2020 NHL Playoffs: Second-Round Predictions
The quest for the 2020 Stanley Cup has taken another step forward, as the second round is underway.
Some of the first-round series went as predicted, such as the favored Colorado Avalanche downing the underdog Arizona Coyotes. Others ended in upsets, with the Vancouver Canucks eliminating the defending champion St. Louis Blues.
Under the return-to-play rules, the teams were reseeded following the completion of the first round. In the Western Conference, the Avalanche are playing the Dallas Stars, while the Canucks face off with the Vegas Golden Knights. Over in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Flyers tangle with the New York Islanders, and the Tampa Bay Lightning square off against the Boston Bruins.
The following is a preview of the second round, examining each club's strengths and weaknesses, and a prediction for each series.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins
How They Got Here
The Tampa Bay Lightning avenged last year's first-round sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets by eliminating them four games to one this time around. Brayden Point tallied the winner in a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 5.
The Boston Bruins also needed just five games to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes in their opening-round series. Patrice Bergeron scored the winning goal in the series-clinching 2-1 win.
The Lightning's victory over the Jackets indicates they have learned how to grind out wins against a defensive club. Their roster depth enabled them to defeat Columbus without sidelined captain Steven Stamkos. Point and Nikita Kucherov are leading the way offensively, while Andrei Vasilevskiy remains in Vezina Trophy form. Their penalty-killing percentage (87.1) is among the postseason's best.
After a sleepy round robin, the Bruins awoke with a strong showing against the Hurricanes. First-line forwards Bergeron and Brad Marchand returned to form, while second-line center David Krejci stepped up when sniper David Pastrnak was sidelined for several games. Backup goalie Jaroslav Halak was solid filling in for starter Tuukka Rask after he departed mid-series for family reasons.
While the Lightning achieved vindication by besting the club that upset them last season, some problems remain. Their offensive production plummets beyond Point and Kucherov. That accounts for their woeful 13.3 power-play percentage. Their goals for per game (2.50) is sixth among the remaining clubs, while their faceoff win percentage (46.8) is among the postseason's worst.
The Bruins appear to be returning to Presidents' Trophy form, but there are some nagging issues. They enter the second round as the lowest-scoring of the remaining clubs. They need more production from their secondary scorers, and their goaltending depth is weakened by Rask's departure. They have opened the scoring in just three of their eight postseason games.
The Bruins remain almost the same club that reached last year's Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning, meanwhile, are determined to atone for their recent playoff disappointments. Salary-cap constraints mean this could be the last time this roster has a chance to win the Cup, potentially providing additional motivation.
Lightning in seven.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars
How They Got Here
The Colorado Avalanche made short work of the underdog Arizona Coyotes in five games. They overwhelmed their foes in the final two games with back-to-back 7-1 victories.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars reeled off three straight victories to douse the Calgary Flames four games to two in their opening-round matchup. In the series-clincher, the Stars tallied seven unanswered goals in a convincing 7-3 win.
The Avalanche possess the top goals for per game (3.78) and the best power-play percentage (29.7) following Game 1 against the Stars. First-line center Nathan MacKinnon is the postseason's leading scorer with 16 points and is tied with Nazem Kadri with a team-leading six goals. Their 2.00 goals against per game and penalty-killing percentage (88.9) are also among the postseason's best.
Following a lackluster round robin, the Stars regained their footing against the Flames. Defensemen Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg power their offense, with the former netting a team-high 13 points. Backup Anton Khudobin played well filling in for sidelined starter Ben Bishop. Veteran center Joe Pavelski has eight points, and Denis Gurianov netted four goals in the final game against the Flames.
The Avalanche's gaudy offensive numbers are skewed by steamrolling the Coyotes 14-2 in the final two games of the opening round. Their 5-3 loss to the Stars on Saturday is a reminder they must guard against complacency when facing a tougher opponent. Starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer could be out for a while after injuring his left leg in Game 2.
Before their offensive outburst against the Avalanche in Game 1 on Saturday, the Stars' top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov was struggling. It remains to be seen whether they have fully recaptured their offensive punch. Bishop has been unfit to play for all but two postseason games. Their penalty-killing percentage (77.4) is among the postseason's worst.
