coyotes look like a legit contender right now, especially with Darcy Kuemper playing the way he is. They will try their best to slow down the Avalanche attack and at times will be successful, but in the end, it will be too much. I have the Avalanche winning this series and the Western Conference.
Dallas Stars vs. Calgary Flames
Preview: This series doesn’t seem to have the same appeal as some of the others. Dallas came out of the Round Robin as the 3-seed in the West, while Calgary beat Winnipeg in 4 games to advance. The Stars were a defensive juggernaut thanks to Ben Bishop this season, as they allowed the 2nd fewest goals while allowing the 18th most shots on goal. Dallas did struggle to score, however. Calgary was middle of the pack in both categories, but carried good special teams with the 11th best power play and 8th best penalty kill.
Goaltender Matchup: Ben Bishop (21-16-4, 2.50 GAA, .920 SV%) vs. Cam Talbot (12-10-1, 2.63 GAA, .919 SV%)
Leading Scorers (Playoffs): DAL: Miro Heiskanen (4 P), CAL: Sean Monahan (6 P)
Regular Season Series: Dallas (1-1-1) vs. Calgary (2-1-0)
Comiskey: Flames in 6
The Stars are pretty “meh” to me. Of the four teams to make the Round Robin in the West, they are probably the team everyone would have preferred to match up with. The Flames and their good special teams advance.
Luce: Stars in 7
I believe I’m the only one picking Dallas. Don’t get me wrong, the Flames are a nice team, but Dallas dominated during the regular season on their way to a top-four record in the west. I think it will be a hard-fought series, but Ben Bishop can stand on his head and get the Stars to at least the second round. I expect the Stars’ stars to step up and get Dallas past the first round.
Nonnie: Flames in 7
I absolutely love this matchup and I cannot wait to see it go the distance. The Flames bullied the Jets in the Qualifying Round while still finding a way to pile up enough goals to end up tied for first among all teams. Expect agitators such as Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, and Sam Bennett to coax the likes of Mats Zuccarello and Corey Perry into the box regularly while the Calgary scoring barrage continues.
Pedue: Flames in 5
People are high on the Stars this season, I’m not. I don’t think they find enough ways to score while the Flames have a ton of momentum right now after their series against the Jets.
St. Louis Blues vs. Vancouver Canucks
Preview: The Blues were the top seed in the West when the season ended but ended up the four seed as a result of the Round Robin. Vancouver advanced after beating the Wild in four games in the qualifying round. St. Louis was stingy defensively this season, as they allowed the fourth-fewest shots on goal and the fifth-fewest goals. They were just middle of the pack in scoring but carried the third-best power play. Vancouver was great offensively this season, as they scored the eighth-most goals and had a top-five power play. They were in the bottom half of the league defensively, however.
Goaltender Matchup: Jordan Binnington (30-13-7, 2.56 GAA, .912 SV%) vs. Jacob Markstrom (23-16-4, 2.75 GAA, .918 SV%)
Leading Scorers (Playoffs): STL: Ryan O’Reilly (3 P), VAN: Quinn Hughes (6 P)
Regular Season Series: St. Louis (1-1-1) vs. Vancouver (2-0-1)
Comiskey: Canucks in 7
The Canucks probably have no business winning this series. St. Louis is a much better team, but Vancouver’s youth will prevail. In a year where they didn’t experience a Stanley Cup hangover, it’s about to hit them now. They are coming into this series cold and Vancouver’s offense will put them down.
Luce: Canucks in 7
Patrick, we think a lot alike. After watching the Blues during the exhibition game and the round-robin, you have to think they’re tired after really not having much of an offseason after winning the Stanley Cup. I think the exhaustion of constant training/playing for almost a full calendar year now is wearing down on them and I think the young and upcoming Canucks, assuming they get solid goalie play, can upset the defending champs and the Four Feathers crew can pop champagne not having to see the Blues celebrate again.
Nonnie: Blues in 6
The Blues played poorly in the Round Robin portion of the Qualifying Round, but unlike the Bruins, they can afford more of a slow start due to playing a less dangerous opponent. Save me the “explosive offense” regular-season stats, the Canucks were shut out against the Minnesota Wild in game one of their Qualifying Round series for christ’s sake. Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and J.T. Miller will pot a few opportunistic goals to sway a couple of games in the Canucks’ favor, but the Blues structured game and physicality prevails in the end.
Pedue: Blues in 4
The Canucks showed resiliency against a stingy Minnesota team and now have an even tougher test facing the Blues. They have shown promise, but I think the Canucks are still a few years out from being a serious contender. The Blues will wear down the Canucks and make quick work of them in four games.
We are down to 16 teams. This is where things should get back to normal (somewhat). Will the teams who already played meaningful games and come in with some momentum on their side have an advantage? Or will the teams who held the best records in the regular season prevail? Tune in and find out.