• Andrew McGuinness

Predicting the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs... If They Started On Time (Part 2)

The NHL season is still paused, but that doesn't mean we can't pretend it's not. On April 8, the day the Stanley Cup playoffs were supposed to start, I decided to do just that. I took the playoff picture (based on points percentage), created a bracket, and gave my thoughts on each of the eight first round series that would have taken place based on how the standings currently looked. Here's how I see the first round taking shape:

With round one done, the second round would have begun around today. So, let's look at the remaining eight teams and see how they might fare in their conference semi-final series.

Vegas Golden Knights (39-24-8) vs. Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6)

Previous Meetings: This would be the first ever playoff meeting between these two teams.

Last Time: Vancouver lost to Calgary in 6 despite having home-ice in the 2015 Western Conference Quarterfinals. Vegas blew a 3-0 lead in Game 7 at San Jose, losing 5-4 in overtime after having a 3-1 series lead.

Season Series: Split - a 6-3 win for Vegas and a 5-4 OT decision in favor of the Canucks. Both games took place in December.

Why Vegas Wins: The Golden Knights were one of the hottest teams in the league at the pause and in this world, continued their momentum with a sweep of Nashville. Their top six is great but probably underrated. There's a little bit of everything, from 2019 Selke finalist (and winger!) Mark Stone, veteran playmaker Paul Stastny, and snipers Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Marchessault, not to mention the versatile Reilly Smith and playoff warrior William Karlsson. Their defense is good enough with the Alec Martinez addition, and they have the best goalie tandem left in the playoffs

Why Vancouver Wins: Vancouver's top-six isn't too bad either, featuring the defending calder win Elias Pettersson, a career-year from JT Miller, deadline pickup Tyler Toffoli, and an elite sniper of their own in Brock Boeser. Their defense is more well-rounded and has a game-breaker in Quinn Hughes that the Vegas blue-line just can't match. And they've got one heck of a goalie in Jacob Markstrom as well.

NHL 20 Says: Vegas suffers their first second round elimination in franchise history, as Vancouver advances to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2011.

Prediction: The Golden Knights roll on in dominant fashion. Vancouver's dream season comes to a screeching halt in four games, as Vegas becomes the first team since Carolina last year to win eight straight games in the playoffs, and the first to start the playoffs 8-0 since the 1985 Oilers won their first nine. Thanks to NHL PR for saving me the research.

St. Louis Blues (42-19-10) vs. Colorado Avalanche (42-20-8)

Previous Meetings: Surprisingly, their only meeting came back in the 2001 Western Conference Finals. The Avalanche rolled over St. Louis in five en route to their second (and most recent) Stanley Cup.

Last Time: The Blues made the playoffs last year, but I don't think they did anything there. Colorado took out the top seed in the West Calgary in round 1 before losing to the Sharks in seven. Yes, they had a controversial call go against them, too.

Season Series: St. Louis won the first two, Colorado won the next two, with the winner scoring at least five goals in three of their four meetings.

Why St. Louis Wins: They're the defending champions, so if anyone knows what it takes to win, it's them. By now, Vladimir Tarasenko should be fully back, giving the Blues already strong offense a dynamic weapon. Having the reigning Selke winner and a strong defensive core led by Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, plus Jordan Binnington between the pipes should help to shut down the dynamic weapons they'll be facing.

Why Colorado Wins: The Avalanche definitely have more firepower, led by their electric top-line of Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Rantanen. This year, they have enough depth that the Blues will have to keep their eyes open when they're not on the ice, for fear of being burnt by Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, and Andre Burakovsky, among others. Cale Makar is tough for even the best defense to contain. Philip Grubauer may not be as good (or experienced) as Binnington, but he's more than good enough to win a series.

NHL 20 Says: The defending champions defend no further, as the high-flying Avalanche knock them out in five.

Prediction: Sure enough, Colorado's electric offense and a strong series from Philip Grubauer are enough in my eyes to knock off the champs. Avs in six.

Washington Capitals (41-20-8) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6)

Previous Meetings: The Caps and Pens met in round 2 three straight years from 2016-18. Pittsburgh took the first two bouts in six and seven games, respectively, before the Capitals got over the hump in 2018 with a six-game victory. Each of those three years, the series winner went on to win the Cup.

Last Time: Both teams went out in round 1 last year. The Penguins were swept by the Isles, the Capitals lost in seven to Carolina.

Season Series: Pittsburgh took the first meeting, but the Capitals took the next two contests. All three games featured at least seven goals.

Why Washington Wins: The Capitals finally discovered how to beat their boogeyman two years ago, taking out the Penguins en route to winning the Cup. Every key contributor from that series is still here. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson need no introduction. Jakub Vrana scored the game-winner in the 3rd period of Game 5 last time, and he's even better today. And the Capitals should feel confident whether Braden Holtby or Ilya Samsonov is in goal.

Why Pittsburgh Wins: Every key contributor from the Penguins wins in 2016 and 17 is still here (except for Phil Kessel). They've won three of four meetings in the Sid-Ovi era for a reason. After beating the Flyers in round 1, the Penguins will be tired but rolling. Crosby and Malkin are still lethal down the middle, Jason Zucker looked legit, and Jake Guentzel might be able to return at some point during this series. Their defense is probably deeper than Washington's thanks to a great rookie season from 22-year old John Marino. And like Washington, they have an outstanding hot young goalie (Tristan Jarry) or a guy who's been here before and won (Matt Murray) to lead them to victory.

NHL 20 Says: Capitals in 5. The torch has officially been passed.

Prediction: "Not to fast, my friend - Lee Corso" - Sidney Crosby. A close to fully healthy Penguins team is just too much for the Capitals defense to handle, as the Penguins win in six.

Boston Bruins (44-14-12) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6)

Previous Meetings: In round 2 of 2018, when the Bruins took Game 1 in Tampa Bay, only for the Lightning to turn around and take the next four in a row.

Last Time: Boston came up one win short of a Cup last year, falling short in Game 7 against St. Louis. The Lightning won just three fewer total games than the Bruins, but 15 fewer in the playoffs, as Columbus pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NHL history.

Season Series: Tampa Bay won three of four, but all but one were decided by one goal. Their last meeting in Boston (a 5-3 Bolts win) was one of the most entertaining games of the year, featuring two line brawls, two Lightning shorties, and a close-but-not-quite Bruins comeback.

Why Boston Wins: They were the best team in the regular season, and I don't think it should take too long to dismantle the Islanders. Acquiring Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie at the deadline is eerily similar to last year, when they traded for Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle (who's still here), who helped them reach the finals. So long as Tuukka Rask stays in 2019 form and doesn't revert back to 2010 reverse sweep style, the Bruins will be a dangerous foe for any opponent.

Why Tampa Bay Wins: By defeating the Maple Leafs in the first round, the Lightning are now the heavy favorites for most skilled team left standing, with Colorado the only legitimate challenger. Surviving round one is arguably the toughest hurdle for Tampa Bay, seeing as they likely wouldn't have Steven Stamkos for most if not all of the series, not to mention the demons they needed to exorcise after last year's stunning defeat to the Blue Jackets. If the Lightning can just get some momentum in this year's playoffs, they might snowball into an unstoppable juggernaut.

NHL 20 Says: Unlike last time in real life, it's all Bruins in this series. Boston, sweep style.

Prediction: This meeting goes almost exactly the same as the last one. This time, the Bruins take the first two games of the series before the Bolts take over, prevailing in six and leaving little doubt about whether they're clutch enough to go all the way this year.