NHL Playoffs 2020: Current Bracket Matchups and Postseason PictureAugust 7, 2020
On Thursday night, the Calgary Flames became the second team to win a best-of-five qualifying-round series and advance to the conference quarterfinals of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Flames split the first two games of their series against the Winnipeg Jets before taking control, winning Games 3 and 4 by a combined score of 10-2. In Thursday's clinching victory, they blanked the Jets 4-0 as goaltender Cam Talbot made 31 saves en route to the lone shutout of the series.
The only one of the other seven qualifying-round series that has ended is in the Eastern Conference, where the No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes swept the No. 11 New York Rangers.
Here's a look at the rest of the playoff picture.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
2. Philadelphia Flyers (2-0-0, 4 points)
3. Washington Capitals (0-1-1, 1 point)
4. Boston Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)
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. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets lead No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1
1. Colorado Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)
2. Vegas Golden Knights (2-0-0, 4 points)
3. St. Louis Blues (0-2-0, 0 points)
4. Dallas Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)
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 lead No. 10 Minnesota Wild 2-1
No. 8 Calgary Flames defeated No. 9 Winnipeg Jets 3-1
Could a Pair of No. 12 Seeds Advance?
The Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks were the last teams included in the qualifying round in their respective conferences and faced great challenges in going up against No. 5 seeds. Yet each team is only one win away from pulling off a huge upset and advancing.
The Canadiens won two of their first three games against an experienced Pittsburgh Penguins team that features some of the players who won the Stanley Cup in consecutive years in 2016 and 2017, with captain Sidney Crosby among them. Montreal won 3-2 in overtime in Game 1 and 4-3 in Game 3, and it will look to finish off the series in Friday evening's Game 4.
The Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers also split the first two games of their series before Chicago used an incredible comeback to win Game 3 and take control of the series, scoring two goals in the final five minutes, 47 seconds for a 4-3 victory. This series could also come to an end Friday, when the two teams are set to play Game 4.
Were the Canadiens and Blackhawks to advance, they would have to play the No. 1 seeds in their conferences as the lowest-seeded teams. With how the round robin has played out, Montreal would have to play either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Philadelphia Flyers, while Chicago's potential series would be against either the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights.
Coyotes Also in Position to Pull Off Big Upset
While the No. 12 seeds are each one win away from advancing, the No. 11-seeded Arizona Coyotes are in the same position. If they beat the Nashville Predators in Friday's Game 4, they would play either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the Western Conference in the next round depending on the Oilers-Blackhawks series' outcome.
Arizona and Nashville split the first two games before the Coyotes used a late scoring surge and standout defensive play to win 4-1 in Game 3. They scored three goals in the final 12:52, while goaltender Darcy Kuemper tallied 39 saves and didn't allow a goal in the final 32:29.
"To go up 2-1 in the series is the same as going up 3-2 in a best-of-seven," Arizona left winger Taylor Hall said, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "We wanted the last game just as much as today. Obviously, the next game is going to be huge."
After the Coyotes hadn't made the playoffs since reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2012, Game 4 will be the most important game the team has played in nearly a decade. If the offense can capitalize on Kuemper's standout goaltending, Arizona could be a dark horse to make a deep run.
Hurricanes Poised for Deep Playoff Run
As the only team to pull off a sweep in the eight qualifying-round series, the Carolina Hurricanes have laid down an impressive marker. They outscored the Rangers 11-4 over their three games, winning 4-1 in both Game 2 and Game 3.
Carolina reached the Eastern Conference Final last year, taking down the then-champion Washington Capitals and New York Islanders in the first two rounds. That was the Hurricanes' first postseason appearance since 2009, and they appear poised to make another strong run this year.
"It's a special group we have in there and we need everyone," Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour said, according to Chip Alexander of the News & Observer. "They understand that and everyone is contributing right now. That's why we're still playing."
There's some strong competition in the Eastern Conference—most notably the four teams that are playing round-robin seeding games that are already assured of spots in the quarterfinals. But the Canes have proved they can get hot and make a deep playoff run. And with their underrated defense and dynamic forward group, it would take a brave person to bet against them doing it again.