(photo courtesy of Patrick Smith of Getty Images)
By Spencer Pomoty
Hockey playoffs are back! It was a long & painful road but we made it. Finally. If you don’t know yet, I’ll be covering the WHL for The OilKnight Prospect Network. I’ll also be providing Oilers fans with updates on many of our prospects in the pipeline. Please give me a follow on Twitter @SPProspects and I look forward to chatting hockey with all of you!
2020 NHL Playoff Predictions
Eastern Conference Round Robin:
- Boston Bruins
- Best regular season team this year, they are deep everywhere. I see them beating the Flyers, Lightning, and Capitals in their three games.
- Washington Capitals
- This one is close. I think it could easily be the Lightning in this spot, but Washington didn’t lose a game in regulation against them this year. They also deploy one of the games best top sixes.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- As I said earlier, they could easily push for the number two seed. They score the most in the NHL and they have an extremely good backend with one of the games greatest young goaltenders.
- Philadelphia Flyers
- One of the hottest teams to enter the bubble. They finished their last 10 games going 9-1-0, mind you their last game was in March. Can they keep on a roll or will the layoff hurt them? I’m excited to see this team play.
Western Conference Round Robin:
- St. Louis Blues
- The defending champs look primed to go on another run this year. Tarasenko is a massive addition heading into the bubble for them. They don’t give you much time to do anything and they are very difficult to handle below the goal line.
- Vegas Golden Knights
- They shoot the puck the most and give up the second least amount of shots against. The trade for Lehner could be a sneaky move that helps them go deep if Fleury starts to faulter in the playoffs. But this team is fast and can play gritty. They defend well but need to improve that penalty kill quick.
- Colorado Avalanche
- Nathan MacKinnon is an absolute monster. He carried them multiple times this year when their other stars were out. Now they have a full healthy roster. My only question mark is in net. I like Grubauer, but I don’t know how he stands up against the other elite goalies. Time will tell.
- Dallas Stars
- On the good side Dallas gives up the second least amount of goals against and they have a great netminder in Ben Bishop. On the bad side though, they score only 2.58 goals per game which ranks them 26th in the league. They have a decent powerplay at 21.1%, its hard to see them pushing for a higher seed unless they figure out the goal scoring.
Eastern Conference Qualifying Round:
Pittsburgh Penguins (5) vs. Montreal Canadiens (12)
Pittsburgh is loaded upfront. They have two of the best centres in the league in Crosby and Malkin. They are deep up front and have a good backend with Letang anchoring it. Matt Murray finished the season with a .899 save percentage, which is simply not good enough. If he has a bad first game maybe the Pens go to Jarry. I don’t mind Montreal in this series, if Price can return to his MVP form, he will give them a fighting chance every night. With that being said they are very meh in every category, Pittsburgh is just too deep for them and I think they walk away with it. Penguins in 4.
Carolina Hurricanes (6) vs. New York Rangers (11)
Carolina went on an amazing dream run last year to only be halted by the Boston Bruins in the Conference Finals. They shoot the puck the third most in the league while also allowing the second least shots against. They also have a good powerplay coming in at 22.3% putting them eighth. Their other side of the special teams do mighty fine as well with the penalty kill clicking at 84% which is good enough for fourth. They are fast and play incredibly well in transition, the only thing I see as a potential problem is Petr Mrazek not regaining his form from last playoffs. The Rangers are great in the offensive zone and not so good in the defensive zone, they score the fifth most goals in the league and have the seventh best powerplay percentage. On the other side of the puck they allow the 30th most shots, take the most penalty minutes, allow the second most shots per game, and give up the 23rd most goals per game as well. I really hope they start Shesterkin, he could be a gamebreaker. As for now, my gut says Carolina in 4.
New York Islanders (7) vs. Florida Panthers (10)
Basically, the opposite of their fellow New York team, the Islanders give up the ninth least goals per game, while only being the 22nd ranked team for goals per game. They ended their season on bad terms, in the last seven games of their season they went 0-3-4. I like their defensive game and they have Barzal to hopefully lean on when it comes to the scoring. Florida is going to test the Islanders defence. They are great when it comes to the offensive zone. Florida scored the sixth most goals and had the seventh most shots per game. They are anchored by Huberdeau and Barkov, but also have two 40-point defencemen in Yandle and Ekblad. In their own zone is where they struggle. Even though they have some great two-way forwards and a solid defense group they still ranked 28th for goals against, 22nd for shots against, and came in at 20th on the penalty kill. The biggest wildcard in this series is easily Bobrovsky, if he can improve on his .900 save percentage Florida has a chance. I’m going with the Islanders in 5.
Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)
Toronto had a roller coaster of a season and it may just continue. In the offensive zone is where they shine and how could they not with guys like Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares, and Auston Matthews. They score the third most goals, have the sixth best powerplay at 23.1%, and they shoot at the sixth highest rate per game. The problem with Toronto is that they can’t seem to keep a puck out their own net. They allow 3.17 goals per game which has them tied for 25th, they also allow the 19th most shots per game, and struggle on the penalty kill with a 77.7%. I like Andersen a lot, he’s going to need to bring his best game if the Leafs are going to make some noise. As for Columbus, they don’t have the skill to match Toronto, but they play hard and give you nothing. Tied third for the least goals against, they also allow the seventh least shots per game, and their penalty kill is at 81.7% while taking the second least penalty minutes per game. Unlike their counterparts the Blue Jackets struggle to get goals on the board. They come in tied for 27th in goals for, despite putting up the eighth most shots per game. Their powerplay isn’t good at all coming in at 16.4%. One thing Columbus has is Merzlikins backstopping them, he came out of nowhere this year. Let’s see if he can keep it up. Overall Toronto has too many gamebreakers I believe, Toronto in 5.
Western Conference Qualifying Round:
Edmonton Oilers (5) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (12)
The Oilers enter the bubble with the two leading point scorers in the league. With McDavid and Draisaitl playing on different lines, it’s a lot for a team to handle. They come in tied for 14th in goals per game, they don’t shoot a ton coming in at 29th for shots for and allow the 15th least goals for per game while allowing the 20th most shots. Where they standout is on special teams. Their powerplay is a league best at 29.5% (the best in the last 40 years and one of the best in history) and their penalty kill comes in at 84.4% ranking them second in the league. As for Chicago they offloaded some players at the deadline expecting to not make the playoffs. The subtraction of Gustafsson will hurt their backend and powerplay. The Blackhawks allow the most shots in the league and they give up the 16th most goals. When it comes to the offensive zone, their powerplay is very weak at 15.2%. They score the 18th most goals and they have offensive stars that can take over multiple shifts a game. If Crawford starts that gives them a chance, Kane and Toews will need to go superhuman if they want to beat Edmonton. Edmonton’s goaltending is the only thing I see that would let them down. Oilers in 4.
Nashville Predators (6) vs. Arizona Coyotes (11)
Nashville is such a weird team to me. You look at the roster on paper and wonder how they aren’t in a better position. Roman Josi is on an absolute tear this year and will probably get the Norris. I look at their stats and nothing pops out to me other than the fact that Josi had 17 more points than the second-place player on their team. They shoot at the fifth highest rate per game but only put up the 16th most goals per game. Their special teams are horrible with the powerplay at 17.3% and the penalty kill at 76.1%. If you’re Nashville I think you must start Juuse Saros, Rinne struggles in the playoffs and in the regular season he had a .895 save percentage. This Arizona team is in the same boat for me as the Preds are. I look at their roster and want more out of them, I like the players and the coach, but they can’t score either. They are tied for the third least goals allowed and have the fifth best penalty kill at 82.7%. The series breaker like many more is goaltending, and I give the edge to the Coyotes. Kuemper might be able to steal them a game or two in the series. With that being said, I think this will be a very close one. Coyotes upset the Predators and take it in 5.
Vancouver Canucks (7) vs. Minnesota Wild (10)
The Canucks took a massive step this season lead by the likes of Pettersson, Horvat, Boeser, and a breakout season by J.T. Miller. Not to mention the rookie season Quinn Hughes had. With all this offensive power they scored the eighth most goals per game, had the fourth best powerplay at 24.1%, while shooting the 18th most shots per game. On the defensive side of the puck is where their struggles come in. They rank 28th in shots allowed per game and are tied for 19th in goals allowed. Their penalty kill is middle of the pack at 80.5%. Markstrom is in a contract year and has played well, he’ll come into the bubble hungry. The Wild ended the season hot, they finished with the 12th most goals per game and the 10th best powerplay. Their penalty kill finished 25th in the league and allowed the 11th least shots per game. Their goalie situation isn’t good to say the least, Dubnyk struggled bad this year and Stalock is a good backup, but I don’t know if he can start. Vancouver in 4.
