Hockey is back after a near five-month hiatus, and we’re headed straight for the playoffs.
The Stanley Cup playoffs look a tad different this year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 24 teams will fight for their right for a shot at Lord Stanley.
We’ve seen some unthinkable things happen throughout the playoffs over the years, and have seen some Cup favorites get eliminated before the final.
As is the case every year, some predictions were made about how some teams will fare when they hit the ice in August.
Here are four predictions for the upcoming playoffs:
The Rangers will surprise you
The Rangers would not have made the playoffs under the normal 16-team playoff format. But this is no normal format.
New York finished 11th in the Eastern Conference and will face the No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes for a chance at the Washington Capitals. But it has the talent up front to make it out of the play-in round.
With Artemi Panarin, a clear Hart Trophy candidate, up front with Mika Zibanejad, and a blue line that totes Tony D’Angelo, Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba, it’s hard to overlook what they potentially could do. And we can’t forget about Igor Shesterkin between the pipes, who amassed a 10-2-0 record in 12 starts with a .932 save percentage and a 2.52 goals-against average.
If he picks up where he lefts off when the season was paused, he may just be the X factor that helps New York past the Hurricanes.
The Rangers also outscored Carolina 17-9 and went 4-0-0 in their four meetings this season.
Now, we’re not saying the Rangers will be battling it out in the Stanley Cup Final, but don’t count them (all the way) out just yet.
The Bruins will lock up the No. 1 seed
Not sure how bold this is, seeing as they were the best team in the NHL before the hiatus.
Boston will play three round-robin games in total against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals. And despite the layoff and having some veterans on the team, it’s familiar territory for a team like Boston where the longer layoff actually may benefit it rather than prove to be a con like it could the Philadelphia Flyers (more on that in a minute).
The B’s also are on a revenge tour after losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to the St. Louis Blues on home ice last year.
The Flyers will fade out
Philadelphia exceeded a lot of expectations going into the 2019-20 season, and now it will play in the round-robin tournament and could lock up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers were hot before the NHL pause and had a lot of momentum on their side as things seemed to be clicking all around. But it’s a long layoff, and that momentum likely will be gone and every team will be starting from scratch come Aug. 1.
Not being able to carry the momentum over to the playoffs ultimately will hurt Philadelphia because it won’t be something it will be able to close to five months later. The teams the Flyers have to face, too, certainly don’t help their cause.
The Blue Jackets will eliminate the Maple Leafs
Columbus is gritty, as Bruins fans saw last season in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and has the slight edge to beat Toronto, despite the latter being the better team on paper.
But being the better team on paper doesn’t always mean that team will win — just look at the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019.
The Maple Leafs don’t play nearly as physical of a game as the Blue Jackets do, and Toronto’s defense doesn’t quite stack up to its opponents. We’ve seen the Stanley Cup playoffs get gritty and physical, and the Blue Jackets hold the edge there and will be able to tire out Toronto by playing its gritty game.
Of course, if Columbus emerges victorious, that means the Leafs’ streak of not winning a playoff series since 2004 will continue, and B’s fans won’t see yet another thrilling round of Bruins-Maple Leafs.