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Take Five: Five takeaways from Game 5 of the 2020 Western Conference Final

For the first time since 2000, and fifth time in franchise history– dating back to two previous appearances in the Stanley Cup Final as the Minnesota North Stars and and two more since relocating– the Dallas Stars are in the Stanley Cup Final after eliminating the Vegas Golden Knights in five games with a, 3-2, overtime victory in Game 5 of the 2020 Western Conference Final.

The Stars overcame a two-goal deficit to comeback and win it in overtime on Monday night after Denis Gurianov scored the game-winning goal while on the power play after Zach Whitecloud received an automatic delay of game infraction for sending the puck over the glass.

Whitecloud’s penalty, however, was not the reason why the Golden Knights lost the game and bowed out of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs earlier than hoped.

Anyway, it’s probably time we address five takeaways from Game 5 before we get to preview the 2020 Stanley Cup Final sometime.

1. Vegas strikes first (a franchise trend).

The Golden Knights won 10 times when they scored first in the 2020 postseason, but it didn’t help them in their last two games of the 2020 Western Conference Final.

Yes, even after taking a, 2-0, lead in Game 5, Vegas blew their two-goal advantage and lost in overtime.

They scored before the midpoint of the opening frame thank to Shea Theodore and Reilly Smith added an insurance goal before Dallas came back in the third period and overtime.

More on Smith, et al in a minute.

2. It was a goalie battle.

Most of Game 5 was a great display of goaltending as Vegas peppered Anton Khudobin with 36 shots (34 saves), while Dallas fired 26 shots (23 saves) on Robin Lehner.

In the entire series, the Stars and Golden Knights combined for 17 goals. Dallas ultimately held the series advantage with nine goals for and eight goals against.

Each and every game was close– even as Vegas won Game 2 with a, 3-0, shutout.

Both teams had a shutout (Game 1 itself was a, 1-0, shutout for Dallas) and only one of the five games was won by more than one goal (the aforementioned Game 2).

3. Reilly Smith had his first goal in *checks notes* 11 games!?!

Smith last scored on Aug. 23rd in Game 1 of Vegas’ Second Round matchup with the Vancouver Canucks before he made it, 2-0, Golden Knights in Game 5 against Dallas.

Unfortunately for Vegas, that wasn’t enough as the Stars came back to win, 3-2, in overtime, but it was a poignant fact worth noting– Vegas struggled to score as a whole this postseason.

Smith went 11 games between his fourth and fifth goals of the 2020 postseason.

He might not be the world’s greatest player, but he’s usually one to perform one way or another for the Golden Knights from night-to-night.

The problem was that if he’s not scoring and not getting assists, then that speaks volumes for guys like Mark Stone (one goal in his last nine games of the playoffs on Sept. 10th in Game 3 against Dallas), William Karlsson (one goal since Sept. 1st– Game 2 vs. Dallas), Jonathan Marchessault (last scored on Aug. 23rd– Game 1 vs. Vancouver– had two assists since), Alex Tuch (no goals against Dallas, last scored on Sept. 4th) and Max Pacioretty (one point in his last eight games in the 2020 playoffs, last goal Aug. 30th) who are all large components of Vegas’ core that are expected to generate offense on any given night.

Each player struggled.

Sometimes a team goes on a cold streak at the most inopportune time, which is awful to experience, but it doesn’t mean everyone should be traded.

That said, if it happens two years in-a-row, well, then heads might roll.

4. More of the same for the Golden Knights (but also Anton Khudobin).

Once again, Vegas dominated in shots on goal, 36-26, but Khudobin turned aside 34 out of 36 shots faced for a .944 save percentage in the game, while improving to a 12-6 record in 19 games with a 2.62 goals against average and a .920 SV% in that span, as well as one shutout.

That’s basically it.

Oh and Khudobin made 153 saves on 161 shots faced across the entire series against Vegas.

5. Once in a generation.

For the first time since 2000, the Dallas Stars are in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Stars won the Cup in 1999, after defeating the Buffalo Sabres in six games and have made the Final now five times in franchise history (losing in 1981 to the New York Islanders and 1991 to the Pittsburgh Penguins as the Minnesota North Stars, winning in 1999 over Buffalo and losing in 2000 to the New Jersey Devils).

Among Dallas players with previous Stanley Cup Final appearances, only one player has appeared in two or more Finals– Tyler Seguin (2011 and 2013 with the Boston Bruins).

Seguin won the Cup with Boston in 2011.

Corey Perry is the only other Stars player with a Stanley Cup ring already– having won in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks.

Meanwhile, Joe Pavelski made the 2016 Stanley Cup Final with the San Jose Sharks and Khudobin was the backup to Tuukka Rask on the Bruins’ 2013 Stanley Cup Final roster.

Oh and if you remember him, Ben Bishop was with the Lightning in their 2015 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

It’s been 20 years since the Stars last made the Final and 21 years since their only Cup ring in franchise history, but with the plethora of youth and potentially franchise record breaking postseason that Miro Heiskanen is having– combined with the veteran experience– Dallas shouldn’t be taken lightly in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Take Five: Five takeaways from Game 1 of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final

It seems everybody’s scoring points these days as the Tampa Bay Lightning won, 8-2, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Final matchup with the New York Islanders on Monday.

Seriously, 11 different Lightning players had at least a point in Monday night’s series opener, while Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov each had five points in the victorious effort.

Tampa carries a, 1-0, series lead heading into Game 2 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS). Here’s five takeaways for the next game, as well as the series as a whole.

1. Can the Islanders actually contain Tampa’s offense?

Thomas Greiss allowed three goals on nine shots against in the first 10:46 of the game before being replaced by Semyon Varlamov, but that wasn’t the only reason why New York is behind, 1-0, in the series.

Neither the Columbus Blue Jackets, nor the Boston Bruins were able to limit the Lightning’s attacking zone time and possession, which was not only evident by the fact that each of their series matchups with Tampa only lasted five games– the scoreboard reflected it too.

At any point in time, the Bolts can strike fast and amass goals in bunches (as exhibited by their three goals in the first 10:46 of Monday’s game, plus the other five goals they scored afterward).

It’s that momentum swing that the Islanders (or any team that may face the Lightning if Tampa advances to the Stanley Cup Final) will have to be wary about and eliminate at all costs.

Simply put, the Lightning play with a surge in electricity.

2. Inconsistent shots for the Isles

Tampa outshot New York, 10-6, in the first period and finished the second period with an, 18-17, advantage before going on to finish the game with a, 34-24, total shots on goal advantage.

