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2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Predictions: Play-In Round

2020 has been a crazy year. With the stoppage of sports in mid-March, much uncertainty surrounded the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Now, three months later, we know that there will be a chase for the Cup in 2020. Twenty-four teams, instead of the usual 16, will compete for a chance at Lord Stanley’s glory.

The Double G Sports staff was polled about who will win each round. These are the results for the play-in round.

 

Eastern Conference

Top four seeding

The top four teams in each conference will play a round-robin to determine their seeding in the bracket.

 

1 Tampa Bay Lightning

After a first-round embarrassment in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Bolts are back with a vengeance. With less flash and more structure, the team looks prepped for a deep run. Tampa’s talent is undeniable and should the players stay mentally tough, it will be a force to be reckoned with in the East.

 

2 Boston Bruins

The team I feel is the most complete in the NHL is looking for one more win in these playoffs. If you remember, the Bruins made it to Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals. The best line in hockey leads an offense with intriguing depth pieces. The defense shows little weakness, and Tuukka Rask has been one of the best goalies in the league this season.

The Bruins were the only team to reach 100 points before the stoppage, but their dominance at home won’t be a factor in the hub city format.

 

3 Washington Capitals

After hoisting their first Stanley Cup in 2018, the Caps hoped to defend their title in 2019. But they fell in the first round.

After another strong regular season, they’re once again a top dog in the Eastern Conference. Ovechkin looked like he didn’t miss a beat, sharing the Rocket Richard Trophy with David Pastrnak, while John Carlson emerged as a top offensive defenseman. A big concern, however, has been Braden Holtby playing the worst hockey of his career. The 2019-20 regular season was the first season where he finished with a goals-against-average over 3.00 (3.11) and a save percentage under .900 (.897). Fortunately for Washington, rookie Ilya Samsonov has been strong in goal. But, he has never seen Stanley Cup Playoff action.

Can we see a similar situation to 2018 like when Philipp Grubauer started games one and two in the first round? It’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

 

4 Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers had an up-and-down start to their season but hit their stride after the All-Star break, going 14-4-1 before the stoppage. Led by breakout campaigns from Travis Konecny and Carter Hart, the Flyers have been a resilient team, helping them sneak into the top 4.

This is a team that may get overlooked but certainly has the ability to make a deep run.

 

 

Matchups

These five-game series between the remaining teams in each conference will help complete the 16-team bracket.

 

5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs 12 Montreal Canadiens

 Our Pick: Penguins

This is a Montreal team that wasn’t going to make the playoffs had the regular season concluded and has very little business being here. On the other hand, the Penguins were swept last year and are looking to prove their era of strength isn’t coming to an end.

Despite injuries, Pittsburgh has been one of the strongest teams in the East. Tristan Jarry has stepped up where Matt Murray has faltered, and Sidney Crosby had 30 points in 24 games after returning from injury. This team is scary at full strength and can easily win this series. The Habs’ only hope comes in the crease.  An unreal Carey Price, coupled with weak Pittsburgh goaltending, is the only hope they have. We’ll see who the Penguins start at goalie and if he can be at least serviceable to lead his team to victory.

 

6 Carolina Hurricanes vs 11 New York Rangers

Our Pick: Rangers

The Carolina Hurricanes were one of two teams to vote against this playoff format that set them up with the red-hot Rangers.

New York struggled in the early part of the season but was fantastic down the stretch, going 14-7-1 after the All-Star break. Igor Shesterkin broke out after his call-up, going 10-2 with a ridiculous .932 save percentage. It’s a small sample size, but he seemed to be the team’s strongest goaltender. It will be interesting to see if David Quinn starts him, Alexandar Georgiev or Henrik Lundqvist.

Adam Fox has made a strong Calder Trophy case, while Artemi Panarin is a Hart Trophy favorite with 95 points. The problem for the Rangers is that there isn’t much after their top line.

Carolina, on the other hand, has had goalie trouble. However, Sebastian Aho has led the offense and they’ll be getting back Dougie Hamilton, who was getting Norris Trophy consideration before his December injury, and, possibly, Brett Pesce. With two of their top four defensemen back in the lineup, plus the addition of Brady Skjei from the Rangers, the Canes can win this series by shutting down the Rangers’ top line.

Unfortunately for Carolina, its mediocre offense won’t be enough.

