2020 NHL Qualifying Spherical Playoff Preview: Jap Convention Spherical-Robin
1. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – By Matt Larkin
The Lightning tied an NHL report with 62 wins final season – then had been epically swept in Spherical 1 by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Tampa gamers insisted they merely had one unhealthy week, they usually backed up that sentiment this season. After a sluggish begin, the Lightning had been by far the very best crew within the NHL from December onward. How may they not be? They boast the reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy, the reigning MVP in proper winger Nikita Kucherov and the 2018 Norris Trophy winner in Victor Hedman. No crew within the league has larger star energy at each place.
The Bolts aren’t nearly flashy offense, both. In Brayden Level and Selke Trophy snub Anthony Cirelli, they’ve two of the sport’s greatest defensive forwards. When wholesome, regular Ryan McDonagh shoulders a whole lot of duty on ‘D.’ Tampa Bay’s weak point final season was an lack of ability to win ugly hockey video games with bodily play from its forwards, and GM Julien BriseBois has labored to rectify that. He signed hulking Cup champ Patrick Maroon within the low season and made deadline offers for Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. That BriseBois was prepared to sacrifice first-round picks in each trades tells us he was decided to ice a nearly flawless roster this time.
The Lightning regarded invincible final yr, too, in fact. However they fell behind early of their Spherical 1 sequence and obtained pissed off. They had been the NHL’s second-most penalized crew within the common season, then took 17 penalties in 4 video games and allowed 5 objectives on 10 Columbus energy performs. This season, they took the third-most penalties within the league. Self-discipline stays an issue. You may get the Bolts off their recreation should you make them emotional. Kucherov proved that when he misplaced his cool, threw a unclean hit on Markus Nutivaara and obtained suspended for a recreation final post-season.
X-factor: Steven Stamkos had core-muscle surgical procedure in late February and was given a restoration timeline of six to eight weeks. That ended his common season and put the primary spherical of the playoffs in vital jeopardy. With the league shut down for greater than 4 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stamkos unexpectedly had ample time to heal and ought to be 100 p.c for the playoffs. Then, throughout Part 2 of the Return to Play plan, Stamkos sustained a separate lower-body harm. He’s anticipated to be again by the Spherical of 16, however his standing for the round-robin is foggy. He gained’t have a lot time to shake off the rust as soon as he joins the lineup.
2. BOSTON BRUINS – By Matt Larkin
The Stanley Cup slipped by means of the Bruins’ fingers final spring, as they misplaced Recreation 7 of the ultimate on dwelling ice. This yr, they performed like a crew hungry for revenge, profitable the Presidents’ Trophy with a league-best 100 factors within the shortened season.
Whereas GM Don Sweeney couldn’t add a lot over the low season, he returned principally the identical crew, and it was thus no shock to see the Bruins appear like their regular selves. They continue to be virtually peerless defensively. No crew permits fewer objectives per recreation, they boast a robust penalty kill, they usually rank among the many league’s greatest in stopping photographs, scoring possibilities and high-danger shot makes an attempt at 5-on-5. They do it due to a deep, well-rounded protection corps during which Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo do the shutdown work and Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug transfer the puck. Goalie Tuukka Rask, who was excellent within the 2019 playoffs, had his greatest common season since profitable the 2013-14 Vezina Trophy.
Most of the Bruins’ forwards, notably the powerhouse line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, are among the many greatest two-way gamers within the NHL. They continue to be elite at controlling the possession recreation – and at scoring. Pastrnak gained a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy with 48 objectives. Marchand was on tempo for second straight 100-point season.
Boston has at all times relied lots on the ‘Perfection Line,’ nevertheless it skewed to the purpose of concern this season. On the time of the March-12 pause, the trio accounted for 47.1 p.c of Boston’s objectives. Final season, that quantity was 41.2 p.c. “Cease the large line and you may beat the Bruins” is more true than it’s ever been. Sweeney acquired wingers Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase in February however couldn’t safe one other high-end scoring menace. Boston wants depth forwards akin to Charlie Coyle and Sean Kuraly to raise their play within the post-season like they did final yr.
X-factor: When Boston traded Danton Heinen for Nick Ritchie, everybody understood. Ritchie epitomizes Bruins hockey. He’s a tank at 6-foot-2 and 230 kilos, and up to now three seasons, amongst forwards with at the least 1,00zero minutes at 5-on-5, he ranks within the 95th percentile in hits per recreation. He was a top-10 draft decide in 2014 however by no means totally blossomed as an Anaheim Duck, averaging simply 12 objectives per 82 video games. He additionally by no means performed on groups nearly as good because the 2019-20 Bruins, and his heavy recreation ought to translate higher to post-season hockey, when the officers let extra issues go. Will he be able to contribute straight away, although? He and fellow Geese acquistion Kase stay on the “unfit to take part” listing for now.
3. WASHINGTON CAPITALS – By Ryan Kennedy
The Capitals haven’t modified a lot up to now couple seasons, which means they’re nonetheless a harmful contender for the Stanley Cup. Led by Alex Ovechkin and his 700-plus profession objectives, the offense is a top-five unit and will get contributions from throughout. Jakub Vrana hit the 25-goal mark for the primary time, whereas defenseman John Carlson was named a Norris Trophy finalist thanks partly to his prodigious output, which truly led all Caps skaters by a large margin. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom can nonetheless do offensive injury, too.