The Lightning went 58:53 without missing the net in Game 1. The only shot attempt that did not go on net for the Bolts came with 67 seconds left in the game off of Cedric Paquette’s stick blade.

Meanwhile, the Islanders– a team primarily built on a defense-first game plan– failed to record at least 30 shots on goal for the second-straight game after amassing 26 shots on net against the Philadelphia Flyers in their, 4-0, win in Game 7 of their Second Round matchup.

New York only allowed 16 shots against that night too.

In their, 5-4, double overtime loss to the Flyers in Game 6, the Islanders recorded 53 shots on goal and allowed 31 shots against.

Game 5 against Philadelphia resulted in a, 4-3, loss in overtime, while shots on goal were even at 32 aside.

The Islanders were outshot, 38-33, in Game 4, but won, 3-2. New York had a, 29-27, advantage in their, 3-1, win in Game 3, as well as a, 34-31, advantage in their, 4-3, overtime loss in Game 2.

Both teams had 29 shots on goal in New York’s, 4-0, win in Game 1 of their Second Round series with Philadelphia.

Without breaking down the quality of their shots for and shots against, a generalized remedy for the Islanders would be to get more pucks on net (duh) and prevent the Lightning from hitting the twine or whichever goaltender Barry Trotz starts in Game 2 against the Bolts.

3. Followup question, who should start in net for New York?

It’s not like Greiss had really made consecutive starts in the postseason before doing just that from Game 7 against Philadelphia on Saturday to Game 1 against Tampa Bay on Monday.

His 2-2 record in four games doesn’t really speak for his 2.02 goals against average and .929 save percentage in the 2020 postseason.

Plus he got most of the night off, so he should still be fresh enough, in theory.

Meanwhile, Varlamov’s decent 9-4 record in 15 games this postseason stands out on its own, but his goals against average is on the rise as of his last two outings to a 2.22, while his save percentage has dropped to a .913.

Still, the Islanders goaltenders have combined for three shutouts this postseason (Varlamov has two, Greiss has one), which are three more shutouts than what Andrei Vasilevskiy has so far (zero, in case that wasn’t clear).

As bad as Greiss’ .667 SV% in Game 1 sounds, Varlamov still allowed five goals against after Greiss gave up the first three in the, 8-2, loss, so Varlamov’s .800 SV% in Game 1 isn’t ideal either.

If anything, Trotz will have to adjust his matchups to curb the speed of Tampa’s rush and instruct his players on getting in passing and shooting lanes to ease the high danger workload of whichever goaltender he opts for in Game 2.

4. Just how many franchise records will Tampa…

In case you haven’t heard by now, the Lightning are good.

So good, in fact, they tied, broke and set some franchise records in Game 1, including:

— The most assists in a playoff year by a Lightning player (Kucherov had four assists in Game 1 to break Martin St. Louis’ previous mark of 15 helpers in 2004, and set the new franchise record with 16 in 2020).

— The first players in franchise history to record five points in a playoff game (Point had two goals and three assists, while Kucherov had one goal and four assists).

— Tampa’s eight goals matched their franchise record for the most goals in a playoff game (the Lightning had eight in what was also an, 8-2, win in Game 5 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Penguins).

Oh and the Bolts improved to 5-0 in their last five playoff games going back to Game 2 against Boston in the Second Round, while outscoring their opponents by a combined, 25-9, margin in the process.

Plus, Point and Kucherov are the second pair of teammates to each record five or more points in a Conference Finals game (since 1982).

Paul Coffey had one goal and five assists (six points), while Jari Kurri had three goals and two assists (five points) in Game 5 of the 1985 Clarence Campbell Conference Final with the Oilers.

5. Will the Lightning buck the trend?

In the last decade or so, the team that plays a longer Conference Final than their opponent in the Stanley Cup Final usually wins the Cup.

It happened just as recent as last year, when the Bruins swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final and had 10 days off before the 2019 Stanley Cup Final began.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues beat the San Jose Sharks in six games in the 2019 Western Conference Final and only had five days between the third and fourth round of the postseason.

The Blues, of course, won the Cup in seven games.

In terms of significant time off between one series to the next, the Edmonton Oilers had eight days off after beating the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in five games in the 2006 Western Conference Final, then lost in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final in seven games to the Hurricanes who had just come off of a seven-game series win against the Buffalo Sabres in the 2006 Eastern Conference Final.

The aforementioned Mighty Ducks had 10 days off after sweeping the Minnesota Wild in the 2003 Western Conference Final, then lost to the New Jersey Devils in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final in seven games after New Jersey had just three days off between their seven-game series win over the Ottawa Senators in the 2003 Eastern Conference Final and the Cup Final.

Obviously those few examples don’t cover the last decade, but fear not, let’s get that out of the way now…

The 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks swept the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final, while the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in five games in the Eastern Conference Final before losing in six games to Chicago in the Final.

O.K. that one didn’t fit the trend, but in 2011, the Vancouver Canucks ousted the Sharks in five games, while the Bruins beat the Lightning in seven games, then went on to beat Vancouver in seven games in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Phoenix Coyotes in five games in the Western Conference Final, while the Devils overcame the New York Rangers in six games. Los Angeles beat New Jersey in six games to capture their first Cup in franchise history.

Wait, it happened again, didn’t it?

Well, in 2013, the Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the East, while the Blackhawks took five games to knockout the Kings in the West, then beat Boston in six games in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. A-ha! There’s one!

In 2014, the Rangers beat Montreal in six games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Kings defeated the Blackhawks in seven games before Los Angeles won their second Cup in three years by defeating New York in five games.

In 2015, both Tampa and Chicago went all seven games in their respective Conference Finals matchups with the Rangers and Anaheim Ducks, respectively.

Chicago won their third Cup in five years in six games over the Bolts in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, though.

In 2016, the Penguins beat the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Sharks beat the Blues in six games in the Western Conference Final.

Pittsburgh defeated San Jose in six games in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

In 2017, the Penguins edged out the Senators in seven games in the East, while the Nashville Predators beat the Ducks in six games in the West.

Pittsburgh went back-to-back as two-time defending Cup champions with their fifth title in franchise history after defeating the Predators in six games in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

And, of course, back in 2018, the Washington Capitals beat the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets in five games in the Western Conference Final.

Washington won the Cup in five games over Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Back in 1993, of course, the Canadiens beat the Islanders in five games in the Prince of Wales Conference Final, while Los Angeles took seven games to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Clarence Campbell Conference Final.