 

7 New York Islanders vs 10 Florida Panthers

Our Pick: Panthers

These two teams collide for the first time since 2016, the last time Florida made the playoffs. Both teams were close, but on the outside looking in, at the stoppage.

The Islanders had a strong start to the season, including a 17-game point streak, but struggled down the stretch, losing 11 of their last 13 games. They made a splash at the deadline acquired Jean-Gabriel Pageau who has played both center and wing in his short time in New York.

Florida made a splash deal as well, sending Vincent Trocheck to Carolina in exchange for four players. In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky started slow for the Cats but played better later in the season, while Semyon Varlamov has seemingly taken the reigns for the Islanders.

These teams are well-matched and the return of Adam Pelech from injury will help New York. But, we think the Panthers will be able to score just enough to beat the NHL’s 23rd ranked offense.

 

8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs 9 Columbus Blue Jackets

Our Pick: Maple Leafs

Two teams with very different expectations coming into the season and two very different styles of play will make for an interesting series.

The Leafs’ top six is deadly and will have to carry the team along with Freddy Andersen. On the other side, the Blue Jackets are, surprisingly, still here after their worst-case offseason.

John Tortorella has made his team difficult to play against with a strong forecheck and physical play. Elvis Merzlikins took the league by storm with five shutouts during an eight-start win streak in January and early February. Whether he or Joonas Korpisalo is the starter, goaltending will be important to shut down the Leafs’ offense.

On the other side, a weak defense can be taken advantage of and the Leafs have a weak defense. However, their superior talent at other positions will be the difference in this series.

 

 

Western Conference

Top four seeding

 

1 Colorado Avalanche

An eight-seed last year, the Avalanche are near the top of the league this year.

Led by one of the best lines in hockey, including one of the most dynamic players in Nathan MacKinnon, the Avs are a scary team. Colorado is top-5 in the league in goals for and against, showing their ability to dominate at both ends of the rink. Guys like Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi and JT Compher have complemented the top line well, while Andre Burakovsky has quietly had a career year.

On the blue line, the Avalanche boast young star Samuel Girard and Calder Trophy favorite Cale Makar, along with a veteran presence in Ian Cole and Erik Johnson. Philipp Grubauer seemed like he was the starter at the beginning of the year, but Pavel Francouz has played well, earning just six fewer starts.

This is a team that will be around for a long time, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they put together a great run this year.

 

2 Vegas Golden Knights

It’s been an odd season for the Knights who lead a weak Pacific Division. They had a winning record with Gerard Gallant, promptly fired him and then proceeded to play even better under Peter DeBoer. After possibly the most embarrassing five minutes in NHL history last playoffs, the Knights are looking for vengeance.

The top-six can be lethal when they want to be, led by Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and William Karlsson. Shea Theodore continues to blossom on defense while the addition of Alec Martinez at the trade deadline continues to pay off. In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury had a rough regular season, but the addition of Robin Lehner at the deadline solves that problem.

This is a team that should be looking at a deep run.

 

3 St. Louis Blues

The first title defense in franchise history for the Blues begins with good news; Vladimir Tarasenko will be back. He hasn’t played since late October, yet the Blues still lead the Central. Another good season from Jordan Binnington, complemented by a bounce-back year for Jake Allen, has been key. Alex Pietrangelo has Norris Trophy hopes on the back end. David Perron and Jaden Schwartz have combined for 50 goals to help guide the offense along with Ryan O’Reilly’s 49 assists.

It’s difficult to repeat in the NHL, but the Blues have much of the same squad as last year to help them do it.

 

4 Dallas Stars

In a season where the team’s owner ripped his top players, Dallas still managed a top-4 spot in the West. The offense has been abysmal, with only one 20-goal scorer and, no, it’s not Tyler Seguin or Jamie Benn; it’s Dennis Gurianov.

The defense and goaltending, on the other hand, have been spectacular. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin have been excellent while the defense, led by John Klingberg and youngster Miro Heiskanen, has done its part. Roman Polak will not be joining the team this postseason as he has elected to remain in the Czech Republic.

This team will go far if it can get any kind of scoring at all.

 

5 Edmonton Oilers vs 12 Chicago Blackhawks

Our Pick: Oilers

The dynamic duo meets the teams to beat in the 2010s. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl look to will the Oilers to victory against a Blackhawks team expecting, and getting, a rebuilding year.