The Avalanche possess a fast-paced, high-octane offense that will test Dallas' defensive depth. An inconsistent first line, Bishop's injury and their slow starts could prove the Stars' undoing. Despite dropping the opening game and Grubauer's injury, the Avs are a young and hungry team on the rise with plenty of firepower, and they could prove difficult to contain.
Avalanche in six.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Islanders
How They Got Here
The Philadelphia Flyers eliminated the Montreal Canadiens from the opening round four games to two. They held off the Habs with a 3-2 victory in Game 6 for their first playoff series win since 2012.
In an opening-round upset, the New York Islanders downed the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals four games to one. Anthony Beauvillier scored twice and Semyon Varlamov collected the shutout as the Isles blanked the Capitals 4-0 in Game 5.
Sophomore goaltender Carter Hart played like a seasoned veteran against the Canadiens, with two of his wins coming in consecutive shutouts. Leading scorer Jakub Voracek tallied seven of his eight playoff points against the Habs. The Flyers' strong defensive game was key to their four victories over Montreal. Their faceoff win percentage (56.4) is the best among the surviving teams.
The Islanders have fully bought into head coach Barry Trotz's defensive system. They have given up just 25.2 shots against per game and held the Capitals to just four even-strength goals. Their top two lines are a big reason they're fifth among all postseason teams with a goals for per game of 3.33. Beauvillier leads the way with six goals, while Varlamov is providing solid goaltending.
Apart from Voracek, the rest of Philadelphia's veteran scorers (Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny and James van Riemsdyk) entered this series with just one goal among them. That explains why its power-play percentage (10.3) is among the postseason's worst. That could become an issue against the tight-checking Islanders.
Special teams are a problem for the Islanders. Despite their solid defensive game, their penalty-killing percentage (75.0) is among the worst, and their power-play percentage (15.8) is third-worst among the remaining clubs. They need more secondary scoring, as the bulk of their offense in the opening round came from their top two lines.
The Flyers are a team on the rise under head coach Alain Vigneault. They have a solid mix of veteran experience and skilled youth. However, they're facing a hard-working, well-disciplined Islanders club. With the Flyers' best scorers mired in an offensive drought, the Isles could enjoy the same success they did against the Capitals' vaunted offense.
Islanders in six.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Vancouver Canucks
How They Got Here
The Vegas Golden Knights rolled over the Chicago Blackhawks four games to one in their first-round series. Alex Tuch tallied the game-winning goal to edge the Blackhawks 4-3 in Game 5.
In the biggest upset of the opening round, the Vancouver Canucks knocked out the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in six games. The Canucks rolled to an early 4-0 lead to crush the Blues 6-2 in Game 6 for their first playoff series win since 2011.
Their short history notwithstanding, the Golden Knights have lots of playoff experience. Their best players have excelled, led by Mark Stone and Reilly Smith. Shea Theodore is coming into his own as a puck-moving defenseman. They have got a seasoned goaltending tandem in Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury. Their goals for per game, power play and penalty kill are among the postseason's best.
Young Canucks stars Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser are playing like seasoned pros in their first-ever NHL playoffs. They're also getting leadership from team captain Bo Horvat and versatile winger J.T. Miller, as well as good goaltending from Jacob Markstrom. They have the second-best power-play percentage (26.2) and the third-highest goals for per game (3.40) among the remaining clubs.
The Golden Knights aren't strong in the faceoff circle, sporting a win percentage (47.2)—among the postseason's worst. Despite their goaltending depth, their goals against per game (2.63) is second-highest among the clubs entering the second round.
Many of the Canucks' core players still lack postseason experience. Defensive depth remains an issue entering this series. Of the eight remaining teams, the Canucks have the highest shots against per game (35.1), and they are giving up too many quality scoring chances. Their penalty-killing percentage (81.0) is in the middle of the pack.
The Battle of the Vs should be an entertaining series between a successful three-year-old Vegas franchise and a promising young Vancouver club. While the Canucks proved they are a team on the rise by vanquishing the Blues, the Golden Knights' veteran depth and playoff experience could make the difference here.
Golden Knights in five.