Welcome to our new weekly series that will take a look back at what has happened in the hockey world over the course of the previous week(end). With the Qualification Round wrapping up yesterday night, this weeks article will focus on the First Round of the playoffs as well as the Lafrenière sweepstakes.
The puck is set to drop for the First Round of the 2020 NHL Playoffs tomorrow afternoon. Starting first in the Eastern conference, an interesting swap at the top as the Flyers and Bruins trade seeding while Montreal pulled off the biggest upset of the season so far beating Pittsburgh. Let’s jump straight into things a take a look at each series
(12) Montreal Canadiens vs (1) Philadelphia Flyers
In a rematch of the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, the surprise top seed in the East are out to prove that their 2020 season was fluke. The Flyers like to play an up tempo, aggressive style of hockey, they love to dump the puck in the zone and they primarily generating offense off the cycle. Carey Price is probably the best goalie in the league at intercepting dump ins and he is often the player that makes the first pass leading to a successful breakout. The Canadiens Power Play needs to be much better and they will need to get some scoring from their forwards. The Canadiens cannot afford to have a seven game series where their ‘Trident’ on defense are three of their top five scorers in the series.
X-Factor Montreal: Carey Price
X-Factor Philadelphia: Travis Konecny
Montreal in 7
This is a gut feeling bordering on full homerism. With Carey in nets anything is possible but the entire team will collectively need to find another gear. Also one final tid bit, Michel Therrien is behind the Flyers bench and I think we all know how Carey feels about him…..maybe a little MJ pettiness for motivation?
(9) Columbus Blue Jackets vs (2) Tampa Bay Lightning
This is a very exciting rematch of last year’s First Round match-up that saw the Blue Jackets sweep last season’s President Cup champs with ease. The Stamkos and Hedman injuries will be important to monitor, but the Lightning roster is the deepest in talent in the NHL. The Blue Jackets continue to prove people wrong. They do not have the high end flashy talent but they have sand paper on every single line and they come at you in wave after wave of relentless pressure.
X-Factor Columbus: Boone Jenner
X-Factor Tampa Bay: Alex Killorn
Tampa Bay in 6
Tampa enacts some revenge, Columbus walks away with the moral victory but that doesn’t count for much here.
(7) New York Islanders vs (3) Washington Capitals
I guess the hockey gods just don’t want to see any offense in these playoffs! In back to back series the Islanders will face one of the top offensive teams in the league. The Islanders secondary scoring helped push them past the Panthers with goals from guys like Beauvillier and JG Pageau up front but they will need more guys to contribute to beat this Capitals offensive machine. The Capitals as a team will need to find another level of intensity and desperation which was lacking in their first three games. Obviously now that it is officially the playoffs that should not be a problem, but their leading scorer right now is Radko Gudas. Nothing against him but there is a long list of players who will need to outperform Gudas for this team to win.
X-Factor New York: Jordan Eberle
X-Factor Washington: Ilya Kovalchuk
Islanders in 6
Trotz gets his revenge.
(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs (4) Boston Bruins
What better way to be rewarded for a sweep than facing the number one team in the league during the regular season. I must apologize to Carolina, they were the only favourite I had losing in the Qualification Round and did they ever make me eat crow. This team is a well oiled machine and clearly everything they did during the regular season was just a warm up for the big dance. The best strategy for the Bruins would be to just forget everything that has happened. This will be a very telling sign of the type of coach Bruce Cassidy is. He is fully deserving of his Jack Adams nomination but it is easy to look good when everything is going right, it’s what you do in the face of adversity that defines you. Let’s see what Cassidy and the Bruins are made of.
X-Factor Carolina: Jaccob Slavin
X-Factor Boston: Torey Krug
Boston in 7
Maybe this is me holding out hope for a Bruins vs Habs Eastern Conference Final but regardless they were the best team in the league all season for a reason. Carolina will give them a run for their money but they will fall just short
Now off to the Western Conference!
(12) Chicago Blackhawks vs (1) Vegas Golden Knights
The Blackhawks showed why most of their older core has three rings to their names in their series against the Oilers. Skill wise the Oilers should have won that series in the landslide but it takes more than that to win in the playoffs. I think that the Hawks will face a whole different beast this round as they take on a team that has a ton of playoff experience. The Golden Knights have been perennial contenders in the Pacific Division since their inaugural season where they made if all the way to the Stanley Cup final. The Golden Knights have a better roster top to bottom than the Blackhawks, but I said that before and was wrong
X-Factor Chicago: Duncan Keith
X-Factor Vegas: Alex Tuch
Vegas in 5
I fully expect Chicago to make every game competitive, but the Golden Knights roster is just too deep.