Whereas the facility play is surprisingly pedestrian, Washington’s penalty kill has been wonderful due to the dogged efforts of Lars Eller and massive blueliners Jonas Siegenthaler and Radko Gudas, amongst others. That is necessary, as a result of the Capitals take a whole lot of penalties.
In fact, heavy hockey tends to be the trail to success within the playoffs, and Washington has burliness to spare. The chief there may be Tom Wilson, thefearsome energy ahead who can change the complexion of a sequence with a giant hit or struggle.
The largest query heading into the post-season is goaltending. Braden Holtby has been on the decline for just a few years now and was even spotty proper earlier than the 2018 playoffs when he snapped out of his funk and helped Washington go all the way in which. Rookie Ilya Samsonov has lengthy been touted because the franchise’s future between the pipes, and he obtained off to a incredible begin earlier than hitting a wall in February – however will miss your entire playoffs with an undisclosed harm beneath the “unfit” umbrella. The crease is now Holtby’s. Can the Caps nonetheless depend on him in what could also be his final batch of video games with the crew earlier than turning into a UFA?
Fortunately for the Capitals, they’ve been down this highway earlier than and are available out as champions. Expertise with adversity will assist them navigate the tough waters of the playoffs, and so long as netminding doesn’t sink them, they’ll be a real contender.
X-factor: The final time Ilya Kovalchuk performed in a Stanley Cup last, he was a monster. That was again in 2012 with New Jersey, and the Devils misplaced the sequence to Los Angeles, however absence at all times makes the center develop fonder. After half a decade within the KHL, ‘Kovy’ got here again final season, and his transient stint in Montreal – after sputtering for a year-and-change with the Kings – proved he can nonetheless be an offensive power. At 37, Kovalchuk doesn’t have many possibilities left for an NHL title, however his massive, heavy body is tailored for post-season havoc. Add in a bucket load of ability, and also you’re a harmful operator.
4. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – by Ryan Kennedy
When the Flyers employed Alain Vigneault, they had been in determined want of defensive construction – and the veteran coach has delivered. Philadelphia went from being one of many worst defensive groups within the league final yr to a top-10 outfit this season, whereas additionally drastically enhancing on the penalty kill.
A part of that may be attributed to Vigneault, however credit score can be attributable to GM Chuck Fletcher for remaking the blueline final summer time. Bringing in veterans Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen had the precise supposed impact on the protection corps, including two staunch defenders to a gaggle that was younger and proficient however not precisely detail-oriented. The upshot of the veteran injection has yielded rebound seasons for Ivan Provorov and, to a lesser extent, Shayne Gostisbehere (hobbled by a knee harm).
Provided that the Flyers have already got one of many premier two-way facilities within the recreation up entrance in Sean Couturier, this defensive growth bodes nicely. Talking of offense, that has additionally been a power for the resurgent Flyers, who went from mid-pack final yr to only exterior the highest 5. Curiously sufficient, it wasn’t captain Claude Giroux doing essentially the most injury as regular, however younger upstart Travis Konecny. The scrappy and proficient proper winger earned his first invite to the NHL All-Star Recreation and had two extra factors than Couturier for the crew scoring lead when the season was paused. Konecny was taking part in on Philadelphia’s second line with Kevin Hayes as his middle, so the Flyers grew to become extra of a matchup drawback when Giroux broke out of his scoring funk in February.
Is Philly’s goaltending drawback lastly solved? It stays to be seen. Carter Hart’s objectives saved above common is middling at 4.07, and Brian Elliott has struggled. Hart was at all times going to be the man for the playoffs, and although he’s younger, he confirmed he can win on the large stage when he led Canada to gold on the world juniors in 2018.
X-factor: Giroux has made some spectacular playoff statements up to now (together with when the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup last towards Chicago again in 2010), however his more moderen outings have been muted. Since a monster 2012 run that noticed him put up 17 factors in 10 video games, Giroux has simply 10 factors complete in three straight first-round exits. If the captain can’t lead by instance, Philadelphia is likely to be sunk early. Alternatively, if Giroux can journey the offensive momentum he was increase within the season’s second half, then the Flyers shall be a way more tough opponent. On the very least, it could make Gritty pleased…
Sunday, Aug. 2, 3:00 p.m.: Flyers vs. BruinsMonday, Aug. 3, 4:00 p.m.: Capitals vs. LightningWednesday, Aug. 5, 4:00 p.m.: Lightning vs. BruinsThursday, Aug. 6, TBD: Capitals vs. FlyersSaturday, Aug. 8, TBD: Flyers vs. LightningSunday, Aug. 9, TBD: Bruins vs. Capitals
(All video games listed in jap time)
Get every little thing it is advisable find out about this yr’s post-season in THN’s Playoff Preview journal! Learn the problem on our Apple App (https://apple.co/32vUMnA), Android App (https://bit.ly/2DV2ltN) or on Zinio (https://bit.ly/3jbPbsu).
Tags: boston bruins, tampa bay lightning, previews, washington capitals, philadelphia flyers, from the journal, stanley cup playoffs, nhlConnect: In regards to the AuthorThe Hockey NewsFounded in 1947, The Hockey Information is your final supply for complete protection of the very best recreation on the earth, together with rankings, predictions, in-depth participant options, insider insights, prospect evaluation, season predictions and far more.