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Sports

McGuinness: Recapping the first round of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

| Friday, August 21, 2020

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are always one of the marquee events on the sports calendar. The intensity, physicality and parity the NHL provide make for an exciting tournament year in and year out with the greatest trophy in sports serving as the ultimate prize.

The extra-long wait this year because of COVID-19 might make this year’s playoffs even more special. We started with 24 teams, eight more than usual, and now we’re down to 12 as the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs start to conclude. A lot has happened so far, so here are the cliff notes on the NHL’s first round to get you up to speed for the rest of the playoffs.

Most Memorable Moment: The Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets came within two minutes of playing the longest game in modern NHL history (since 1942). Their five-overtime epic Game 1 battle drew the attention of hardcore and novice fans alike. Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo set the all-time record for most saves in an NHL game with 85 but did so in vain, as Tampa’s Brayden Point scored from the high slot after 150:27 of action. Oh, and Point would also go on to score the OT game-winner in Game 5 to eliminate the Blue Jackets, securing revenge for Columbus’ stunning first-round sweep of the Bolts last year.

Most Shocking Moment: The last two Cup champions find themselves on the brink of elimination way earlier than expected. Washington’s electric offense has been shut down by the New York Islanders elite defenseman, led by the Caps former coach Barry Trotz. The Capitals impressively overcame a 2-0 deficit in Game 4 to avoid the sweep but face an uphill battle to advance.

Meanwhile, the defending champs aren’t doing much better. After going all the way last year, the St. Louis Blues lost all three round-robin games then fell behind to Vancouver 2-0. The Canucks’ young guns came out flying, led by captain Bo Horvat scoring a possible ‘goal of the playoffs’ candidate to ice Game 1 and then winning Game 2 in overtime. The Blues went to their backup goalie Jake Allen after that, and though he pulled them even in the series, Vancouver vaulted back ahead by overcoming a 3-1 deficit in Game 5.

Most Predictable Moment: The Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche taking care of business; the top two seeds in the West each moved on in five games. Vegas is rolling thanks to outstanding team depth and arguably the best goalie tandem in the league, cruising past the fading Blackhawks dynasty with relative ease in five games. After a tight start to their first-round series with the scrappy Coyotes, the Avalanche straight up made an example of Arizona with consecutive 7-1 wins to close out the series. Colorado has come full circle since being in Arizona’s shoes two years ago when Nashville blew them out 5-0 to finish a much tighter series than most expected. Colorado has continued to build its depth, which combined with MVP finalist Nathan MacKinnon and rookie of the year finalist Cale Makar, makes them a huge threat.

Round One All-Star Team

Left Winger: Tobias Reider (CGY) — Rieder has three goals in the playoffs (two in the first round), which is three more than he had all of last season. The real story is all three were scored short-handed, making him the second player in NHL history to have three shorties in the same playoffs.

Center: Nathan MacKinnon (COL) — The only MVP finalist whose team is still in contention for the Cup picked up right where he left off in the regular season, leading all skaters in round one scoring with 10 points in just five games. He also scored two goals in the series clincher.

Right Winger: Jakub Voracek (PHI) — On a Flyers team struggling to score, Voracek has been the exception. The usual pass-first winger has been Philly’s go-to goal-scorer all series, tallying four times. He’s responsible for three of Philadelphia’s four playoff power-play goals.

Defense: Seth Jones (CBJ) — Jones had two assists in the Jackets’ five-game loss to Tampa, but it’s his defensive work and endurance that deserves the spotlight. Jones played 65:06 in the aforementioned five-overtime epic, setting a new record for most ice-time in a game.

Defense: John Klingberg (DAL) — The Stars’ outstanding offensive defenseman has had a nice series against Calgary, putting up six points in the first five games. No one has a bigger goal for Dallas than Klingberg’s OT winner in Game 4, giving new life to a Stars team seconds away from falling behind 3-1 in the series.

Goalie: Carey Price (MTL) — His .939 save percentage in round one ranks second among goalies (min. 2 games), and he’s saved 6.52 goals above average since the return to play. And he made the save of the season, robbing Philly’s Scott Laughton with the edge of his stick in a full-desperation dive. The 2015 league MVP finally looks like the best goalie in the world again.

Rest of Round 1 Predictions:

No. 1 Philadelphia Leads No. 12 Montreal 3-2: Montreal is an extremely feisty team and is playing their best hockey of the year right now. Young players like Game 5 winning goal-scorer Nick Suzuki are stepping up. But the Flyers are the No. 1 seed for a reason, and it’s a good bet that Carter Hart, who has two shutouts in the series, bounces back after a rough Game 5. Flyers in 6.

No. 7 New York Islanders Leads No. 3 Washington 3-1: A two-goal performance in Game 4 may have woken up Alex Ovechkin, and when the Great 8 is on, he’s almost impossible to stop. However, his Robin Nicklas Backstrom injured. New York hasn’t allowed more than three goals in a game yet, and I just don’t think the Caps have enough right now to break them. Islanders in 5.

No. 3 Dallas Stars Leads No. 8 Calgary 3-2: The Stars offense is just too inconsistent for me to bet on them. Sure, they put up five goals in their Game 2 and 4 wins, but those are the only times in eight games they’ve scored more than three. Calgary is more well-rounded, and that usually pays off in the playoffs. Flames in 7.

No. 7 Vancouver Leads No. 4 St. Louis 3-2: Had the Blues won Game 5, I think this series would be over in six. Credit to Vancouver for fighting back and flipping the momentum back around. Goaltending matters so much this time of year, and because I don’t trust Jake Allen when it matters most (see Game 6 vs. Wild in 2015), the young ‘Nucks get it done. Canucks in 7.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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