I wanted to write a preview for the qualifier series and round-robin games. But it had been almost five months since the season was over and I couldn’t remember a lot of what happened. Even with doing research, which I normally do, I didn’t see how most of it would be relevant after such a break. Five months is the same amount of time non-playoff teams receive between seasons. I had no idea what to expect, and neither did the players. Despite the long break, we pretty much picked up exactly where we left off. Most of what happened fit in with the regular season. Now we have a few games under the belt and hockey that feels like playoff hockey. Even if the players don’t think it’s the same without the fans.

The newly created format primarily delivered. The Boston Bruins might beg to differ, being screwed the most. The three teams that benefited the greatest were three teams that most assuredly would not have made the playoffs if the season concluded as normal. The Montreal Canadiens would definitely not be in, and the Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes would probably be out too. It’s not surprising the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Edmonton Oilers have been eliminated. They are similar teams with the same issues. The Penguins find themselves with the same issues they had before they won their last two Stanley Cups. Unable to generate goals when their top players struggle, puck watching defense, costly turnovers, and spotty goaltending. That all applies to the Oilers too. Connor McDavid will reach his breaking point soon. I’m hoping that means hat tricks every game. As for the Toronto Maple Leafs, well, they are cursed. But you get a sense they’re almost going to breakthrough.

For future reference, I’m calling what was just played the pre-playoffs.

1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. 12 Montreal Canadiens

Season Series: 2-1 Flyers

Playoff Series History: 3-3

What We Learned: The unlikeliest of all the match-ups, the Flyers picked up right where they left off, winners of nine of their last ten, and won all three round-robin games. The Canadiens had the least amount of points of the 24 teams, but they upset the Penguins with their scrappy play.

Stars to Watch: The Flyers won their round-robin games without their top stars producing. This isn’t anything new. They had nobody in the top 30 in scoring during the season. While that speaks to their depth, your stars will inevitably need to produce if you expect to go anywhere. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, if he comes back, will need to step up. Travis Konecny and Sean Couturier are also threats. I’m still waiting for Jonathan Drouin to do something for the Canadiens. One goal in his last ten games is not something. Tomas Tatar was their leading scorer but did nothing against the Penguins. Jeff Petry (petri dish) and Shea Weber were stellar against the Penguins.

Goalie Problem: Carter Hart has been better than advertised. We could be looking at a Patrick Roy like performance in his first playoffs. Hart hasn’t faced much adversity yet. On the other end is someone who knows all about adversity, Carey Price. Price has only made it to a Conference Finals once as a starter. That isn’t likely to change, but he’ll deliver on his end. This should be a low scoring series.

X-Factor: It’s only the first round, but the Flyers will now have pressure to live up to their expectations. The Canadiens have zero because they shouldn’t even be here. The Flyers are still a young team and haven’t faced many tests. I’m interested to see how that mostly young defense holds up in a seven-game series.

Fun Fact: Neither team scored a power-play goal in their pre-playoffs. Odds are that won’t continue.

Prediction: The Flyers aren’t the Penguins, and it’s unlikely the Canadiens will surprise another team. I don’t see how the Canadiens can generate enough offense to win this series. The Flyers grind it out as well as the Canadiens, and they have more talent. The Flyers aren’t cooling down yet. They’ll take it here. I can’t really see a scenario where the Canadiens can win but never say never. They have marched to the Conference Finals twice in the past decade with average (that’s generous) teams. That could only happen if Hart were to self destruct, and Price played like a wall. But I don’t think Price was exceptional against the Penguins, and Brian Elliott is a decent backup for the Flyers.

 

2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets

Season Series: 1-0 Blue Jackets

Playoff Series History: 1-0 Lightning

What We Learned: The Lightning have played well since being swept. They almost got the top seed. The Blue Jackets ended up on the playoff bubble as usual but won when it mattered.