(11) Arizona Coyotes vs (2) Colorado Avalanche
The Coyotes played some amazing team defense, supported their best player in Kuemper and rallied offensively despite losing their top scorer from the regular season. Schmaltz looks like he is on pace to be back for Game 1 but regardless of that, the Coyotes will need to continue to buy into Tocchet’s system. They will need to keep the Avalanche’s top scorers out of the high danger areas and they will need to slow down their attack in transition. The Avalanche have no shortage of talent and they are all healthy. This team also seems to have a chemistry and a belief in one another that is a pre-requisite for winning.
X-Factor Arizona: Jason Demers
X-Factor Colorado: Ryan Graves
Colorado in 6
The Coyotes system will prove frustrating for the Avalanche but they will persevere in 6 games.
(9) Calgary Flames vs (3) Dallas Stars
The Flames organization and their fans have to be very happy with the way their team played against Winnipeg. It was far from perfect but it was a better effort than they have seen all season. The Flames seem to have found their game, they are not back to being the team that finished first in the Western Conference but they are back in the dark horse conversation. The Stars are coming off a hard fought victory against last year’s Stanley Cup champs, giving them a bit of momentum heading into the real thing. The Stars have been underachievers the last few seasons but they most certainly have the roster and the skill to be a contender. Can they put all the pieces together to do it is another question.
X-Factor Calgary: Matthew Tkachuk
X-Factor Dallas: Ben Bishop
Calgary in 6
(7) Vancouver Canucks vs (4) St Louis Blues
This is probably the most exciting series out West in my opinion. Two well built teams that can score, St Louis definitely has the physical edge but the Canucks are no push overs. I most certainly underestimated the Quinn Hughes factor in their series against the Wild as he leads the youthful charge in Vancouver right now. The Blue on the other hand, have a sour taste to get out of their mouths.
The Canucks definitely have all the pieces to compete with the Blues, starting in the back end, it is close to a wash. If I had to choose between the two I go Binnington but Markstrom is not far behind and he is more than capable of keeping up. Quinn Hughes is offset by thoroughbred Alex Pietrangelo and up front, I think the Canucks have more scoring ability, but the Blues are so well rounded they can keep up with any team.
X-Factor Vancouver: JT Miller
X-Factor St Louis: Alex Steen
St Louis in 7
Canucks will make this one hell of a series, gaining some valuable playoff experience against a contender.
3 STARS OF THE QUALIFICATION ROUND
Taking a moment to quickly look back one more time before moving forward, here are my picks for the 3 Stars of the Qualification Round:
- Sebastien Aho
Aho led to league in Points per Game in the first round and was an absolute force for the Hurricanes. The line of him Teravainen and Svechnikov was by far the best line in this round of play and the play of Aho was a large reason why the Canes swept their first round series.
- Jonathan Toews
This is the Jonathan Toews I was referring to when I put him on my Team Canada Roster. Obviously there are other factors to consider for that conversation, but Toews finished with seven points in the opening round and was the heart and soul for a Blackhawks team that had no business winning on paper.
- Cam Talbot
There are a few players, especially goalies that could probably be here, but Cam Talbot deserves some recognition. I have been pretty hard on him but in a series where he went head to head with a Vezina candidate goalie, Talbot held his own and then some. The Flames needed Talbot to at minimum keep the match-up between him and Hellebuyck close and he may have even outperformed him.
Honourable Mentions: Carey Price, Connor McDavid, Quinn Hughes, Nikolaj Ehlers, Andrei Svechnikov, Austin Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk
THE DRAFT LOTTERY
Well I can almost guarantee that the Alexis Lafrenière sweepstakes did not go as planned for the NHL. There is a close to 40% chance (37.5% to be exact) that the league breaks into complete and total anarchy depending on the results of this lottery. To quickly recap, the eight losing teams from the Qualification Round all now have an equal opportunity (12.5%) to draft first overall. Those eight teams, in no particular order, are
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Edmonton Oilers
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Nashville Predators
- Florida Panthers
- New York Rangers
- Winnipeg Jets
- Minnesota Wild
I lied when I said in no particular order, this is the order based on season win percentage and it is safe to say that if any of the top three teams win, things could get interesting. If there is any justice in this world, given the way things have played out and the Habs are no longer in contention, I think the Jets should win.
If I am not mistaken it was Placeholder Team E who had the winning combination and based on Win% that would have been the Winnipeg Jets (if it were a normal season). They are also coming off a very up and down season where they lost four starting defenceman before the season started, then lost half of their forward group when the playoffs started. It would be nice to see him go to a Canadian team that is not in the Eastern Conference, so why not, let’s go Winnipeg!
Rangers and Wild could also really use Laffy, especially Minnesota where they are in desperate need of some youth. Suffice to say at the end of the day I will be happy as long as Toronto doesn’t win. If Toronto wins the draft lottery this may be my final article because I probably will not have a computer to write with anymore if Lafrenière goes to Toronto.
Here’s to hoping I have something to write with come tomorrow.