2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Conference Finals Preview
Wow, what a second round. I don’t recall ever having all series be 3-1 and only one team closing out in five and everyone else going to seven. It’s not surprising given how close the teams were and because history repeats quite often.
The Dallas Stars were up 3-1 against the Blues last season and lost in seven games in overtime. They ended up in overtime in Game 7 after blowing a 3-1 series lead again. The Vegas Golden Knights were up 3-1 against the Sharks last year and lost in Game 7 due to a five-minute major penalty. They ended up taking another five-minute major penalty in Game 7 after blowing a 3-1 series lead again. Only this time, they both had very different results. We also got our annual playoff heroes that seemingly come out of nowhere.
The Golden Knights were only in a Game 7 because of a rookie goalie Thatcher Demko who was only playing because Jacob Markstrom was injured. Demko was so good he almost saved 100 shots in a row. The Canucks now have some thinking to do because Markstrom is going to be a free agent. But the Golden Knights are lucky the Canucks did not have their A-game. If the Canucks scored more than one goal on that major penalty, the Golden Knights would not have won the game. No fans and it not being the captain helped too.
The Stars were only in Game 7 because Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn disappeared in Game 5 and 6 like they usually do. Although they only had one point in this game, they actually made some plays, unlike last year. The real hero was Joel Kiviranta, who became the first rookie in NHL history to score a Game 7 hat trick. He was always exactly where he needed to be, and he peeled off at the right time for the game-winner. Kiviranta was only playing because Andrew Cogliano was injured. Honestly, everyone in Dallas should send Cogliano gifts. If he wasn’t injured, there’s no way the Stars would have won that game.
On a side note, I feel for Nathan MacKinnon. He was a beast in these playoffs. His speed, his play-making, his hustle, and his strength were always on display. He scored in every game except the last. I hope he gets his Stanley Cup, and I think he will one day.
On another side note, I sense things pretty well in life. I usually get feelings and intuitions that come true. In hockey, it’s usually when someone takes a shot before it leaves their stick. I’m like that’s going in, and then it does. Several seconds before Scott Mayfield broke his stick in Game 6 of the Islanders vs. Flyers, I got a weird feeling and said to myself something’s going to happen here. I assumed that meant the Islanders were going to score since they had the puck. But it didn’t seem like a feeling that was going to make me happy, since I was pulling for the Islanders. Of course, the stick broke, the Flyers took it the other way and scored the game-winner. Something definitely happened.
The conference finals in the East features the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have made it to the conference finals in five of their last ten seasons. They are starting to become the New England Patriots. They face off against the New York Islanders, who are here for the first time since 1993. The last time a Canadian team won it all. While the West features my preseason preview Stanley Cup-winning pick Stars versus my playoff preview Stanley Cup-winning pick in the Golden Knights.
2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 7 (6) New York Islanders
Season Series: 2-1 Islanders
Playoff Series History: 2-0 Lightning
What We Learned: The Lighting were the only team up 3-1 to close in Game 5. That seems like ages ago. The Islanders were dominant in wins and only lost games in overtime.
Stars to Watch: Brayden Point is still the leading playoff scorer for the Lightning with 18 points. He’s scored a point in every playoff game (including round-robin) except one. Nikita Kucherov heated up against the Bruins scoring seven points in three games. The Lightning have a strong supporting cast behind them with Victor Hedman, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, and more. Point and Kucherov are the main playmakers. If they get shut down, it’s unlikely anyone else will step up. The Islanders have five players in double digits. Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, and Jordan Eberle. Jean-Gabriel Pageau is right behind with seven goals and nine points. One thing to note, no Islander has a negative plus-minus.
Goalie Problem: Andrei Vasilevskiy got better as the series wore on against the Bruins. But he still doesn’t have a shutout. Semyon Varlamov has played mostly well in the playoffs, but Thomas Greiss is probably the better option. It would be hard not to start him after a Game 7 shutout, even if it was only 16 shots.
X-Factors: I made a big deal of the Islanders loving bubble life last preview. They’ll still be in the bubble, but now they are moving to Edmonton. I don’t know if that will affect either team, but it could. A week will have elapsed from Game 5 to this game for the Lightning. They’ll probably be very rusty. Both of these coaches are two of the best in the NHL. Although I still think Jon Cooper did a crappy job coaching the Lightning last playoffs. Here’s hoping for a chess match between the two of them with the players.
Fun Facts: The Lightning are 6-0 when leading after one period, 0-3 when trailing after one. The Islanders are 6-1 when leading after one period, 3-2 when trailing after one. The Lighting are 4-0 in overtime games these playoffs. The Islanders are 1-3.