Stars to Watch: Tyler Johnson had some great goals in the round-robin, and he’s still underrated. Nikita Kucherov is as dynamic as ever. Brayden Point is consistently solid. Ryan McDonagh went from a 38 to a 7 plus minus during the season. That’s quite a drop-off. Pierre-Luc Dubois is all the announcers talk about. He led the Blue Jackets with a whopping 49 points. He had a hat trick against the Maple Leafs, and that was about it. Cam Atkinson is their other big gun. Zach Werenski and Seth Jones anchor the Blue Jackets smothering defense.

Goalie Problem: Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Vezina last season and was nominated again this season. He’s good. Joonas Korpisalo is a good goalie. I think he’s better than Elvis Merzļikins. The Blue Jackets are lucky Merzļikins is injured otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be here. But they honestly have two good goalies who seem to better than Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky hasn’t looked good since leaving Columbus. That’s not relevant, but I thought I’d mention it.

X-Factor: This is a rematch many wanted to see. Personally, I wanted the Maple Leafs, but this is what we got. If the Lightning want to redeem themselves and win a Stanley Cup, this is a great place to start. The Blue Jackets have a lot to prove too. They’ve only won one playoff series as a franchise, this one last season. That’s nothing to be proud of. The other X-factor is injuries but will get to that below.

Fun Fact: The Lightning have now been the highest scoring team in the NHL three years in a row. The Blue Jackets were 27th. But they were 3rd in GAA.

Prediction: Despite the Lightning’s scoring prowess, this should be a low scoring series. The last team who scores wins kind of deals. For the Lightning, we have Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman out. Having both out is bad, losing Hedman is worse. Against the Blue Jackets it might not matter, but it will later. The Blue Jackets didn’t beat the Lightning last season. The Lightning beat themselves. It’s highly unlikely they will do the same again. If Vasilevskiy gets injured, the Lighting are done. If Werenski or Jones get injured, the Blue Jackets are done. If everyone stays healthy, I like the Lightning. I suppose the Lightning could self destruct again, but last year, you could see the warning signs. This year you can’t. I will say the Blue Jackets play very solid and relentless hockey. This series will go long. That’ll give you more time to hear the announcers say Liam Foudy’s name.

 

3 Washington Capitals vs. 7 New York Islanders

Season Series: 2-2

Playoff Series History: 5-2 Islanders

What We Learned: The Capitals are the just kind of there team. Although they almost won another division title before COVID-19 happened. The Islanders haven’t changed much over the last few seasons, and they beat a somewhat decent Florida Panthers team.

Stars to Watch: You may have heard of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Evgeny Kuznetsov is also good. Leading scorer John Carlson should be back for this series. There’s also TJ Oshie and Tom Wilson, who is suddenly a great scorer and very integral to the team. It’s mostly the Mathew Barzal, and Brock Nelson show for the Islanders. But I’m interested in seeing what Jordan Eberle does. He already has two goals in the pre-playoffs.

Goalie Problem: Braden Holtby is statistically regressing, but he played well in the round-robin. I think there are a few more good seasons left. Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss weren’t as good as Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss last season, but it’s still pretty good.

X-Factor: This series will have some interesting side plots. Barry Trotz coaching his old team, Varlamov playing against his old team. Trotz is 4-4 against his old team. But the better plot will be Alex Ovechkin and company against the Islanders’ defense.

Fun Fact: The Capitals aren’t very good at face-offs. In fact, they stink. They were 28th in the regular season and dead last in the pre-playoffs. Not where you want to be against this Islanders’ defense. Those offensive zone face-offs will be crucial.

Prediction: The Islanders play a stifling defense. They used it to quell the Penguins and the Florida Panthers. It’s very likely they’ll do that again here. But they still need to score goals, and last year everything that could go wrong against the Hurricanes did. This series is all about the Islanders. If they can continue their strong defense and get timely goals they will win. If they end up hitting the crossbar or posts like they did against the Hurricanes and they can’t stop the Capitals power play, the Capitals will win.

 

4 Boston Bruins vs. 6 Carolina Hurricanes

Season Series: 1-0 Bruins

Playoff Series History: 4-1 Bruins

What We Learned: These Bruins look nothing like they did as the best team before the break and didn’t win a game in the round-robin. The Hurricanes demolished the New York Rangers who aren’t very good.