Calgary Flames (8) vs. Winnipeg Jets (9)
The Flames will be without Travis Hamonic, he opted out of play. Calgary is a team that looks like they should score more, but they rank 20th in goals for per game and 15th in shots per game. They have some pretty good special teams. Their powerplay is at 21.2% ranking them 11th and their penalty kill is at 82.1% ranking them eighth. As for the Jets, they rank 17th in both goals for per game and shots per game. They allow 2.83 goals per game ranking them 10th, but they allow 32.6 shots a game. Winnipeg’s powerplay finished at 20.5% and their penalty kill at 77.%. I think they have the personnel to improve both. The Jets biggest strength is in goal. Hellebuyck should win the Vezina and he is good enough to steal them a series. I think this one goes to the Jets in 4.
Eastern Conference Playoffs Round 1:
- Boston Bruins (1) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (8)
- Boston is just too good everywhere; Andersen will need to go big if they want a chance. Bruins in 6.
- Washington Capitals (2) vs. New York Islanders (7)
- The Islanders don’t score enough and playoff Holtby is usually very good. I trust the Capitals offence to beat the Islanders defence. Capitals in 6.
- Tampa Bay Lightning (3) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6)
- This one could be very fun and very close. I like everything about Carolina and how they play. I think Tampa has more firepower up front and the best dman in the series. I also think though that Carolina has the better overall defence group. Overall, I think it comes down to goaltending. Lightning in 7.
- Philadelphia Flyers (4) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (5)
- I want this series so bad, has potential to be a classic. The teams are even, but I think the forward depth on Pittsburgh is better than what the Flyers have. Comes down to goaltending again. Penguins in 7.
Western Conference Playoffs Round 1:
- St. Louis Blues (1) vs. Arizona Coyotes (11)
- St. Louis is going to be too much for the Coyotes to handle. I don’t think Arizona has the advantage in any category, other than goaltending. If Kuemper doesn’t play out of his mind their toast. Blues in 5.
- Vegas Golden Knights (2) vs. Winnipeg Jets (9)
- This is a good matchup. The forward groups are even, and Vegas has the obvious advantage on the backend. The Jets have the best goalie in the playoffs though. Golden Knights in 6.
- Colorado Avalanche (3) vs. Vancouver Canucks (7)
- Two fun offences going at it. The Avs are deeper and have the better star power though. I also like their defensive group a bit better as well, but Markstrom is the better goalie in the series. Avalanche in 6.
- Dallas Stars (4) vs. Edmonton Oilers (5)
- Dallas doesn’t score enough, but they defend so well. Ben Bishop is gives them a massive advantage in net. The Oilers offence and special teams gives them a step up on Dallas. Oilers in 7.
Eastern Conference Playoffs Round 2:
- Boston Bruins (1) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (5)
- This is another great matchup. I like the Penguins offence better, but the Bruins have the better d-core and goaltending. Bruins in 7.
- Washington Capitals (2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (3)
- Tampa has the better defense group and the deeper forward core but not by much. They learnt from their mistakes last year. Lightning in 7.
Western Conference Playoffs Round 2:
St. Louis Blues (1) vs. Edmonton Oilers (5)
The Oilers have the best two players in this series, and both are game breakers. St. Louis has the tools to slow them down and they have the advantage in net. Blues in 7.
Vegas Golden Knights (2) vs Colorado Avalanche (3)
This one is a toss up for me. I like the fire power of Colorado’s top six over the Golden Knights. The defence group is close, but goaltending goes to Vegas. Golden Knights in 7.
~Eastern Conference Finals:
Eastern Conference Finals:
Boston Bruins (1) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (3)
I think Boston has a slight edge in forward depth, but I really like Vasilevskiy this year. I also think the Lightning have a slight edge on the back end. Lightning in 7.
Western Conference Finals:
St. Louis Blues (1) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (2)
I feel like these teams are very similar, but St. Louis just has a slight advantage in everything, goaltending is a debate though. Blues in 7.
Stanley Cup Finals:
St. Louis Blues (1) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (3)
The Blues are just so deep, and the pandemic gave them a nice break. Tampa will put up a big fight and it will be close. Blues in 7 and they repeat as the cup champions.
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