The Habs defeated the Kings in five games to capture the Cup in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final– what’s perhaps the most recent instance of a team amassing a week off between the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final and still winning the Cup despite all that time off.

Either that or it’s one more chance to point out that this year’s Cup will be awarded on Canadian sole, but for the 27th year in-a-row, it won’t be going to a Canadian based NHL club.

Assuming (since they won Game 1) that the Lightning go on to punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final in as little as four or five games and the 2020 Western Conference Final matchup between the Dallas Stars and Golden Knights goes six or seven games, then Tampa could be in trouble.

Then again, with the bubble in place and resulting lack of travel— as well as a condensed schedule due to the hopes of still having an 82-game regular season in 2020-21— the earliest the 2020 Stanley Cup Final could begin would be around Sept. 21st or 22nd, since the league already determined the Final must end by or on Oct. 4th— which would leave the Bolts with about a week off to scout their next potential opponent in person for as long as the West takes to decide their series.

For any Islanders fans that thought I forgot about them, the Edmonton Oilers had eight days off after sweeping the Minnesota North Stars in the 1984 Semifinals (the precursor to the modern Conference Finals round), while New York took down Montreal in six games and had four days off between the Semifinals and the 1984 Stanley Cup Final.

Edmonton won the series in five games in what is the Islanders’ most-recent Stanley Cup Final appearance.

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Western Conference Final Preview

The calendar flipped to September and it’s time to gear up for preseason hockey— I mean the Conference Finals!

Yes, for the first time in recorded history, the National Hockey League is hosting both the Western Conference Final and the Eastern Conference Final in one hub city as Edmonton, Alberta plays host to the third round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well as the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, but we’ll get there in a moment.

First, there’s a little leftover business to take care of and that’s figuring out which of the two Western Conference finalists will emerge victorious at Rogers Place and remain in the bubble to contend for what every NHL player dreams of– raising Lord Stanley’s mug high over their shoulders and going for a skate.

Though they were at first excluded from the bubble, some family members will be allowed to partake in the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final festivities as long as they are Canadian citizens that are currently in Canada, but they have to self-isolate at home for seven days and produce three negative COVID-19 tests before traveling.

Then, of course, they’ll have to remain in quarantine in a separate hotel room in the bubble and produce four more negative tests before they can interact with the players.

The NHL is still waiting for clearance from the Canadian government, as well as the provincial government in Alberta, with regards to allowing citizens from outside of Canada into the Edmonton bubble and remains in ongoing discussions with the NHLPA, as well as the respective governments to work on a plan.

ESPN‘s, Emily Kaplan, goes into great detail to explain the precautions, plans and policies the entities are creating, working through and dealing with in the face of the pandemic with regards to allowing families into the bubble.

And no, none of the family members and/or romantic partners of any the players are a distraction.

If anything, they are a welcome sense of normalcy while the four remaining teams, staff and workers in the bubble have been isolated from the outside world for the last six weeks.

For now, let’s get back to breaking down the 2020 Western Conference Final and trying to predict a winner in some number of games.

(1) Vegas Golden Knights (39-24-8, 86 points) vs (3) Dallas Stars (37-24-8, 82 points)

Vegas: 71 games played, .606 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

Dallas: 69 games played, .594 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.

The Vegas Golden Knights are fresh off of a, 3-0, shutout of the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of their 2020 Second Round matchup and previously eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks in five games in their First Round battle.

Max Pacioretty led the Golden Knights in the regular season with 32-34–66 totals in 71 games in the regular season, while Mark Stone (63 points in 65 games) and Reilly Smith (54 points in 71 games) were second and third on the roster, respectively, in scoring.

In the 2020 postseason, Shea Theodore has emerged as the leader scorer all the way from the blue line with six goals and 10 assists (16 points) in 15 games after being treated for testicular cancer prior to the 2019-20 regular season.

Theodore set career-highs in goals (13), assists (33) and points (46) in 71 games in the regular season and was a plus-12 for Vegas.

Hot on his tail, Stone has 6-9–15 totals through 15 playoff games entering the Western Conference Final, while Smith has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 15 games for Vegas.

Alex Tuch, who’s goal scoring ability lead the Golden Knights with eight goals this postseason, is fourth on the roster in playoff points with 8-2–10 totals in 15 games.

In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury led the way in the regular season as Vegas’ starter with a 27-16-5 record in 49 games played (48 starts) with a 2.77 goals against average, a .905 save percentage and a five shutouts in that span.

Malcolm Subban posted a 9-7-3 record in 20 games (19 starts) with a 3.18 GAA and an .890 SV% before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks as part of a three-team trade at the deadline with the Toronto Maple Leafs mitigating the acquisition of Robin Lehner from Chicago to Vegas.

Lehner finished the regular season with a 3-0-0 record in three games played (all starts) for the Golden Knights, while amassing a 1.67 GAA, a .940 SV% and one shutout.

Oscar Dansk made an appearance in one game (one start) and had a 6.00 GAA, as well as an .838 SV% to go with his 0-1-0 record this season.

Controversy swirls Golden Knights head coach, Peter DeBoer, entering the Western Conference Final for going with Lehner as his playoff starter over Fleury, but the results speak for themselves.

Lehner is 8-4 in 12 games with a 1.99 GAA, a .918 SV% and three shutouts this postseason, while Fleury has a 3-0 record in three games with a 2.67 GAA, an .893 SV% and no shutouts in that span.

At the other end of the rink, the Dallas Stars beat the Calgary Flames in six games in the First Round and held off the Colorado Avalanche in a, 5-4, overtime win in Game 7 of their Second Round matchup– preventing a, 3-1, series lead collapse in the process.

Tyler Seguin led the way for Dallas in the regular season with 17-33–50 totals in 69 games, while Jamie Benn (39 points in 69 games) and Miro Heiskanen (35 points in 69 games) were second and third in scoring on the roster, respectively.

Second-year defender, Heiskanen has broken out into a two-way prowess leading the Stars with 5-16–21 totals in 16 playoff games entering the Western Conference Final.

First year-forward, Denis Gurianov, is second in points this postseason for Dallas with eight goals and seven assists (15 points) in 16 postseason games, while Benn rounds out the top-three in scoring for Dallas in the 2020 playoffs with 5-8–13 totals in 16 games.

Joe Pavelski– seeking revenge (despite his team winning the game) on the Golden Knights for his injury in Game 7 of the 2019 First Round series while a member of the San Jose Sharks– and John Klingberg each have 12 points in 16 and 15 games respectively heading into Sunday night’s Game 1 meeting with Vegas.

