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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2020: NHL Bracket, Format and Updated Predictions

Jake RillSenior Analyst IIIAugust 6, 2020

Arizona Coyotes' Darcy Kuemper (35) makes a save against the Anaheim Ducks during an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)
Darryl Webb/Associated Press

Nothing about the 2019-20 NHL season has been normal because of the coronavirus pandemic. The season was suspended in mid-March, and when it returned at the beginning of this month, a new format was introduced with 16 of the 24 remaining teams participating in a qualifying round of the playoffs.

Even though these best-of-five series are different, they're providing some excitement. And things should only get better as the stakes get even higher and these initial series reach sudden-death contests.

Only one team so far has advanced from the qualifying round: the Carolina Hurricanes. They were the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and swept the No. 11-seeded New York Rangers 3-0. The other seven qualifying-round series are still going on entering Thursday.

As for the top four teams in each conference, they're still playing round-robin games to determine the seeding for the upcoming conference quarterfinals.

Here's a look at the playoff picture, followed by predictions for the remainder of the qualifying round.

      

Eastern Conference

Round-Robin Standings

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)

2. Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-0, 2 points)

3. Washington Capitals (0-0-1, 1 point)

4. Boston Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

        

Qualifying-Round Series

No. 12 Montreal Canadiens lead No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1

No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes defeated No. 11 New York Rangers 3-0

No. 7 New York Islanders lead No. 10 Florida Panthers 2-1

No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs and No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets tied 1-1

       

Western Conference

Round-Robin Standings

1. Colorado Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)

2. Vegas Golden Knights (1-0-0, 2 points)

3. St. Louis Blues (0-1-0, 0 points)

4. Dallas Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

         

Qualifying-Round Series

No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks lead No. 5 Edmonton Oilers 2-1

No. 11 Arizona Coyotes lead No. 6 Nashville Predators 2-1

No. 7 Vancouver Canucks and No. 10 Minnesota Wild tied 1-1

No. 8 Calgary Flames lead No. 9 Winnipeg Jets 2-1

      

Latest Predictions

Predators bounce back, but Coyotes win Game 5

Through the first three games of the series between Nashville and Arizona, both teams have had high and low points. However, it's the No. 11-seeded Coyotes who hold a 2-1 advantage heading into Friday's Game 4.

Arizona jumped out to a 1-0 lead, using a trio of first-period goals and holding on for a 4-3 win. Nashville rebounded with a 4-2 victory, but the Coyotes won 4-1 in Game 3 as they scored three goals in the third period and had an outstanding performance from goaltender Darcy Kuemper.

When Kuemper plays well and Arizona's defense plays at the level it's capable of (it ranked tied for third in the NHL with 2.61 goals allowed per game), the Yotes have proved they can limit Nashville's offense. It may just depend on whether the Coyotes can keep scoring goals at an efficient rate.

Expect Arizona to carry over the momentum from its most recent win into the rest of the series. And while Nashville will pull out a close win in Game 4, the Coyotes will win Game 5, combining strong defensive play with enough offense to pull off the upset series victory.

    

Blackhawks complete upset against Oilers

On Wednesday, the Blackhawks were less than six minutes away from losing and falling behind 2-1 in their series against the Oilers. Then, everything changed, as they scored a pair of goals in the final 5:47, with Jonathan Toews scoring the game-winner with 1:16 to go.

"We stuck with it, and I think it was a great team effort," Toews said, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).

It could also be the boost Chicago needed to complete an upset in the series against Edmonton. The Blackhawks can advance with a win in Friday's Game 4, but even if they lose, they'll have a chance to take the series in Saturday's Game 5.

Chicago's defense hasn't done a great job of limiting Edmonton's offense, allowing 13 goals in three games. So, in order for the Blackhawks to advance, they may need to keep matching the Oilers offense with a lot of goals of their own.

The prediction here is that Chicago, which has some experienced players such as Toews leading the way, does just that to pull off a big upset and advance to face whichever team lands the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

     

Penguins overcome deficit, rally to advance

After three games against the Canadiens, the Penguins aren't in a great spot. On Wednesday, they lost 4-3 to the Habs to fall behind 2-1 in the series. Both of Pittsburgh's losses have been by one goal; it fell 3-2 in overtime in Game 1.

The Penguins now face a must-win Game 4 on Friday before potentially playing a winner-take-all Game 5 on Saturday. Otherwise, their season is going to be over much earlier than they anticipated, which would be a surprising turn of events for a team with experienced veteran leaders.

With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way, Pittsburgh should be able to bounce back in Game 4 and stave off elimination. The Penguins are the most recent team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups, doing so in 2016 and 2017, and it would be surprising to see them get eliminated in this fashion.

However, that won't happen. Pittsburgh will win two straight games over Montreal, playing more like it did in its 3-1 win in Game 2, to advance and face the team that ends up as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference next.

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