Helping out the Art Ross Trophy winner and the NHL’s best player are Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has had a good season of his own, trade deadline acquisition Andreas Athanasiou and Kailer Yamamoto. Since his call-up, Yamamoto has averaged two points-per-game, a pace that would have put him third on the team in points over the entire season.

Zack Kassian has put in a career year, albeit playing with some of the best talent in the world. And,  Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom have run the defense. Goaltending has been average, with Mikko Koskinen playing a bit better than Mike Smith. Look for him to get the start in Game 1.

On the other side, Chicago traded its best goaltender in Robin Lehner at the deadline, while Patrick Kane’s 1000th point has been one of few highlights this season. Dominik Kubalik and his 30 goals have given the team hope for the future, but they are in no way ready to compete right now.

 

6 Nashville Predators vs 11 Arizona Coyotes

Our Pick: Coyotes

Since making the Stanley Cup Final three years ago, the Predators have been met with some early playoff exits. The group has been hard-pressed to find the magic of that run again.

Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris have had rough years by their standards, while Filip Forsberg is the team’s only 20-goal scorer. Roman Josi has made a strong case for the Norris Trophy but the power play has lacked a true quarterback since the trade of PK Subban in the offseason.

The crease has begun to be turned over to Juuse Saros as Pekka Rinne has had a down year. Don’t be surprised if Saros starts Game 1. Nashville has seen its window closing almost as quickly as it opened and this may be one of its last opportunities to strike with little wiggle room under the salary cap.

Arizona is finally in the playoffs after coming up just short in recent years. Splash moves for Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall haven’t panned out perfectly, but Clayton Keller has broken out as an important player along with the now-healthy Nick Schmaltz. Connor Garland has shocked the hockey world with a 22-goal season as well.

The real key for this team comes in goal. Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper have been phenomenal when healthy and both can lead this Arizona team to great things. This series may come down to goaltending and that’s where the Coyotes have the edge.

 

7 Vancouver Canucks vs 10 Minnesota Wild

Our Pick: Canucks

A team on the upswing faces a team that probably needs to rebuild. The Canucks have built a great young core led by Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Calder Trophy candidate Quinn Hughes. Captain Bo Horvat and offseason acquisition JT Miller have been important in the offense as well.

The defense still has Alex Edler and Chris Tanev along with free agent signing Tyler Myers. Jakob Markstrom still controls the crease, although how he returns from injury remains to be seen, while Thatcher Demko is still coming into his own. The Wild are an interesting mix of youth and vets on large contracts. Kevin Fiala’s breakout year has helped lead a mediocre offense, but the next four highest point totals come from players over 30.

The team is 22nd in goals against this year and Devan Dubnyk’s down season hasn’t helped matters. The up-and-coming Canucks are a team that will make a lot of noise in the future and it will start with 2020.

 

8 Calgary Flames vs 9 Winnipeg Jets

Our Pick: Jets

This is going to be a close series between two teams with flaws.

For the Flames, it’s been their offense. The talent is there, but losing the risky James Neal-Milan Lucic trade hurt. Matthew Tkachuk has been a bright spot, though.

David Rittich hasn’t been great in goal. The defense is also not playing to its potential. Someone will have to step up for this Calgary team if it wants to go far.

As for the Jets, their defense is the biggest weakness. Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk have played well but there isn’t much else, especially with Dustin Byfuglien leaving the team. Kyle Connor led a top-heavy offense that doesn’t have much outside of five players. Connor Hellebuyck’s stellar play has been the difference for the Jets this season and can be the difference in this series.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Anthony Paradiso

    Anthony Paradiso

    June 23, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    I’m surprised you have the Panthers over the Islanders. I think the Isles’ experience with players like Johnny Boychuk on defense. On offense the Isles have some firepower with Matt Barzal, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson. In addition to their scoring ability, these three will be tough to defend because of their size. With all due respect, I think you are underestimating the Islanders playoff experience in a series vs. a team like the Panthers. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

    • Will Wiegelman

      Will Wiegelman

      June 24, 2020 at 12:48 am

      Hi, Anthony.
      I actually did not vote in the poll, it was done by the rest of the staff. Personally, I do think the Islanders will win that series but it was fun to challenge myself and write about something I disagreed with.

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