Qualifying Round Recap
First, before I briefly recap all of the qualifiers, I would like to state that I regret picking the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets. I really thought New York was better than that on defense. This is where you laugh at me and all the New York Rangers’ fans.
After those two wrong picks, I was also fooled by the Minnesota Wild, who gave up a 3-1 lead to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 4 before losing eleven seconds into overtime. The Edmonton Oilers, who gave up 15 goals over four games to the 32-win Chicago Blackhawks, also lost. The Nashville Predators, who were bested by the offensive force of the Arizona Coyotes as well as the great play of goalie Darcy Kuemper, was also upset.
However, the biggest upset of the opening round was experienced by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were edged out by the Montreal Canadiens. Keep in mind, Montreal is a team that lost to the Detroit Redwings four times this season. The last upset of the qualifying round came in the form of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs scored four-straight to capture an overtime win in Game 4. This only to be shut out by the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game Five.
Staff Predictions Summary
So, I was one-for-eight in Stanley Cup qualifying predictions. I will be chasing perfection in the 16-team tournament. Credit to those on the DAB editorial staff who also submitted their picks. Especially, Leighann Strollo, who got the most correct. Here’s how the rest of us fared:
- Leighann S.: (4/8) Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets // Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets.
- James V.: (3/8) Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs // Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames.
- Chris M.: (3/8) Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs // Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames.
- Anthony B.: (3/8) Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs // Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets.
- Matt M.: (1/8) Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs // Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets.
- George M.: (1/8) Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs // Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets.
Eastern Conference Round of 16 Preview
Getting into the 16-team tournament, it may be easier to predict, but we are undoubtedly in for some entertaining hockey.
(1) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens
Despite being outshot 134 to 115 over the course of four games, the Montreal Canadiens managed to hold the Pittsburgh Penguins to just eight total goals in the series. Yes, it had something to do with this guy:
Carey Price finished the series with a .947 save percentage and 1.67 goals against average. But, the Canadiens also had big showings from their tough defensemen: Jeff Petry (three points, plus-one, 25:58 average time on ice) Shea Weber (four points, plus-five, 25:53 average time on ice, and Ben Chiarot (three points, plus-six, 24:35 average time on ice)
The main question in this series is whether the Philadelphia Flyers can find ways to score ugly goals against Carey Price, or if the team will be shut down with a one-dimensional approach like the Pittsburgh Penguins were. With big, tough forwards like Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, and Scott Laughton, I have a feeling they can. But, if Philadelphia come in too cocky, after sweeping the round-robin, the team could be in for a rude awakening.
(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (7) Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets climbed the mountain to upset the star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs in five games last week. But, it remains to be seen whether they can keep up with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s offensive-depth. Though Tampa Bay only scored six regulation goals in the round-robin, the team has a much tougher top-nine to deal with than the Toronto Maple Leafs. Especially after trading for Blake Coleman at the deadline.
Still, both teams will have to adjust for a banged lineup, as Tampa is missing Steven Stamkos — who missed Saturday’s game against Philadelphia with a lower-body injury — and Victor Hedman — who suffered a lower- body injury during the game on August 8th. While Columbus may have to limit Zach Werenski, as he played through Game 5 after missing Game 4 with an upper-body injury.
(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) New York Islanders
Another team that steamrolled their opponent in a qualifying series was the defensive-powerhouse New York Islanders. The Islanders never gave up more than two goals in the series, taking care of the Florida Panthers in four games.
Though the team’s scoring was spread up and down the lineup, they relied on key performances from winger Anthony Beauviller (five points), Ryan Pulock (four points), and goaltender Seymon Varlamov (.932 save percentage, 1.77 goals against average). Former Devils’ defenseman Andy Greene also made an appearance in the series, after Johnny Boychuk suffered a ghastly eye injury in Game 1.
The Washington Capitals will have its hands full. Especially since the team went 1-1-1 in round-robin play with the team’s only win coming against the struggling Boston Bruins. That being said, the Capitals will undoubtedly be ready to face their former head coach Barry Trotz. Escpecially after falling in the first round last year against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Rather than predict how the Capitals’ star-powered offense will fare against the Islanders shut-down defense, I’ll just say this series is definitely one to follow closely.
