We have a playoff format for the NHL set up! As you know, this year's Stanley Cup playoffs will feature 24 teams, with the qualifying rounds going to best-of-5. But who do I think will meet up in this year's "COVID-19 Cup"?
In the Eastern Conference, I like Tampa Bay. There's too much talent on that team to simply bow out after one round for a second year in a row. With loaded lines, Nikita Kucherov (33 goals, 85 points), and fast skating all around, the Lightning are poised to make a charge towards the Cup. Also, Andrei Vasilevskiy (.917 save %, three shutouts, 2.56 GAA) should be a solid goaltender for the Lightning's run. Don't forget that Tampa will look to avenge last year's embarrassing bowout to the Blue Jackets.
As for the rest of the Eastern Conference, you can make the case that Washington will be the representative. There's Alex Ovechkin anchoring a strong unit, a battle-tested Braden Holtby, and a strong supporting cast. Boston can also make a run with a solid backcheck, although the Bruins are not getting any younger. The same can be said for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who should be on high upset alert facing Carey Price and the Canadiens. Toronto looks like a good team... if they can hold a lead. The Flyers seem to be figuring things out, but will need strong goaltending to push them through, something that has eluded them in the past decade. Carolina can do some damage, although Sebastian Aho (38 goals) can't be the only offensive option.
As for the Western Conference, you can call me a bit bias (I live in the Vegas/Henderson area, after all). However, I'm going with the Golden Knights. I love what Rob DeBoer has done with this team. He's gotten Paul Stastny into a more established role while giving equal time to his veterans and younger players. Adding experienced defenseman Alec Martinez to the mix should help with Vegas's run. Also, this team can score at will, with skaters like Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone being legit offensive threats.
Looking at the rest of the Western Conference, I can see the Colorado Avalanche returning to glory and representing the Western Conference. You know how good Nathan McKinnon is (35 goals, 93 points). However, will the pressure get to him if the rest of his team can't score? I can also see the defending champions, the St. Louis Blues, making a return. They practically have most of their squad returning from last year's run. Dallas has a solid backcheck, but can't surprisingly score. That might cause some trouble for the Stars. You know about Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for Edmonton, but they aren't the only offensive weapons on the Oilers. One team you should watch for is Arizona. The Coyotes added Taylor Hall and if Phil Kessel can make some noise, this team can make a run.
Will it be a Tampa-Vegas final? I honestly don't think it's likely given the numerous scenarios. However, I do feel this is the most likely match-up. I'm also just looking forward to having sports, especially hockey, back!
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