In net, Ben Bishop had a 21-16-4 record in 44 games (43 starts) with a 2.50 GAA, a .920 SV% and two shutouts as Dallas’ starting goaltender, while Anton Khudobin went 16-8-4 in 30 games (26 starts) and had a 2.22 GAA, as well as a .930 SV% in that span.

Bishop has been limited due to injury to a 1-2 record in three games this postseason– amassing a 5.43 GAA and an .844 SV% in the process.

Enter, Khudobin, the fringe starter turned de facto starter for the Stars that’s put up an 8-5 record in 14 games played (13 starts) with a 2.94 GAA and a .909 SV% in that span.

Vegas and Dallas went head-to-head in two games this season before the pandemic truncated the 2019-20 regular season– with the Golden Knights amassing a 1-1-0 record and the Stars going 1-0-1 in the season series.

As this is only the third season in Golden Knights franchise history, these two franchises have never met in the postseason until now.

Dallas is riding the hot hands of consistent scoring, while Vegas has the advantage in the crease if they play their cards right (it has to be Lehner).

The Stars are trying to make their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2000, while Vegas is hoping to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final after losing to the Washington Capitals in five games in 2018.

If Vegas can’t translate their numerous shots on goal into concrete goals like how they struggled to score against the Canucks, then Dallas has a great chance of dragging the series in favor of the Stars.

Regardless, this one feels like it’ll go all seven games in favor of the Golden Knights.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 DAL at American Airlines Center on Nov. 25th, 3-2 F/OT VGK at American Airlines Center on Dec. 13th

Schedule:

9/6- Game 1 DAL @ VGK in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/8- Game 2 DAL @ VGK in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/10- Game 3 VGK @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/12- Game 4 VGK @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/14- Game 5 DAL @ VGK in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/16- Game 6 VGK @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/18- Game 7 DAL @ VGK in Edmonton 9 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference Qualifiers, while the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers sort themselves out.

All Eastern Conference games will be at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario until the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final (both of which will be held in Edmonton, Alberta at Rogers Place).

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, 86 points) vs (12) Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71 points)

Pittsburgh: 69 games played, .623 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montreal: 71 games played, .500 points percentage, 19 regulation wins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were 5th in the Eastern Conference at the time of the pause and being led by Evgeni Malkin with 74 points in 55 games played, while Bryan Rust (56 points in 55 games) and Sidney Crosby 47 points in 41 games) trailed the Russian star on the roster. 

Yes, Malkin missed 14 games and still amassed 74 points in a season for the Penguins, while Pens head coach, Mike Sullivan, carefully charted the course through a bevy of injuries to bring his team within striking range of the Metropolitan Division lead had the regular season seen its full conclusion.

The Washington Capitals topped the Metropolitan Division with 90 points. The Philadelphia Flyers had 89. Pittsburgh had 86.

An annual Stanley Cup contender since Sullivan led the Penguins to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 (their second and third since 2009– fourth and fifth in franchise history), Pittsburgh’s goaltending might be the only thing that holds them back from their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.

Matt Murray had a down year with a 2.87 goals against average and an .899 save percentage in 38 games played– his worst goals against average since he had a 2.92 GAA in 49 games in 2017-18 and his worst-career save percentage in a season. Murray finished the shortened season with a 20-11-5 record and one shutout in 38 starts.

Backup netminder, Tristan Jarry, went 20-12-1 in 33 games played (31 starts) and had a 2.43 GAA, as well as a .921 SV% and three shutouts.

Murray’s leash through the exhibition games should be a short one, despite his career 2.16 GAA and .921 SV% in 48 Stanley Cup Playoff games. His goals against average reached a career-low 1.70 in 11 games en route to Pittsburgh’s Cup win in 2017, but rose to a 2.43 in 2018 (12 games) and a 3.02 in 2019 (four games) as the Penguins were swept by the New York Islanders in last year’s First Round.

It’s not that he can’t bounce back, but rather that Sullivan should ride the hotter goaltender and force a little healthy competition if it yields the best in Murray’s game. If not, it’ll either be sink or swim with Jarry in the crease.

At the other end of the rink, the Montreal Canadiens went .500 this season and were mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at the stoppage with what looked like little hope for a late season surge into the postseason, despite leading scorer, Tomas Tatar (22-39–61 totals in 68 games played) and starting goaltender, Carey Price’s best efforts.

Phillip Danault had the second-most points on the Habs roster this season with 13 goals and 34 assists (47 points) in 71 games played, while Max Domi was third in scoring on the team with 44 points in 71 games.

Price led Montreal in net with a 27-25-6 record in 58 games played (58 starts), a 2.79 GAA, a .909 SV% and four shutouts this season. Since his 2.23 GAA and .923 SV% in 62 games in 2016-17, Price has not had a goals against average below 2.30 or a save percentage better than .920. He had a 3.11 GAA and a .900 SV% in 49 games in 2017-18, as well as a 2.49 GAA and a .918 SV% in 66 games last season.

As he approaches his mid-30s and the league shifts more and more towards tandem goaltending, Price shouldn’t be playing more than 50 games in a regular season, but the Canadiens struggled with finding a backup this season.

Charlie Lindgren went 2-4-0 in six games (six starts) and had a 3.33 GAA, as well as an .888 SV%. Meanwhile, Cayden Primeau went 1-1-0 in two games (both starts) and had a 2.52 GAA and a .931 SV%.

Keith Kinkaid also made an appearance with six games played (five starts), a 1-1-3 record, a 4.24 GAA and an .875 SV%.

Claude Julien has over 400 regular season wins as the head coach of the Boston Bruins and won the Cup with the B’s in 2011, but that was nine years ago and he’s three full seasons into his second stint behind the bench as head coach of the Canadiens.

His teams aren’t known for keeling over and being swept out of the playoffs, so they’ll likely be able to win one as Montreal scratches and claws their way to victory in classic Julien-style blue-collar work ethic fashion, but can he get it done against Pittsburgh in today’s NHL?

Especially when falling behind the eight ball is even more significant in a best-of-five series than it is in a best-of-seven.

Price might be fresh, but Pittsburgh’s got an offense and a defense. Plus the Penguins did win two out of their three regular season matchups and Crosby and Malkin are ready to make yet another postseason appearance– regardless of how far things will actually go.

