There's one qualifying-round series still to be decided. Then, the 16 teams that will be playing in the conference quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup playoffs will be set. And beginning with those matchups, the NHL postseason will be back to normal.
Things were a bit different this year, as the coronavirus pandemic caused a 4½-month hiatus. When the NHL returned in two bubble cities (Edmonton and Toronto) earlier this month, 24 teams were invited to an expanded postseason, with the top four teams from each conference playing round-robin seeding games and the other 16 playing in best-of-five series in the qualifying round.
Of those eight qualifying-round series, six were decided in four games and the Carolina Hurricanes were the only team to earn a three-game sweep. Only one series is going the full five games, as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets are set to play a winner-take-all matchup Sunday night.
With the postseason field about to be down to 16, here's a look at the current NHL playoff picture, along with Stanley Cup odds and several predictions for the next round.
1. Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points, clinched No. 1 seed)
2. Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points, clinched No. 2 seed)
3. Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points clinched No. 3 seed)
4. Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points, clinched No. 4 seed)
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 tied 2-2
1. Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points, clinched No. 1 seed)
2. Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points, clinched No. 2 seed)
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
Stanley Cup Odds
Vegas Golden Knights +500 (bet $100 to win $500)
Tampa Bay Lightning +500
Boston Bruins +600
Colorado Avalanche +700
St. Louis Blues +900
Philadelphia Flyers +1000
Dallas Stars +1500
Washington Capitals +1600
Carolina Hurricanes +2000
Toronto Maple Leafs +2000
Vancouver Canucks +2500
Calgary Flames +2800
Chicago Blackhawks +3000
New York Islanders +3000
Arizona Coyotes +3200
Montreal Canadiens +5500
Columbus Blue Jackets +10000
Odds obtained via Caesars Palace
Vegas Stays Hot, Rolls Through Chicago
The Golden Knights won all three of their round-robin seeding games, defeating the Avalanche, Blues and Stars to secure the top seed in the Western Conference for the first time in the franchise's brief history. And they did so with an impressive offensive showing, scoring 15 goals in three games.
"We came here to take care of every challenge ahead of us. We did a good job," Vegas center Jonathan Marchessault said, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "We wanted the first seed after the round robin, and we got it done. So I think it's pretty positive. We're really happy where our game is at as a team."
Now, Vegas will take on Chicago, which is coming off a big upset over Edmonton in the qualifying round. Despite being the last team to be included in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks won Games 3 and 4 to advance. But they'll be facing a much greater challenge in the next round in the Golden Knights.
After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2018 at the end of its inaugural season, Vegas suffered a first-round playoff defeat last year to the San Jose Sharks. Don't expect that to happen again, though. The Golden Knights are going to prove they're in a different class than the Blackhawks, and they're likely to continue their offensive success with a lot of goals in the upcoming series, which will lead them to victory.
Arizona Gives Colorado a Hard-Fought, Competitive Series
Shortly before the qualifying round began, the Coyotes lost their general manager, as John Chayka decided to quit. However, despite the off-the-ice attention that it garnered, Arizona immediately put the focus back on its play with an impressive showing, upsetting Nashville in four games.
The Coyotes will be looking for another upset in their next series when they take on the Avalanche, who went 2-1 during their round-robin seeding games. The only loss that Colorado suffered came against Vegas (which went 3-0) in overtime.
Both of these teams have showcased strong defensive play. The Avalanche allowed only one goal in their two round-robin victories, while the Coyotes were one of the best defensive teams in the NHL during the regular season, allowing only 2.61 goals per game (tied for third-best in the league).
Although Colorado should win this series, don't be surprised if Arizona makes it competitive, potentially taking it to six or seven games. This has the potential to be one of the best series of the next round, especially if the Coyotes come close to pulling off a huge upset.
Flyers Don't Make It Deep into Postseason
Although the Flyers had the fewest regular-season points among the four teams playing round-robin seeding games in the Eastern Conference, that didn't stop them from securing the top seed. They went 3-0 with victories over the Lightning, Capitals and Bruins to earn the spot in impressive fashion.
Philadelphia is a solid team, and it proved that by outscoring the other three top teams in the conference 11-3. It will now face Montreal, which pulled off a stunning upset over Pittsburgh in the qualifying round in four games. And there likely weren't many that predicted this to be a matchup in this year's conference quarterfinals when the season was about to resume.
Although the Canadiens are also playing well, the Flyers will likely beat them in four or five games. Still, that doesn't necessarily mean that Philadelphia is poised for a deep postseason run this year.
Over a larger sample size of the regular season, the Bruins and Lightning played much better than they did in their respective games against the Flyers in the round-robin seeding contests. And after those disappointing outcomes, they should be poised to bounce back and produce better results the next time one of them faces Philadelphia this postseason, which will prevent the Flyers from making a run.