(4) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes dominated its qualifying series from start-to-finish. The ‘Canes held the Rangers to four goals in a three-game series sweep and killed 13 of the Rangers’ 14 power plays. The nail in the coffin occurred in Game 3 when Sebastian Aho took the puck away from Jacob Trouba and then dangled Tony DeAngelo to score a backhand beauty, making it 3-1 Carolina with 10-minutes to play.
In addition to the team’s qualifying round momentum, Carolina will be seeking vengeance after being swept by the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals.
The Bruins on the other hand went 0-3-0 in round-robin matchups. The team’s top-line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak combined for only one point. Still, you have to expect Boston to play with a chip on their shoulder after winning the Presidents Trophy, and only becoming the fourth seed in the round of 16.
Western Conference Round of 16 Preview
(1) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks were able to outscore the Edmonton Oilers in the qualifying round 16-15 over the course of four games. Simple math tells you the team is averaging four goals per game and 3.75 goals against per game.
The Oilers had the highest Expected Goals For per 60 (xGF/60) of any team, so I do not think we wrongly evaluated the Blackhawks defense. For reference, after four qualifying games, Chicago was expected to score 2.2 goals per game, and give up 3.4.
Now the team is facing a team with the third highest xGF/60 in the playoffs, the Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights were expected to score 2.99 goals and give up 2.09 per 60 minutes of round-robin play. They are coming off an impressive round-robin performance. The Golden Knights beat the Dallas Stars 5-3, bested the Blues 6-4, and overcame the Avalanche in overtime by a score of 4-3. The fact that the Knights can produce that level of offense against the next three best teams in the West likely means Chicago is in trouble.
(2) Colorado Avalanche vs. (7) Arizona Coyotes
The Arizona Coyotes are another team who probably over-achieved by making the 16-team playoff. The ‘Yotes were outshot by the Nashville Predators by nearly 30%. Nashville averaged 40.75 shots per game, while Arizona averaged 31.25. Plus, Arizona was expected to score 2.04 goals per game given the team’s shot quality and number of chances. This while Nashville was expected to score 2.86. The reason why the Predators did not win the series? Jusse Saros underperformed and Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper proved he’s the real deal.
The Colorado Avalanche also impressed in the round-robin, defeating the St. Louis with less than one-second left in overtime and Dallas by a whopping score of 4-0. However, the team’s only blemish was falling to Las Vegas in overtime 4-3.
Given the Avalanche have a much better defense than Arizona, I do expect them to defeat the Coyotes in five or six games. But, it’ll be interesting to see if Darcy Kuemper can stretch the series out and give Arizona’s snipers a chance at stealing some wins.
(3) Dallas Stars vs. (6) Calgary Flames
We can give credit to Calgary for scoring four goals per game on Connor Hellebuyck, but Winnipeg did lose two of their best players to injury in Game 1. Mark Schleiffle was sidelined by a freak accident following a hit by Mattew Tkachuk. And Patrik Laine left Game 1 with a wrist injury after taking a hit from Mike Giordano.
Still, Calgary got by and will have a date with the Dallas Stars, who beat St. Louis in a shootout on Sunday. Given that Dallas has a strongly equipped defense and plays games close, I expect this to be a long, low-scoring series.
(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Vancouver Canucks
Many thought Minnesota’s playoff experience and defensive-game would take Vancouver out of its rhythm in the qualifying series. But, Vancouver finished off Minnesota in four games, rallying to win three in a row after falling in Game 1 3-0. The Canucks had key performances from Quinn Hughes (6 points), Bo Horvat (two goals, two assists), and Jacob Markstrom (.926 save percentage, 2.27 goals against average).
The St. Louis Blues, like Boston, did not perform up to their regular season standards in round-robin play. The team lost a tight game to Colorado last Monday, a 6-4 contest to Vegas on Friday, and a shootout to Dallas on Sunday.
Still, you have to wonder if St. Louis will be able to slow Vancouver down and push them away from their game with their toughness and physicality. It may not have worked for the Wild, but after watching the Blues dominate these last two seasons, anyone would admit this will be a hurdle for Vancouver.
Though we won’t be posting our playoff predictions in this article, the DAB staff invites you to join our 2020 NHL Bracket Challenge group. Submit your bracket and go up against the DAB community for bragging rights, and the chance to win one million dollars. See link below.