It’s not out of the question that the Habs will be able to steal a game, but the Penguins should have this series wrapped up in four games and punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 MTL at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 10th, 3-2 F/OT PIT at Bell Centre on Jan. 4th, 4-1 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 14th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 PIT @ MTL in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 PIT @ MTL in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 MTL @ PIT in Toronto*

*If necessary

(6) Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, 81 points) vs (11) New York Rangers (37-28-5, 79 points)

Carolina: 68 games played, .596 points percentage, 27 regulation wins

N.Y. Rangers: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 31 regulation wins

Rod Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes have their work cut out for them in what just might be the only series that would be an upset if the higher seed wins. The Hurricanes lost all four regular season matchups against the Rangers, despite Sebastian Aho’s team-leading 66 points in 68 games on the season.

Aho set a new career-high in goals (38) and had a pair of goals against New York this season, but fell shy of establishing a new career-high in points after putting up 83 points in 82 games last season. Of course, a pandemic shortened regular season will have something to do with that.

Regardless, he was on pace for about 80 points at the time the NHL season was paused.

Teuvo Teravainen continued to show that he’s one of the most consistent performers in the league with a respectable 48 assists and 63 points in 68 games played as one of Carolina’s more “veteran” players, despite only being 25-years-old.

Meanwhile, Andrei Svechnikov scored two lacrosse goals this season and managed to improve on all fronts from his rookie season (20-17–37 totals in 82 games last season) with 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) in 68 games in 2019-20. He was on pace for almost 30 goals and around 73 points in his sophomore season had the pandemic not called it short.

In goal, David Ayres led the way with– just kidding– Petr Mrazek went 21-16-2 in 40 games this season (38 starts) and had a 2.69 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% and three shutouts. Not great, but not the worst entering the Qualifiers.

He’ll have to do much better than his 2.73 GAA and .894 SV% in 11 games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if he has any hopes of catapulting his team over the Rangers and backstopping them to a deep playoff run like last year.

That said, Curtis McElhinney was the one that replaced him against the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final after Mrazek allowed ten goals against in the series, compared to McElhinney’s five.

The good news for the Hurricanes, however, is that McElhinney’s numbers have been way off the mark this season and he’s the current backup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plus James Reimer exists in Carolina.

Reimer went 14-6-2 in 25 games for the Canes this season and had a 2.66 GAA, as well as a .914 SV% and three shutouts– so basically he’s the same as Mrazek, only Reimer’s looking for a bigger redemption arc in the postseason than being remembered as the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender in Boston’s epic, 5-4, overtime comeback in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

That wasn’t even Reimer’s last appearance in the playoffs, however, as he had a brief stint (29 minutes) with the San Jose Sharks en route to their 2016 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Brind’Amour might be wise to use his best defensive game and start Reimer in Game 1 against the Rangers, except Mrazek had an .861 SV% against New York in three games this season, while Reimer had a .792 SV%.

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

On the other hand, the New York Rangers enter their Qualifier matchup with the Hurricanes two points behind Carolina in the season standings and three spots behind them in the Metropolitan Division standings that are virtually obsolete this postseason.

The Hurricanes had 81 points. The Rangers had 79 points. First place through seventh place in the division was separated by 11 points at the time of the stoppage.

And at that point, 2019-20 Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Artemi Panarin, had already amassed 32-63–95 totals in 69 games for New York.

He had nine points (three goals, six assists) against the Hurricanes this season, while Mika Zibanejad sat 20 points behind Panarin in team scoring with 41 goals and 34 assists (75 points) in 57 games– including four goals and three assists against Carolina this season.

Ryan Strome carried third place honors for the Rangers in scoring this season with 18-41–59 totals in 70 games.

Rangers head coach, David Quinn, also doesn’t have an easy decision to make with his goaltenders heading to Toronto for their series against Carolina.

Henrik Lundqvist made three starts against the Canes and went 3-0-0, while stopping 125 shots out of 132 shots against (.947 SV%) in that span.

Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in his one start and one win against Carolina this season.

Lundqvist went 10-12-3 on the season in 30 games played (26 starts) with a 3.16 GAA, a .905 SV% and one shutout.

Shesterkin went 10-2-0 in 12 games played (12 starts) and had a 2.52 GAA, as well as a .932 SV%.

Oh yeah, and Alexandar Georgiev went 17-14-2 in 34 games (32 starts) while putting up a 3.04 GAA, a .910 SV% and two shutouts.

One thing is clearer now more than ever before– “King Henrik” is no longer king in “The Big Apple”.

Shesterkin should receive the nod for the playoffs, but this is just the Qualifier. It technically doesn’t count unless you win three out of the next possible five games.

In that case, Quinn could rely on Lundqvist to get the job done, then give Shesterkin his first real taste of the NHL’s toughest job– being a goaltender in the playoffs– since Lundqvist has a history for seemingly always having Carolina’s number when it matters most for the Hurricanes.

Regardless of who’s in net, New York holds all the advantages coming into this series.

The Rangers scored 17 goals for against Hurricanes and allowed nine goals against over their four games against one another.

Carolina threw the kitchen sink at New York on net– totaling 161 shots on goal in their four regular season matchups with the Blue Shirts– but Lundqvist was the key difference maker.

That said, the Hurricanes knocked off the then defending Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in last year’s First Round.

But can Brind’Amour motivate his players enough to get the job done more efficiently when the series is only a best-of-five instead of having the luxury to drag things out all seven games like they did against the Caps?

And with back-to-back games incorporated in the schedule, conditions are clearly unfavorable for the Hurricanes in their David and Goliath matchup (again, despite being the higher seed).

One thing that works in their favor? There’s no travel outside the bubble to and from the games, so that’s a plus.

Knowing how The Hockey Gods work, it’d be foolish not to believe this series won’t go all five games just because. Either that or Carolina will pull off the three-game sweep of the Rangers after losing every single regular season game against New York in 2019-20.

Flip a coin and that’s your winner– this series might just be a lot closer and more intense than you think.

Rangers in five, but don’t be surprised if/when Carolina defeats them.

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Nov. 7th, 3-2 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 27th, 5-3 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27th, 5-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Feb. 21st

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/4- Game 3 CAR @ NYR in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

8/6- Game 4 CAR @ NYR in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 NYR @ CAR in Toronto*

*If necessary

(7) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points) vs (10) Florida Panthers (35-26-8, 78 points)

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins

Florida: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 30 regulation wins

Barry Trotz is still coaching the trap in today’s NHL, which, honestly, you have to hand it to him. His defense first mindset has turned the New York Islanders into a playoff contender since his arrival last season.

The only bad thing that’s come with Trotz’s arrival and John Tavares’ departure– a lack of goal scoring.

