The first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs starts today. The final 16 teams have been decided and a few underdogs made it into the first round. Chicago, Montreal, Arizona, and Columbus all advanced despite being the lower seed in the qualifying round. The chaos and unpredictability of playoff hockey will surely continue but that won’t stop me from trying to predict the results anyway.
In addition to predicting the winner and number of games, I’ve gone out on a limb and added a bold prediction for each series. The point is for those predictions to be unlikely to happen, but maybe one or two will be accurate. Here are Emerald City Hockey’s 1st round playoff picks:
1-Vegas Golden Knights vs. 12-Chicago BlackhawksEmbed from Getty Images
Golden Knights win in 4 games. This is the most lopsided of this year’s first round matchups. The Chicago Blackhawks, who were on an 84 point pace when the season paused, will face the hottest team in the Western Conference. The way the Golden Knights are playing, it looks like no team can beat them in a seven game series. Vegas shouldn’t have any trouble in what is one of the easiest playoff matchups any team has had in the last decade. Look for Vegas to steamroll Chicago in this series.
Bold Prediction: Vegas scores 5 or more goals in every game. The Blackhawks defense appeared leaky for long stretches against the Oilers in the qualifying round. Stone, Marchessault, Karlsson, & co. should be able to generate a ton of offense.
2-Colorado Avalanche vs. 11-Arizona CoyotesEmbed from Getty Images
Avalanche win in 5 games. The Coyotes were able to successfully keep the Predators in check despite being outplayed for long stretches of their qualifying round series thanks to goalie Darcy Kuemper. While Kuemper’s play might be enough to steal the Coyotes a game or two in this series, the Avalanche’s speed and skill will ultimately prove to be overwhelming to coach Rick Tocchet’s defensive structure.
Bold Prediction: Conor Garland will lead the Coyotes in scoring. The small but scrappy Coyotes winger doesn’t shy away from the tough areas of the ice and has shown a scoring touch this season. I think he will heavily factor into whatever offense Arizona manages to generate in this series.
3-Dallas Stars vs. 8 Calgary FlamesEmbed from Getty Images
Flames win in 6 games. The Stars started slow out of the gate in the qualifying round but eked out a shootout win against the Blues to earn the 3rd seed. The Flames looked good against a Jets team that was missing its two best forwards almost the entire series. This is a close matchup on paper but I think the difference will be goaltending. If Ben Bishop was healthy, the Stars would have the inside track to win the series. However, Bishop is clearly not healthy as Anton Khudobin will start game 1.
Bold Prediction: Joe Pavelski will lead the Stars in scoring. The 36-year-old winger experienced a significant decline in scoring this season after moving to the Stars from the San Jose Sharks. I expect his numbers to bounce back a bit in this series. Pavelski has a history of stepping up in the playoffs. He’s tied for 2nd all time in playoff goals in Sharks history with 48. After his late goal to tie the game against St. Louis in the qualifying round, I predict he’ll keep that run going against the Flames.
4-St. Louis Blues vs. 7-Vancouver CanucksEmbed from Getty Images
Blues win in 5 games. Although the Blues were the top seed in the West when the league paused in March, they lost all three qualifying round games, dropping them to the 4th seed. The defending Stanley Cup champions have looked unmotivated at times since arriving in the bubble but this matchup provides the Blues with a great opportunity to kick it into gear. The Canucks, as currently constructed, aren’t built for the playoffs. In addition to lack of depth at both forward and defense, the Canucks’ high end players Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes may lack the size to stand up to a heavy Blues team. No team grinds their opponent down like the St. Louis Blues and the Canucks showed against the Wild that they can be ground down by a hard forecheck.
Bold Prediction: Elias Pettersson will not finish the series. While Pettersson is extremely talented, his slight frame makes him particularly vulnerable to the intensely physical nature of playoff hockey. The Blues won last year’s Western Conference Final in large part by injuring opposing players on a much less physical San Jose Sharks team. By the end of their Conference Final series against the Sharks, the Blues had injured three star players: Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, and Tomas Hertl. I expect St. Louis to target Pettersson early and often.
1-Philadelphia Flyers vs. 12-Montréal CanadiensEmbed from Getty Images
Flyers win in 6 games. Although the 12 seed Canadiens stunned the 5 seed Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round, they won’t fare as well against the Penguins’ in-state rival. The Flyers have been playing excellent hockey dating back to before the league’s pause in March. The goaltending battle between 21-year-old Carter Hart and his childhood idol Carey Price will be intriguing. Ultimately, I think Hart will benefit from the stronger team in front of him and the Flyers will close the series out in 6 games.
Bold Prediction: Carey Price will have multiple shutouts. Price reminded everyone of his ability to steal a series against the Penguins. He has a .922 career save percentage against the Flyers and could steal a couple games by himself.
2-Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 9-Columbus Blue JacketsEmbed from Getty Images
Blue Jackets win in 7 games. This rematch of last season’s biggest upset should be exciting no matter the result. The Lightning won’t take anything for granted after last year’s President’s Trophy winning team was swept by Columbus in the first round. Tampa added Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow before the trade deadline to better match the grinding style of a team like Columbus. Those additions should help in a series that really could go either way. As it often does in the playoffs, this series should come down to goaltending. Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo has looked better than his Tampa counterpart since the restart so I’ll give Columbus the edge in 7.
Bold Prediction: Liam Foudy will score the series winning goal. Foudy scored a clutch 3rd period goal in game 5 against the Maple Leafs in the qualifying round. Although the goal was his only point of the series, Foudy was an impact player on both sides of the puck for the Blue Jackets. I could see him coming up big again vs. Tampa.
3-Washington Capitals vs. 7-New York IslandersEmbed from Getty Images
Islanders win in 7 games. Islanders coach Barry Trotz faces the team he won a Stanley Cup with in what figures to be a very close series. Both teams have no shortage of skill. If it’s an offensive series, the Capitals will probably win, if defense rules the day, the Islanders will be likely to advance. The status of Norris Trophy finalist John Carlson could be a deciding factor in this series. Carlson was injured in the Caps’ exhibition game and hasn’t played since. He will be a game time decision for game 1. I give the edge to the Trotz-coached team in 7.
Bold Prediction: The Islanders will win the first two “road” games and start with a 2-0 series lead. With Carlson potentially missing from game 1 and Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov playing well in the qualifying round, I could see the Islanders getting the early jump in the series before the Capitals find their legs.
4-Boston Bruins vs. 6-Carolina HurricanesEmbed from Getty Images
Bruins win in 6 games. This series pits two teams on opposite sides of the momentum spectrum against each other. The Hurricanes are fresh off a three game sweep of the New York Rangers in the qualifying round while the Bruins lost all three round robin games, going from the 1st seed to the 4th seed. This series will depend on whether the Bruins are able to play like themselves again. They showed are capable of outplaying Carolina in last season’s Conference Final sweep, but will they find their game in time? The Bruins have a veteran group that’s shown the ability to hold themselves accountable. I think they’ll find their game sooner rather than later. Bruins in 6.
Bold Prediction: The Bruins will score more goals in game 1 than they did in the entire qualifying round. The Bruins only managed four goals in the three qualifying round games. If the Bruins offense comes back to life against the Hurricanes, look for the goals to come in bunches.