McGuinness: NHL playoffs, worth the wait?
Andrew McGuinness | Tuesday, August 25, 2020
The first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs had just about everything hockey fans could ask for. Multi-overtime games, upsets of the two most recent champions, big hits and spectacular goals were aplenty in round one. Eight more teams saw their Cup dreams end, leaving eight left to compete for the greatest trophy in sports.
So, was round one worth the wait? I’d say so.
The good news is the wait for round two was a lot shorter than the gap between the end of the regular season and the return to play. Round two kicked off Saturday, with three of the four series wrapping up Game 1 over the weekend. As the stakes keep rising, take a look at the NHL’s Elite Eight and see where everyone’s Cup chances stand.
No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers (beat No. 12 MTL 4-2) vs. No. 7 New York Islanders (beat No. 3 WSH 4-1)
Philadelphia wins if: Their stars wake up. Four Flyers had 20-plus goals in the regular season, but they combined for just one against Montreal. Their power-play was mostly awful but did show signs of life with three goals in Game 5. New York will force the Flyers to dump the puck in a lot, but Philly should be fine with that because of their outstanding forecheck.
New York wins if: They keep playing the way they are. The Islanders have been the most consistent team in the East since the return to play. Their top forwards like Mat Barzal and Brock Nelson are on fire. There’s little chance that the Islanders’ outstanding defensive structure will break; they just need to keep scoring enough to be ok if it bends.
Players to watch:
PHI: Carter Hart. The 22-year-old is the youngest goalie in the playoffs, and though he showed his age on occasion against Montreal, he was more brilliant than bad, becoming the second-youngest goalie ever to record back-to-back shutouts in the playoffs.
NYI: Anders Lee. The Islanders’ captain and former Notre Dame captain had a great start to his series against the Capitals, scoring a goal in each of the first three games. Those are his only points of the playoffs, however; New York will be looking for more from him this series.
The pick: Flyers in 7.
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning (beat No. 9 CBJ 4-1) vs. No. 4 Boston Bruins (beat No. 6 CAR 4-1)
Tampa Bay wins if: They don’t get in their own heads again. Tampa is once again the best team on paper, but that hasn’t stopped them from going out before the Finals four straight years. Even with captain Steven Stamkos injured, Tampa boasts reigning league MVP Nikita Kucherov, best defenseman Victor Hedman and best goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, plus outstanding depth.
Boston wins if: They keep playing Bruins hockey. Boston is one of the most physical teams in the league, and they know what you can and can’t get away with this time of year. There’s plenty of high-end talent here; their first line is called the Perfection Line for a reason, and they’re one of the few teams with enough depth to hang with Tampa’s.
Players to watch:
TB: Anthony Cirelli. He could’ve easily been a finalist for the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward in the league, and he’s also an offensive threat. He’ll be looking to rebound after a bit of a rough performance against Columbus.
BOS: Anders Bjork. Boston needs to get offense outside of their first-line to have a chance, and the Notre Dame product Bjork is one of their best depth scorers. Bjork cemented himself as a regular in Boston’s regular-season lineup but is still looking for his first playoff point.
The pick: Lightning in 6.
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights (beat No. 12 CHI 4-1) vs. No. 7 Vancouver Canucks (beat No. 4 STL 4-2)
Vegas wins if: Everyone keeps holding their own. Vegas doesn’t have as many household names as the Canucks, but they make up for that with a slew of underrated stars like Mark Stone and Shea Theodore and a great goalie tandem in Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury (albeit one that’s starting to stew up controversy).
Vancouver wins if: The kids keep leading the charge. Vancouver has one of the youngest cores in the league, headlined by 2019 rookie of the year, Elias Pettersson, at forward and 2020 rookie of the year finalist Quinn Hughes on defense. Vancouver isn’t as well-rounded as the Golden Knights, with holes on the backend by Hughes. But if their high-end talent can lead them past the defending champs, it can lead them past anyone.
Players to watch:
VGK: Alec Martinez. Vegas also had holes on defense earlier in the season but brought in Martinez to patch them. The move was heavily criticized at the time, but the 2014 playoff hero has fit in very well with the Golden Knights, driving play and scoring points at a nice clip.
VAN: Alex Edler. The 34-year-old is one of just two holdovers from the Canucks 2011 Finals run. He could’ve left as a free agent last summer, but chose to stick around, and is one of the Canucks most important shut-down defenders.
The pick: Golden Knights in 5.
No. 2 Colorado Avalanche (beat No. 11 ARI 4-1) vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars (beat No. 8 CGY 4-2)
Colorado wins if: Their depth keeps producing. Colorado has had outstanding high-end talent each of the last few years but went out in the first two rounds two years in a row because of a lack of scoring behind them. Adding Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky in the offseason fixed that issue; in 26 combined playoff games, they’ve scored 26 points.
Dallas wins if: Their offense stays shockingly awesome. The Stars have been an amazing defensive team two years straight, but their offense is very inconsistent. Last year they made it to Game 7 in round two, but were outshot 54-30 and lost 2-1 in double OT. This year, they scored five-plus three times in six games against the Flames, including seven unanswered in the series clincher.
Players to watch:
COL: Ian Cole. The former Fighting Irish defenseman and two-time Cup winner is one of Colorado’s key penalty killers and shutdown defenders. He’ll be a huge part of Colorado’s efforts to shut down Dallas’ excellent top-line and white-hot Dennis Gurianov (four goals in Game 6 vs. Calgary).
DAL: Corey Perry. The 2007 Cup champion and 2011 league MVP is just a veteran depth piece, but he’s an important one. Perry is old, but he can still contribute offensively, scoring four points in nine games so far in the playoffs.
The pick: Avalanche in 6.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.