Stars to Watch: Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron didn’t do anything in the pre-playoffs. Only Bergeron had a point. That’s a problem. David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk are good secondary scorers, but each also only had a point in the pre-playoffs. Zdeno Chara looks old and got outmuscled against the Capitals that led to a Capitals goal. He’s not getting any younger. Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrei Svechnikov are the Hurricanes’ big guns, and they all delivered against the Rangers. Aho had eight points. Dougie Hamilton anchors the defensive corps, but he may not be healthy enough to start the series. Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams is still there.

Goalie Problem: The one good thing the Bruins can take from their losses is Tuukka Rask looked real good. He’s having his best season in years. I’m still not sold on Petr Mrazek. I don’t think he can outduel Rask either. Big advantage to the Bruins.

X-Factor: It’s hard to know when the Bruins will snap out of it and play like they are supposed to. There’s a chance they may not. Going up against a team you crushed last season is a great way to get yourself going. But the Hurricanes are going to be out for revenge. That’s a great motivational tool.

Fun Fact: The Bruins didn’t have a power-play goal in the pre-playoffs, and the Hurricanes had the 4th best penalty kill during them.

Prediction: This series could potentially go three ways. One of the teams crushing the other in a sweep, or it could go seven. I haven’t seen enough of either team to know. The Bruins haven’t won, but the round-robin games meant nothing. Without travel or actual home ice, the top seed is meaningless. The Hurricanes sweeping the Rangers isn’t impressive either. The first game will be a good tone-setter. The Bruins are a good team, but they can only go as far as the top line can take them. If they can play as they did against the Hurricanes last season, the Bruins will win. If not, the Hurricanes will win.

 

1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. 12 Chicago Blackhawks

Season Series: 2-1 Golden Knights

Playoff Series History: None

What We Learned: The Golden Knights rarely play bad when it matters. They weren’t perfect, but they won all their round-robin games. The Blackhawks rode their aging yet still producing Stanley Cup core to a series win.

Stars to Watch: Jonathan Toews had seven points in the four games against the Oilers, which is higher than his normal playoff runs. His last two seasons have arguably been the best two in his career. Patrick Kane is always dangerous, but the younger players are delivering. Dominik Kubalik is ready to be a star and has shown it so far. I still can’t believe the Penguins traded Olli Maatta to the Blackhawks. He was great against the Oilers. Mark Stone has simply been sensational for the Golden Knights in playoff games. Max Pacioretty being back will give the Golden Knights a boost. Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson are still very good. Ryan Reeves is very underrated, but he’s an integral part of their winning ways.

Goalie Problem: Robin Lehner seems to be the preferred pick over Marc-Andre Fleury, which is odd. But he’s been really good the last few seasons, and he played briefly for the Blackhawks which might be beneficial. Corey Crawford looks great against the Oilers, and I assume he’s healthy. Two of the three goalies have won multiple Stanley Cups. Sorry, Lehner.

X-Factor: This will be a highly interesting series. Both of these teams rarely lose during the playoffs. Both of these teams are built for the playoffs. The Blackhawks shouldn’t be here, but you figured they would do well if they could get in. The Blackhawks won’t have the experience advantage they enjoyed over the Oilers.

Fun Fact: The Blackhawks scored the most goals in the first period of the pre-playoffs while the Golden Knights scored the most goals in the third period. That will be interesting.

Prediction: Despite great goaltending, this should be a high scoring series. This may well end up being the best series of the playoffs too. The Golden Knights have literally seen it all despite being in only their third season of existence. It’s unlikely the Blackhawks could beat the Golden Knights. But again, never say never. The games will be close, and the series might go seven. It’s likely the winner of this series goes to the Stanley Cup Finals. I have never seen the Golden Knights play a bad playoff series except against the Capitals. I think the stage was just too bright then. The only other series they lost, they were screwed by the refs. The Blackhawks can certainly beat them. I just don’t think they will.