It’s no secret that to win games, your team must score more goals than the other team, whether it’s a, 10-9, high-scoring victory or a, 1-0, shutout.

Unfortunately for Trotz, the Isles ranked ninth in fewest goals for this season with 192, which is the worst among all the Qualifier team. Yes, even Montreal and Chicago each had 212 goals for this season, despite their minus-6 and minus-9 goal differentials, respectively.

At least the Islanders only allowed one more goal than they scored in the pandemic shortened regular season.

Anyway, Mathew Barzal led the charge for New York this season with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games played, while Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games) and Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) followed suit.

Barzal was on pace for 23 goals and 72 points this season, which would’ve been a career-high in goals in a season for the young forward only having just completed his third full season. Nevertheless, scoring at least 60 points in three consecutive seasons is respectable.

Nelson scored 26 goals this season, which marked back to back seasons of at least 20 goals for the 28-year-old. He was on pace for 31 goals in what was already a career-season in the making.

Lee was on pace for 52 points after putting up 20-23–43 totals in 68 games, which would have given him four consecutive seasons of 50-plus points.

But it’s not all about what would’ve been for the Islanders, because the future is here in goaltender Ilya Sorokin– oh wait, he can’t play in the 2020 postseason due to the NHL’s Return to Play rulings, which is fine– just means that next year’s looking good for the Isles.

In net, Semyon Varlamov amassed a 19-14-6 record in 45 games played (39 starts) with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, as well as two shutouts to go with it.

Ideally, you’d like a starting goaltender in the NHL to be closer to 2.50, maybe even 2.30 in goals against average and around a .920 in save percentage, but we addressed some of New York’s shortcomings this season– a lack of offense and injuries on defense with Adam Pelech limited to 38 games.

Thomas Greiss had a 16-9-4 record in 31 games (29 starts) with a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process.

It’s likely his last season on Long Island/in Brooklyn with Sorokin signed for the next couple of seasons, so if he sees any ice time in the series, he’ll have to be better in order to prove his next payday at the expense of another team via free agency in November.

New York brought in Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional 2020 1st round pick (can become a 2021 1st round pick if the Islanders lose in the Qualifier and win the 1st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft–a.k.a. top-3 lottery protected), a 2020 2nd round pick and a conditional 2022 3rd round pick (if New York wins the Cup in 2020), then signed Pageau to a six-year extension worth $5.000 million per season.

Though it was all too short to effectively judge Pageau in an Islanders sweater, it’s worth noting he scored two goals in seven games so far. That’s it.

A boost for the third line, sure, but his effectiveness in a new surrounding remains to be seen, which could be a key to New York defeating the Florida Panthers who lack an important figure in Vincent Trocheck since trading him to the Carolina Hurricanes for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen at the deadline on Feb. 24th.

Speaking of the Panthers, Florida was led by Jonathan Huberdeau in scoring this season with 23 goals and 55 assists (78 points) in 69 games this season.

Aleksander Barkov had his fifth consecutive 20-goal season– one season removed from his career-high 35 goals (and 96 points!) last season– and was on pace for 25 tallies this season at the stoppage.

And bringing up the rear in Florida’s top-three scorers this season was Mike Hoffman with 29 goals and 30 assists (59 points) in 69 games. Hoffman finished one goal shy of back to back 30-goal seasons and was on pace to match his career-high 70 points in a season had the regular season been uninterrupted.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky probably wishes he could ask for a mulligan this season after going 23-19-6 in 50 games played (49 starts) and amassing a 3.23 GAA, as well as a .900 SV% and one shutout.

Yes, you read that right– one shutout this season. After leading the league with nine shutouts last season, Bobrovsky was far beyond a disappointment in his first year of a seven-year, $70 million contract.

Meanwhile, Sam Montembeault (5-5-1) started the season as Florida’s backup, but things took a turn after his 3.34 GAA and .890 SV% in 14 games played (nine starts) were no better than Bobrovsky’s career-worst season as a starter.

Alas, Chris Driedger was called up from the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) and put up a 7-2-1 record in 12 games played with a 2.05 GAA, a .938 SV% and one shutout in that span.

The Islanders beat the Panthers in all three regular season matchups this season, but New York has yet to face Driedger.

A word to the wise for Florida’s head coach, Joel Quenneville– what more could you lose by starting Driedger in Game 1?

Bobrovsky hasn’t had the form all season and isn’t going into the playoffs as your surefire starter– $10.000 million cap hit or not. Pray he returns to his two-time Vezina Trophy winning ability in time for 2020-21, but for now he hasn’t earned starter duties and your main focus is on winning three games, let alone going for the Cup with whatever you have for a roster.

The Islanders scored eight goals in their three games against the Panthers this season. They allowed four goals against, while Florida– to their credit– forced New York to a shootout in their first meeting back on Oct. 12th.

New York had 94 total shots on goal against Florida this season.

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

It should be a close battle with each team ravaged in some manner– whether by injuries that plagued them all season or lackluster goaltending, neither club is exactly turning heads out there.

The Panthers lost in six games to the Islanders in the 2016 First Round, but this time around it’s a best of five.

New York should win in four games as Trotz has more recent playoff success and the more recent playoff experienced roster to go off of than, yes, Quenneville’s three Stanley Cup Rings from the last ten years.

It’s not that Quenneville can’t pull off the upset, but rather that the Panthers aren’t ready to make a dent in the postseason picture without all the necessary pieces.

The good news for them, at least, is they have a tried and true coach to guide them through what for now will be some growing pains.

Unless 20-goal scorer Noel Acciari pockets a hat trick in three straight games, which sounds quite plausible these days, so who knows!?

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 F/SO NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 12th, 2-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 9th, 3-1 NYI at BB&T Center on Dec. 12th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN1, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 NYI @ FLA in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 NYI @ FLA in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 FLA @ NYI in Toronto*

*If necessary

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, 81 points) vs (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 points)

Toronto: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 28 regulation wins

Columbus: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 25 regulation wins

The Toronto Maple Leafs have home ice advantage and– well, technically, the Qualifier isn’t considered part of the playoffs and there’s a pandemic going on, so no fans are allowed inside the bubble.

But hey, at least there’s hockey in Canadian New York City, so we’ll take it!

The Leafs were led by Auston Matthews in scoring this season as the 22-year-old center finished third in the NHL in goals with 47 of them in 70 games played. He had 80 points overall, which established career-highs in both goals and points in his fourth NHL season– and fourth consecutive season with at least 30 goals.

