Five NHL teams sealed qualifying-round series victories Friday to advance to the conference quarterfinals in the Stanley Cup playoffs. That leaves only one of the 16 spots open heading into the weekend, although there's also still seeding to be decided.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens, both No. 12 seeds, won to pull off upsets, as did the No. 11 Arizona Coyotes. Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders, both No. 7 seeds, also advanced to the next round Friday.
The final playoff spot will be decided in Sunday's Game 5 matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs (No. 8 seed in Eastern Conference) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (No. 9).
Both No. 1 seeds are also up for grabs and will be decided during Saturday's round-robin action.
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 defeated No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1
No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes defeated No. 11 New York Rangers 3-0
No. 7 New York Islanders defeated No. 10 Florida Panthers 3-1
No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs and No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets are tied 2-2
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 defeated No. 5 Edmonton Oilers 3-1
No. 11 Arizona Coyotes defeated No. 6 Nashville Predators 3-1
No. 7 Vancouver Canucks defeated No. 10 Minnesota Wild 3-1
No. 8 Calgary Flames defeated No. 9 Winnipeg Jets 3-1
Top Seeds Up for Grabs on Saturday
The No. 1 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences will be decided Saturday, when the Tampa Bay Lightning take on the Philadelphia Flyers and the Colorado Avalanche face the Vegas Golden Knights. All four of these teams are 2-0 in round-robin seeding games heading into their final matchups before the conference quarterfinals.
When the regular season was suspended in mid-March, the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues were the top teams in their respective conferences. But neither can claim higher than the No. 3 seed and could even be the No. 4 seeds depending on the results of their final round-robin games.
Tampa Bay is looking to be the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the second straight year. Last season, it was swept by Columbus in the first round, so it has a lot to prove this postseason. With wins over the Washington Capitals and Bruins already, the Lightning could go a perfect 3-0 in round-robin games with a victory over the Flyers.
In the teams' two previous meetings this season, Tampa Bay beat Philadelphia in both by a combined score of 6-3. They were scheduled to play a third time the week that the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On the other side, the Avalanche and Golden Knights will face off after winning their first two round-robin games in different manners. Colorado beat St. Louis and the Dallas Stars by allowing only one total goal, while Vegas scored 11 total goals in its wins over those teams.
That means Saturday's game could come down to which side wins the matchup between the Avalanche defense and the Golden Knights offense.
Both games should provide exciting conclusions to the chase for the No. 1 seeds. And for the losing teams, they are assured of falling no lower than the No. 2 seeds so will still be in good positions to make a deep playoff runs.
Toronto and Columbus Set to Contest Lone Game 5
Although there were eight qualifying-round series, only one is going the distance. The Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets will go head-to-head for the final available spot in the conference quarterfinals Sunday.
The teams have contested a competitive, back-and-forth series. The Blue Jackets notched a 2-0 win in Game 1, and the Maple Leafs responded with a shutout victory of their own in Game 2, winning 3-0. In Game 3, Columbus won 4-3 in overtime after trailing 3-0 in the second period. Toronto responded in even more dramatic fashion to win 4-3 in overtime in Game 4.
In Friday's Game 4, the Maple Leafs extended the series when Auston Matthews scored a power-play goal 13 minutes, 10 seconds into overtime. That came after they were down 3-0 with a little under four minutes remaining.
"We were getting CPR there for a little bit, and we found our way back," Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "Here we go."
Meanwhile, Columbus right winger Cam Atkinson was ready to turn the page to Game 5: "I'm not going to dissect this one. They clearly wanted it more than us. We'll be ready to go Sunday."
Based on how the past two games in this series have gone, the finale should be a suitably thrilling end to the qualifying round and build excitement for the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs.