My Predictions for the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs
After a plenty entertaining play-in tournament, the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin today, August 11th 2020. There were upsets and overtime thrillers, and the Leafs obviously got eliminated.
But now we’re off to hockey heaven, eight pairs of best of seven game winner-take-all series that are bound to keep every hockey fan glued to their TV. Here are my predictions for each of the opening round match-ups, with a twist to make things more interesting (as if we needed to make HOCKEY more interesting).
Blue Jackets vs. Lightning
If the play-in round taught us anything, it’s that the Jackets should not be taken lightly, especially given their sweep of the Lightning last year. But it’s hard to imagine them winning this series against a stacked Lightning team again. They arguably had some serious puck-luck against the leafs, and their goaltending has shown as much stellar play as it has shown weakness, with both goalies getting their shot in goal and making mistakes. Tampa has multiple lines that can get it done.
Winner: Lightning 4-2
Leading Scorer: Brayden Point
Hot Take: Dubois, Jones and Werenski held scoreless through first 3 games
Flames vs. Stars
The Stars and Flames have never struck me as legitimate cup contenders this year, but maybe it’s time to re-think that. I mean, someone has to win this series. The Flames handled themselves through the Tkachuk controversy, and came out on top against a decimated Jets team in the play in round. The Stars’ play through the last few games was mixed, but they have some serious star power, but might lack some depth. Regardless, I don’t see them losing this series, based on their attention to detail on defence, and the emergence of Miro Heiskanen as a stud d-man. This should be a tight series with some overtime thrillers to boot.
Winner: Stars 4-3
Leading Scorer: Roope Hintz
Hot Take: Tkachuk gets suspended for a game or two due to his antics (is this really a hot take?)
Hurricanes vs. Bruins
Are the Bruins bad? Not sure what happened in the round robin, but the best team in the league had a tough time. In addition, the Hurricanes are hot at the right time, with depth at all positions. It’s hard to bet against the Bruins, given their track record and their thirst for the cup after losing in the finals last year. They have big bodies up and down the lineup and never really seem to take a night off. Tuukka Rask still exists as well. But I have a hunch that this young, hungry, hot Hurricanes team is just gonna get the better of them, and handily. Maybe the intensity of the play-in round will benefit some of the lower seeds. Time will tell.
Winner: Hurricanes 4-1
Leading Scorer: Sebastian Aho
Hot Take: Tuukka Rask pulled in game 1 and Halak starts game 2
Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights
Well this is a tough one. Golden Knights have been scary-good, but how do you count out the Hawks? They have some of the best forwards in the league and they know how to get it done in the playoffs. Then again, for some reason I still don’t trust Corey Crawford in net. Not sure why; he has Cup wins 'n stuff. But due to this seemingly up-in-the-air match-up, I’m going to defer to Marc-Andre Fleury and the Golden Knights (interestingly enough, Robin Lehner is the Game 1 starter). They still have that hunger from their recent Cup Final’s loss, and have added some legitimate star power since then. I see them going deep into the playoffs, and I don’t think the Hawks have the depth on defence to stop them.
Winner: Golden Knights 4-2
Leading Scorer: Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch
(Semi-)Hot Take: Pacioretty doesn’t score a goal this series
Islanders vs. Capitals
Another tough one. The Islanders have been a good team since Tavares left (who would’ve guessed), and the Capitals wanna party again. I’d like to believe the Islanders can win this one. But I just don’t see it, their team seems just okay; not too much depth at any position. Whereas the Capitals have two KILLER lines and one of the best defencemen in recent years in John Carlson. Not to mention Brayden Holtby seems to have a chip on his shoulder after a lackluster regular season. Should still be a good, tight series, with its ups and downs.
Winner: Capitals 4-3
Leading Scorer: John Carlson
Hot Take: Islanders win the first three games with poor Holtby performances, and then get steamrolled on the way to elimination
Coyotes vs. Avalanche
Is this the year a young Avalanche team slide their way to the Cup Final? A lot of people seem to think so. Who am I to argue with them? They have depth and star-power at every position. They have the energy, skill, and big bodies to compete in playoff hockey. And man, they’re a fun team to watch. The Coyotes (surprisingly?) are a good team as well, and Taylor Hall should be geared up for a big series. The goaltending battle might get interesting, but this Avalanche team is something else this year, and seems poised to be a cup contender for years to come.
Winner: Avalanche 4-2
Leading Scorer: Cale Makar
Hot Take: Taylor Hall leads the series in scoring until Cale Makar’s monster game 6 where he scores 4 points; including the overtime winner
Canadiens vs. Flyers
Did anyone think the Habs would take down Sidney Crosby and the Penguins? Does anyone feel bad for Patrick Marleau after his trade to the Pens for what could be his last year in the NHL? No and yes. But here we are, with Carey Price stealing the show for his scrappy team from Montreal. Too bad this series he’ll be up against the goalie vying for his spot on team Canada at the next Olympics: Carter Hart. Consider this series the first try-out, and if Hart comes out on top he’ll be considered a bona-fide top goalie in the league. This Flyers team seems to have it all, and also seems poised to meet the Avalanche in the Cup Final this year. Big, smart defencemen, pesky, skilled forwards. Anything past game 5 would be an accomplishment for the Canadiens.
Winner: Flyers 4-0
Leading Scorer: Sean Couturier
Hot Take: Carey Price gets outplayed by Carter Hart
Canucks vs. Blues
This Canucks team has been fun to watch this year. Loaded with young talent with some gritty veterans mixed in. But the Blues are the defending cup champs. Is there any way the Nucks can upset them? I see this as a tight series score-wise but not win-wise. Throw a couple overtime games into the mix for entertainment purposes, but this Blues team has to walk away with the win here. They are just too good and know how to win. The Canucks needed to make the playoffs this year to build upon their roster moves and stellar play from Quinn Hughes. So even if they lose, they will come back next year stronger and hungrier.
Winner: Blues 4-1
Leading Scorer: Jaden Schwartz
Hot Take: Jakob Markstrom gets pulled in Game 2 and Thatcher Demko plays well enough to earn the starter’s spot next year
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