After only four days of the resumption of the 2019-20 NHL season, the first team has won a qualifying-round series and punched its ticket for the conference quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Carolina Hurricanes, who are the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, completed a three-game sweep of the No. 11-seeded New York Rangers on Tuesday night with a 4-1 victory. However, they won't know their next opponent until the round-robin seeding games (for the top four teams in each conference) and qualifying round are complete.
And not every series has been as one-sided as Carolina's sweep of New York. Entering Wednesday, there are five qualifying-round series that are tied 1-1.
Here's a look at the current NHL playoff picture, followed by a breakdown of the early Stanley Cup favorites.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (1-0-0, 2 points)
2. Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-0, 2 points)
3. Washington Capitals (0-0-1, 1 point)
4. Boston Bruins (0-1-0, 0 points)
1. Colorado Avalanche (1-0-0, 2 points)
2. Vegas Golden Knights (1-0-0, 2 points)
3. St. Louis Blues (0-1-0, 0 points)
4. Dallas Stars (0-1-0, 0 points)
No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins and No. 12 Montreal Canadiens tied 1-1
No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes defeated No. 11 New York Rangers 3-0
No. 7 New York Islanders lead No. 10 Florida Panthers 2-0
No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs and No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets tied 1-1
No. 5 Edmonton Oilers and No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks tied 1-1
No. 6 Nashville Predators and No. 11 Arizona Coyotes tied 1-1
No. 7 Vancouver Canucks and No. 10 Minnesota Wild tied 1-1
No. 8 Calgary Flames lead No. 9 Winnipeg Jets 2-1
Early Stanley Cup Favorites
St. Louis Blues
The Blues lost their first round-robin game to the Avalanche after coming 0.1 seconds away from going to overtime. However, Nazem Kadri's beat St. Louis goaltender Jordan Binnington in just enough time to lift Colorado to a 2-1 victory.
Binnington impressed during the Blues' first game back on the ice, recording 36 saves and allowing only one goal through the first 59 minutes and 59 seconds of the contest. Last postseason, Binnington made 26 starts for St. Louis as a rookie and led the team to its first Stanley Cup, posting a .914 save percentage and 2.46 goals-against average.
The Blues will need more offense to get back to that stage, though.
"We relied on Binner a little too much, especially off that start where we were just kind of feeling it out," St. Louis center Ryan O'Reilly said, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "We need to respond a lot quicker."
The Blues play the Golden Knights on Thursday and the Stars on Sunday, giving them two more opportunities to tune up for the conference quarterfinals and improve their seeding for that round. Even if it takes a few games for them to get going, they should return to the form they showed while winning 42 regular-season games and make a deep run in the playoffs.
On the other side of that round-robin seeding game, the Avalanche showed why they'll also be a dangerous team in the Western Conference. It wasn't the first time they beat the Blues this season, either, as the teams split their regular-season series 2-2.
Colorado has lost five of its last six playoff series dating back to 2008, with the only win during that stretch being a first-round victory over Calgary in last year's playoffs. But the Avalanche have continued to improve, and they now have a deep roster that includes standouts such as center Nathan MacKinnon and defenseman Cale Makar.
And Colorado's first win since the NHL returned could be a sign of things to come.
"Division rival, great team, so we're happy to get the win," Kadri said, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "That's as close to a regular playoff game as you can get. That's as good a preparation as you can get going forward."
The Bruins may have lost to the Flyers in their return to the ice, but there is no team in the Eastern Conference better set up to make a run at the Stanley Cup this postseason. Although Boston lost 4-1 to Philadelphia, it won 44 regular-season games and hasn't lost more than two games in a row since Jan. 4.
Last season, the Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Finals but lost in seven games to the Blues.
In the regular season, Boston allowed only 167 goals, the fewest in the NHL. When goaltender Tuukka Rask (broken finger on left hand) gets back in the net, the Bruins will get a defensive boost that should help them return to playing at a high level. But they'll also need better offense than they showed against the Flyers.
"We need to make better plays with the puck, be stronger on it, take care of it, more urgency. You can use any adjective you want. That to me was the difference in the game," Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
But this is an experienced team that has strong veteran leadership in Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand. Expect the Bruins to polish things up during the next two round-robin games and be ready to go when they play their first best-of-seven series this postseason.