 

2 Colorado Avalanche vs. 11 Arizona Coyotes

Season Series: 1-1

Playoff Series History: 1-0 Avalanche

What We Learned: The Avalanche look like they are on the cusp of being a great team. The Coyotes are making strides and are lucky to be here.

Stars to Watch: The Avalanche big three of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog show no signs of slowing down. Andre Burakovsky has been added to the mix from Washington and is already contributing more than he ever did there. It’s hard to fathom how good Cale Makar is already. That’s all I have to say about him. Taylor Hall is in the playoffs for the second time. He did well in his first appearance, but his team wasn’t very good. I’m interested to see what he can do against the Avalanche. Clayton Keller may be due for his coming out party. He had a point in every game against the Predators. Nick Schmaltz was their leading scorer with a whopping 45 points, and he played well against the Predators too. Let’s not forget Phil Kessel. Two of his old teams are already out.

Goalie Problem: I’m assuming the Avalanche go with Philipp Grubauer, but that would be a mistake. Pavel Francouz is the better goalie and their future. Grubauer worries me, but he should be fine in this round. Darcy Kuemper has played really well since coming to Arizona. He was a beast against the Nashville Predators. He’ll need to play the same against the Avalanche. He hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2014.

X-Factor: The Coyotes usually have a problem scoring, but they scored four in each of their wins against the Predators. The Avalanche are a much better defensive team, though. They also haven’t been to the playoffs since 2012. Other than Kessel and Niklas Hjalmarsson, there’s not much playoff experience on the top lines.

Fun Fact: The Avalanche had the 3rd most shots per game in the pre-playoffs, and the Coyotes gave up the most shots. Expect a lot of Avalanche shots on net.

Prediction: The Avalanche have grown up a lot recently even though their top defenseman is 21. They want to go far, and they have the team to do it. The Coyotes aren’t a complete team yet, but they’re getting there. It’s hard to see how the Avalanche would lose a seven-game series to the Coyotes. As good as Kuemper has been, he can’t consistently stop 40 shots a game. Avalanche will take this.

 

3 Dallas Stars vs. 8 Calgary Flames

Season Series: 2-1 Flames

Playoff Series History: 1-0 Dallas (as Minnesota)

What We Learned: The Stars have been fairly disappointing. They just barely made the top four cut and just barely got the 3rd seed. The Flames took down their rival in the Winnipeg Jets, but they’ve fallen quite a bit since they were the top seed last season.

Stars to Watch: Tyler Seguin played in two pre-playoff games and had no points and a -4. That won’t cut it. Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov did nothing either. That’s a problem. Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski will need to pick up the slack while the top line works out their issues. I’m intrigued to see Pavelski play his first playoffs, not in a Sharks jersey. Miro Heiskanen was one of the few bright spots, and he’s only going to get better in his second playoffs. The Flames are led by their big five of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, and Mikael Backlund. Milan Lucic played the best he’s played in years against the Jets. Tkachuk and Lucic might cause headaches for the Stars in more ways than one.

Goalie Problem: I feel bad for David Rittich. This is the second time he won’t be starting in the playoffs. The Flames clearly have no faith in him. Cam Talbot will get the nod instead. His only playoff experience comes from the one season the McDavid led Oilers did anything in the playoffs. Anton Khudobin seems to be getting the nod over Ben Bishop. But that may change. Bishop was sensational last playoffs. Neither team has bad goaltending, but there’s a lot of question marks as to who is starting. I give a slight edge to the Stars.

X-Factor: The Stars had lost eight games in a row dating back to the end of the regular season. They haven’t scored much in those games either. They only won a game because of the shootout. That isn’t the way to enter the playoffs. The Flames playoff hopes unraveled last season because they didn’t protect Gaudreau and Mike Smith became worse as the series progressed. Smith is gone, but Gaudreau is still integral.

Fun Fact: Dallas was 1st in giveaways, and Calgary was 3rd in the pre-playoffs. They were also 3rd and 6th respectively in takeaways. Expect turnovers.