Oh and for the second time in his young career, Matthews reached the 40-goal plateau and was on the cusp of 50 had it not been for the ongoing pandemic cutting things short. He was on pace for 55 goals at the stoppage.

Mitchell Marner was second on the Leafs roster in scoring with 16-51–67 totals in 59 games played– surpassing the 50-assist plateau for the second straight season and further proving his vital role as a playmaker on the roster.

Meanwhile, John Tavares had 26 goals and 34 assists (60 points) in 63 games, which was down from his 47-41–88 totals last season, but then again, he was on pace for 78 points this season had the regular season seen its proper conclusion, so really he wasn’t all that far off from a typical Tavares year.

As it is, the only time Tavares has ever had less than 50 points in a season was in the lockout shortened, 48-game, 2012-13 season, in which he had 47 points in all 48 games.

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

In the crease, the Maple Leafs were led by Frederik Anderson (29-13-7 record in 52 games played, 2.85 GAA, .909 SV%, three shutouts), but hold the phone! What’s this? Toronto acquired a legitimate backup netminder during the season!?!

That’s right, Jack Campbell (3-2-1 in six games with Toronto, six starts, 2.63 GAA, .915 SV% in that span) is a Maple Leaf and– heaven forbid– is more than capable of bailing out Toronto if things get dire with Andersen.

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

Plus there’s a wild card this year for Toronto that the rest of the league has yet to see– Nick Robertson. You know, the forward that had 55-31–88 totals in 46 games with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) this season and brings both even more speed and skill to the Maple Leafs lineup.

At the other side of the rink, the Columbus Blue Jackets were battered all season and had a trio of goaltenders at one point as a result, yet somehow, here they are to the surprise of all the experts that had them pegged for 8th place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the 2019-20 season after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency.

It’s all just part of the plan.

Many had them out against the Lightning last year and, well, the Blue Jackets brought the thunder in that series.

Unfortunately for CBJ fans, they couldn’t bring the cannon through customs, but they were able to bring their leading scorer, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and his 18-31–49 totals in 70 games this season.

Gustav Nyquist had a respectable 42-point season (15 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games with Columbus after being brought in via free agency, while Zach Werenski was third on the team in scoring with 20 goals and 21 assists (41 points) from the blue line in 63 games.

Columbus has the better defense on paper, but Toronto’s offense has more than enough firepower to outmatch the Blue Jackets’ best efforts.

In goal, however, emerged the rise of a new king (but not of rock)– Elvis Merzlikins. Though Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, two shutouts) played in more games (37 played, 35 starts) than Merzlikins, No. 90 in red, white and blue had the better numbers with a 13-9-8 record in 33 games played (31 starts), as well as a 2.35 GAA, a .923 SV% and five shutouts.

It’s the dawn of a new age in Columbus as a hot, young, goaltending tandem has arrived with the departure of Bobrovsky.

It’ll be Merzlikins’ biggest test, but the Blue Jackets just might be a lot better off now more than ever riding the hot goaltender.

Plus they struck down the dragon last spring and made it out of the First Round for the first time in franchise history, so now anything’s possible moving forward.

On paper this is the most even matchup as both teams finished with 81 points, had 70 games played and went won one out of the two games they played against one another before the pandemic shortened the regular season, but it’s hard to ignore one thing– Tortorella.

Once more Tortorella is a Jack Adams Award finalist and, oh yeah, he’s kind of responsible for figuring out how to not only beat, but sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 First Round– you know, last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners.

But a newcomer has entered the chat and that’s Keefe. He led the Toronto Marlies (AHL) to the 2018 Calder Cup championship and many of the players in the Leafs system have encountered his touch in recent years.

Is Keefe the answer to Toronto’s prayers or will yet another team that’s come into the league since their last Cup in 1967 raise Lord Stanley’s mug over their heads while the Maple Leafs are off somewhere preparing for next season?

The good news, this isn’t technically the playoffs yet, so that means Toronto’s got a better chance off the bat.

There’s not as much of a distraction surrounding their opponent (*ahem* for once, it’s not Boston!– yet, anyway), let alone the “hasn’t made it out of the First Round since before the 2004-05 season-long lockout” specter that shadows the Leafs.

The bad news, they’re the Maple Leafs. Of course only something like a pandemic would throw off any momentum they had going into a possible playoff run, etc.

Imagine if the Chicago Cubs didn’t win in 2016, or the Boston Red Sox didn’t win in 2004– yeah, that’s how most Toronto fans feel day-in and day-out– no matter how confident– no matter how much belief they have in the team.

There’s always that chance that something something goes wrong and the curse or whatever remains hanging over the Maple Leafs dressing room and front office.

Leafs in five, then we’ll see what happens, but Tortorella’s teams aren’t easy to knock off their game. This alone might be Toronto’s greatest test in the Matthews, Marner and Co. Era.

Mike Babcock’s gone. They’re playing the “new age” game. Can they get it done?

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 TOR at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4th, 4-3 F/OT CBJ at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 21st

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 CBJ @ TOR 8 PM ET on NHLN, SN, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 CBJ @ TOR 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/6- Game 3 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto TBD

8/7- Game 4 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Eastern Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Eastern Conference are in Toronto this year and all times Eastern.

Boston Bruins

44-14-12, 100 points, 70 GP, .714 PTS%, 38 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 5th vs. TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

43-21-6, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 35 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. WSH in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 5th @ BOS in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

41-20-8, 90 points, 69 GP, .652 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 3rd @TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

41-21-7, 89 points, 69 GP, .645 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 2nd @ BOS in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

DTFR Podcast #201- Summer School (Since Summer Camp Is A Sponsored MLB Thing Now)

Dates, awards finalists, opting out, new faces, exhibition schedule and the Ottawa Senators rebrand.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify.

Look To The Rafters: Chicago Blackhawks (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Chicago Blackhawks might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters at United Center someday.

Chicago Blackhawks Current Retired Numbers

1 Glenn Hall

3 Keith Magnuson/Pierre Pilote

9 Bobby Hull

18 Denis Savard

21 Stan Mikita

35 Tony Esposito

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

No! As a matter of fact, the Blackhawks haven’t retired any numbers since Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote’s No. 3 on Nov. 12, 2008, but they’ll soon have a plethora of jersey retirement ceremonies because winning three Cups in five seasons will do that.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

2 Duncan Keith

There’s a trend among all the possible numbers to retire in the near future in Chicago– they all won at least two Stanley Cup rings with the Blackhawks. You’re probably quite familiar with them if you’ve been watching the NHL in the last decade.

