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

Jake RillSenior Analyst IIIAugust 11, 2020

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) celebrates his goal against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is set to begin after the qualifying round gave us a small taste of the excitement to come.

For the top four teams in each conference, the stakes are raised. They just played round-robin games to determine the seeding in the Eastern and Western Conferences. With that set, they'll now play best-of-seven series in the first round.

In the qualifying round, there were some major upsets, as the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks—both No. 12 seeds—and the No. 11-seeded Arizona Coyotes all advanced. The bracket has now been reseeded, so Montreal and Chicago are No. 8 seeds and Arizona is a No. 7 seed.

Here's a look at the upcoming schedule, followed by some notable predictions for the first round.

           

Upcoming Schedule

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Tuesday, Aug. 11

Game 1: No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets at No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network

Game 1: No. 6 Calgary Flames at No. 3 Dallas Stars, 5:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network

Game 1: No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes at No. 4 Boston Bruins, 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network

Game 1: No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks at No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network

           

Wednesday, Aug. 12

Game 1: No. 6 New York Islanders at No. 3 Washington Capitals, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network

Game 1: No. 7 Arizona Coyotes at No. 2 Colorado Avalanche, 5:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network

Game 1: No. 8 Montreal Canadiens at No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers, 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network

Game 1: No. 5 Vancouver Canucks at No. 4 St. Louis Blues, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network

Complete first-round playoff schedule available at NHL.com.

           

First-Round Predictions

Tampa Bay avenges last year's loss to Columbus

As the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference in last year's playoffs, the Lightning suffered a shocking upset when they were swept by the No. 8-seeded Blue Jackets. Columbus went on to lose in the next round, but it still made an impact with its impressive first-round series win.

This year, the Lightning and Blue Jackets will be matched up again in the first round as the Nos. 2 and 7 seeds, respectively. Tampa Bay went 2-1 in its round-robin seeding games, beating Washington and Boston but losing to Philadelphia. Columbus beat the Toronto Maple Leafs as the No. 9 seed in the only best-of-five series to go the full distance.

While the Blue Jackets only got one day off before returning to the ice, the Lightning are dealing with some injuries. Defenseman Victor Hedman suffered a lower-body injury on Saturday, and center Steven Stamkos missed all three of Tampa Bay's round-robin games with a similar issue.

Despite that, the Lightning are a better team than the Blue Jackets, and they're not going to overlook their opponent again in the opening round.

While it will help if Stamkos and Hedman can get on the ice, Tampa Bay will win the series either way, relying on its strong offense (NHL-high 3.47 goals per game during the regular season) to power past Columbus and into the next round.

           

Hurricanes win Eastern Conference Finals rematch

Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

There's another rematch in the first round of this year's playoffs, only it's between two teams that met in last year's Eastern Conference Finals. The Bruins and Hurricanes are set to again face off, but the two teams have had much different results since arriving in the bubble in Toronto.

Boston won the Presidents' Trophy by earning 100 regular-season points, but it lost all three of its round-robin seeding games to Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Washington. Meanwhile, Carolina was the only team to earn a sweep in the qualifying round, as it defeated the New York Rangers in three games.

The Hurricanes may have been swept by the Bruins in last year's conference finals, but we can expect a much different series this time around. Carolina is going to be more competitive, especially if it can find a way to score consistently against Boston's strong defense, which allowed an NHL-best 2.39 goals per game during the regular season.

But the Hurricanes defense showed its potential during the qualifying round, limiting the Rangers to four total goals in three games. They'll stay hot and capitalize on their momentum to keep the Bruins' struggles going.

            

Calgary pulls off first-round upset against Dallas

Sam Hodde/Associated Press

If the Stars don't generate more offense, they could be in some trouble in their first-round series against the Flames. Dallas was blanked in its second qualifying-round matchup against Colorado, 4-0, then scored only one goal against St. Louis before going on to win in a shootout.

And Dallas is now preparing to face a Calgary team that is having no trouble scoring of late.

"They obviously have some confidence right now, and we've got to bring our best game," Stars left winger Jamie Benn said, according to the Associated Press (h/t USA Today).

The Flames scored 16 goals in their four games against the Winnipeg Jets in the qualifying round, winning three of those contests. That included outscoring Winnipeg 10-2 over the final two games, so they have momentum heading into the first round.

Calgary won two of its three regular-season matchups against Dallas, and it should have no trouble giving it a competitive series. In fact, the Flames will continue to use their strong scoring attack to pull off the upset and be one of the lower-seeded teams to advance to the next round.