Prediction: This is a tough series to predict, but it should be entertaining. The Stars were one of the early favorites for winning it all. Now they can barely win a game. If the Stars can find their game, they have a great chance to win the series. I worry about the Flames and how they will handle Gaudreau being hit and their goaltending. The Stars are a little more physical than the Jets. The Stars should win, but it doesn’t mean they will. I can see both teams literally self-destructing and being a complete mess. Whichever team can do that the least and have their top line produce the most will win.

 

4 St. Louis Blues vs. 7 Vancouver Canucks

Season Series: 2-1 Canucks

Playoff Series History: 3-0 Vancouver

What We Learned: The Blues were cruising to a potential number one seed until COVIID-19 happened. Now they join their fellow Stanley Cup finalists from last season in the 4th seed. The Canucks might be blossoming a little early. But they’ll take the playoff experience.

Stars to Watch: The Canucks are powered by the young trio of Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes. And let’s not forget J.T. Miller. Who would have thought he would fit in so well in Vancouver and deliver his best season ever. Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, and David Perron are your scoring options for the Blues. But let’s not forget about the real threat in Vladimir Tarasenko. He played in only ten games this season before being injured. He came back to play in two of the round-robin games. His health and rust might be an issue.

Goalie Problem: Jordan Binnington is still great, but some of his luster has worn off. I doubt we get a repeat playoff performance. Jacob Markstrom probably isn’t a number one goalie, and he has no playoff experience, but he’s the Canucks only option and their weakest link.

X-Factor: The Canucks haven’t won a playoff series since they lost to the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. None of these players were on that team. They also haven’t been to the playoffs since 2015. This is all new to them. Teams rarely repeat, and the Blues don’t look like repeat champions to me. They’re lucky they even won it last season. Most cup winners go home early in the following playoffs.

Fun Fact: The Blues were the only team that didn’t score in the third period of the pre-playoffs. The Canucks were the most penalized.

Prediction: It’s safe to say the magic has worn off for the Blues. Despite their own magical run, the refs mightily contributed to who they ended up playing out west and which games they won in the Stanley Cup Finals. Those breaks won’t happen again. They’re leading scorer is already not healthy, proving their luck is over. If Tarasenko can’t produce, that’s a major problem. Even though this Canucks team is young, I like their chances. If Binnington is just average and the stage isn’t too big for the Canucks, I think they’ll take it. If Binnington can find a way to shut them out and they can get anything from Tarasenko, the Blues will win.

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 1 Previewhttp://hockeyrecaps.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/2020-nhl-stanley-cup-preview-round-1-1024x557.jpghttp://hockeyrecaps.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/2020-nhl-stanley-cup-preview-round-1-300x300.jpgAlex MuellerPlayoff PreviewsAlex Ovechkin,Alexander Radulov,Andrei Vasilevskiy,Anton Khudobin,Arizona Coyotes,Ben Bishop,Boston Bruins,Brad Marchand,Braden Holtby,Brian Elliott,Brock Boeser,Brock Nelson,Cale Makar,Calgary Flames,Cam Talbot,Carey Price,Carolina Hurricanes,Carter Hart,Chicago Blackhawks,Claude Giroux,Clayton Keller,Colorado Avalanche,Columbus Blue Jackets,Connor McDavid,Corey Crawford,Dallas Stars,Darcy Kuemper,David Krejci,David Pastrnak,David Perron,Edmonton Oilers,Elias Pettersson,Evgeny Kuznetsov,Florida Panthers,Gabriel Landeskog,Jakub Voracek,Jamie Benn,Joe Pavelski,John Carlson,Johnny Gaudreau,Jonathan Toews,Jordan Binnington,Jordan Eberle,Marc-Andre Fleury,Mark Stone,Mathew Barzal,Matthew Tkachuk,Max Pacioretty,Mikael Backlund,Mike Smith,Montreal Canadiens,New York Islanders,Philadelphia Flyers,St Louis Blues,Tampa Bay Lightning,Vancouver Canucks,Vegas Golden Knights,Washington Capitals
I wanted to write a preview for the qualifier series and round-robin games. But it had been almost five months since the season was over and I couldn't remember a lot of what happened. Even with doing research, which I normally do, I didn't see how most of it...