Prediction: The Lightning have beaten their last two opponents in five games. That shouldn’t continue. I imagine this will mostly be a low scoring defensive struggle. However, both teams are more than capable of turning it on. I’d be shocked if we didn’t have at least one overtime. I want to say the Islanders will win because I believe they are the better team. But generally, when you are humiliated in the playoffs as the Lightning were last season, you bounce back and win it all the next season. The Bruins are the most famous example of this. They lost to the Flyers after being up 3-1 in the series and 3-1 in Game 7 in 2010. Came back and won it in all in 2011. My favorite thing about that was all series went seven games except the Flyers, who the Bruins swept. On the other hand, I believe this is the Golden Knights year. They are bouncing back from their own playoff snafu. If the Lightning aren’t going to win it all, it would make more sense for them to lose in this round because that’s what they usually do. If the Islanders can keep playing to the system they use so effectively, they should win. I think they would only lose if things went the way they did when they played the Hurricanes last season, but they’ve grown past that. If the Lightning win, I imagine they’ll win it all.
1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. 3 Dallas Stars
Season Series: 1-1
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Stars still now how to press their self destruct button and survive. The Golden Knights are coached by the only guy who won his first five game 7’s and with three different teams.
Stars to Watch: Lost in the young defenseman hoopla is Shea Theodore. He scored the game-winner in Game 7 and is now the only Golden Knight left averaging over a point per game in the playoffs. Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, and Alex Tuch are also in double digits behind him. Nicolas Roy and Zach Whitecloud aren’t guys that come to mind when you think of the Golden Knights, but they played well against the Canucks, doing many little things that don’t show up on a stat sheet. Only Brayden McNabb has a minus for the Golden Knights. The Stars have a whopping seven players in double digits. Miro Heiskanen, Denis Gurianov, Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski, John Klingberg, Alexander Radulov, and Roope Hintz. Conspicuous by his absence, is Tyler Seguin, who isn’t doing enough. Seven points in 15 games won’t cut it. A player making almost 10 million a season shouldn’t be 154th in points per game in the playoffs. The wild card will be what Joel Kiviranta will do and if he will be more integral in their offense.
Goalie Problem: Robin Lehner was a beast in Game 7 against the Canucks. He’ll need more of that in this series. Anton Khudobin looked good at times against the Avalanche and other times, not so much. He’ll face the same amount of shots this series. But he’s no Demko.
X-Factors: These are two of the top three most hitting teams during the playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see if anything escalates into power plays. These are two of the better power plays in the playoffs. But they’re also both good on the penalty kill. Power plays could be significant in this series. These teams typically score right after their opponent. There’s a good chance this series will end up like the Stars vs. Avalanche with its odd momentum swings.
Fun Facts: The Golden Knights are second to last (23rd) in face-off percentage in the playoffs, but they did win the draw that led to the series winner. These teams are 3rd and 4th in giveaways in the playoffs. Expect turnovers.
Prediction: There’s a reason I picked the Stars in my preseason preview. On paper, they are the most talented team from top to bottom. But that doesn’t always translate to the ice. This series will be decided by mainly one thing. As the Stars demonstrated against the Avalanche in Games 1 and 2, when Benn and Seguin are on and so is the rest of the team, they can’t be beaten. When they are off, and the rest of the team goes with them, it’s brutal, and they lose handily like in Games 5 and 6. There’s no way to know how long Benn and Seguin or the team will be off. But it’s guaranteed they will be at some point. It will come down to how long those stretches are and how the Golden Knights take advantage of them. The Golden Knights aren’t immune from stinkers. They had one themselves in Game 2 against the Canucks. But they are way less prevalent. Considering the Stars narrowly beat the Flames and Avalanche and the Golden Knights persevered over the wall that was Thatcher Demko, I give the Golden Knights the better odds of surviving in what will hopefully be a seven-game series.http://hockeyrecaps.us/2020/09/06/2020-nhl-stanley-cup-playoffs-conference-finals-preview/2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Conference Finals Previewhttp://hockeyrecaps.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/2020-nhl-stanley-cup-preview-conference-finals-1024x557.jpghttp://hockeyrecaps.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/2020-nhl-stanley-cup-preview-conference-finals-300x300.jpgPlayoff PreviewsAlexander Radulov,Andrei Vasilevskiy,Andrew Cogliano,Anthony Beauvillier,Anton Khudobin,Brock Nelson,Dallas Stars,Jamie Benn,Jean-Gabriel Pageau,Joe Pavelski,Joel Kiviranta,John Klingberg,Jordan Eberle,Josh Bailey,Mark Stone,Mathew Barzal,Miro Heiskanen,Nathan MacKinnon,New York Islanders,Nikita Kucherov,Reilly Smith,Robin Lehner,Roope Hintz,Semyon Varlamov,Shea Theodore,Stanley Cup,Tampa Bay Lightning,Thomas Greiss,Tyler Seguin,Vegas Golden Knights,Victor Hedman