Keith broke into the league in the 2005-06 season with the Blackhawks (who drafted him in the second round, 54th overall, in 2002) and has spent his entire career with Chicago across 15 seasons so far.

In that span, Keith has won three Cups (2010, 2013 and 2015) and has amassed 101 goals and 509 assists in 1,138 career regular season games played and ranks 10th all-time in points in franchise history with 610.

His team friendly $5.538 million cap hit expires after the 2022-23 season, when the defender will be approaching 40-years-old and may or may not even still be playing by then. Oh and he won the James Norris Trophy as the league’s best defender in 2009-10 and 2013-14. Keith was also named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner after the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

Anyway, for most of these Blackhawks players it should be pretty self-explanatory.

7 Brent Seabrook

Seabrook was originally selected in the first round by Chicago (14th overall) in 2003. He broke into the league with the Blackhawks in the 2005-06 season and has spent all 15 seasons of his NHL career thus far with Chicago.

He’s also a three-time Stanley Cup champion, having been a member of Chicago’s 2010, 2013 and 2015 rosters. In 1,114 career NHL games, Seabrook’s amassed 103-361–464 totals from the blue line. Along with Keith, he’s been a long-standing pillar on Chicago’s defense and deserves acknowledgment in his own right for the longevity of his tenure that somehow made it as far as it did– and as durable– until he had season ending surgery on his right shoulder on Dec. 27, 2019.

There’s no doubt the Blackhawks will honor both workhorses on their defense that single handedly defined Chicago’s championship style from their own zone out.

10 Patrick Sharp

Compared to the rest of this list, it might be a harder time to argue for Chicago to send Sharp’s No. 10 up to the rafters of United Center, but if you want to make the argument, first there’s the number of years and dedication spent with the team and city (11 seasons across two stints) and second, there’s the fact that Sharp had 532 points in 749 games in a Blackhawks sweater (or .710 points per game while with Chicago).

He spent parts of three seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and two seasons with the Dallas Stars, which contributed to his 287-333–620 totals in 939 career NHL games, which– if you can’t do the math– means that Sharp had 88 points outside of Chicago in 129 games (.682 points per game outside Chicago), which means (“eye test” aside) that he spent his prime with the Blackhawks and was able to give his all to the team that he won three Cups with in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

So… yeah… maybe don’t forget about Sharp in the “potential numbers to retire” conversation.

19 Jonathan Toews

A year before the Blackhawks drafted Patrick Kane, they selected their centerpiece for the future in Toews with the 3rd overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft. He made his league debut with Chicago in the 2007-08 season and produced 54 points in his rookie year. Two seasons later, he raised the Stanley Cup above his head as the first Blackhawks player to do so since 1961, after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

Toews was named the 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy winner and has won an award in each of his Stanley Cup winning seasons– winning the Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015 with the Blackhawks, while taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2010, the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 2013 and the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2015.

He’s fast approaching 1,000 career NHL games– all with Chicago– as he’s already appeared in 943 contests for the Blackhawks since his rookie season, amassing 345-470–815 totals.

There’s no doubt Toews will see his No. 19 raised to the rafters when he hangs up his skates.

50 Corey Crawford

Crawford is the reason why the qualifier “at least two Cup rings with the Blackhawks” had to be used for this list because– spoiler alert– he was not Chicago’s starting goaltender until the 2010-11 season, and thus, only won the Cup in 2013 and 2015.

Antti Niemi led the Blackhawks to their first Cup in 49 years, but Crawford doubled Niemi’s Cup wins in Chicago and led many to forget about the goaltender that ended the Cup drought for the Blackhawks, then went to arbitration, but couldn’t reach a deal to keep him as the home goaltender at United Center and finally signed a deal with the San Jose Sharks before the start of the 2010-11 season.

Meanwhile, Crawford’s amassed 260 wins in 488 games played for Chicago– yielding a 2.45 career goals against average and a career .918 save percentage, as well as 26 shutouts in that span.

He’s been around for parts of 13 seasons with the Blackhawks and is the modern Tony Esposito for the franchise, so it’s only fitting that Crawford’s No. 50 becomes the next jersey number belonging to a goaltender to be raised to the rafters in Chicago.

81 Marian Hossa

Three Cups with Chicago and he gets in the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility? Might as well complete the journey with retiring No. 81 for the Blackhawks this upcoming season– whenever it happens (if it happens) in 2020-21.

After missing out on the Cup in 2008 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hossa signed a one-year deal with the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings for the 2008-09 season. Detroit met up with the Penguins in a rematch of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, but in the 2009 edition of the Stanley Cup Final. Once again, however, Hossa drew the short end of the stick and was defeated by his former teammates on his quest for his first Cup.

In the summer of 2009, Hossa signed a mega-deal worth $5.275 million per season over the course of 12 seasons through next season. After a debilitating skin allergy to his hockey equipment cut his career short, Hossa’s contract currently sits on the books of the Arizona Coyotes, but that’s besides the point.

In his first season with the Blackhawk’s, Hossa won it all. The long, torturous, journey to three consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances paid off with Chicago’s defeat of the Flyers in 2010.

Then Hossa won two more Cups in 2013 and 2015 with the Blackhawks and amassed 186-229–415 totals in 534 games with Chicago from 2009-17.

Anyway, he scored a bunch of clutch goals for the Blackhawks, so I’m sure that alone will be good enough, right?

Since he’s still under contract with a team for 2020-21, does this mean the Blackhawks will have to wait until the 2021-22 season to retire his number– or are they going to have to wait until then anyway due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

88 Patrick Kane

The 1st overall pick in the 2007 Draft, Kane was selected by the Blackhawks as the planned counterpart for Toews in the overnight redefinition of a basement dwelling franchise to Stanley Cup contending club from season-to-season for a decade.

In 973 regular season games with Chicago, Kane has 389 goals and 633 assists (1,022 points), as well as lots of hardware.

For starters, he’s won three Stanley Cups with the club in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Oddly enough, his best season didn’t even come until after he won three Cups in five seasons with the Blackhawks. In 2015-16, Kane took home the Art Ross Trophy with 106 points, and won the Hart Memorial Trophy, as well as the Ted Lindsay Award that season as the league’s regular season MVP both as determined by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) for the Hart and by the rest of the league’s players for the Lindsay.

Oh and he won the Calder Memorial Trophy in his rookie season (2007-08) and picked up a Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So there’s that.

Oh plus he scored the goal that ended Chicago’s 49-year Cup drought.

So there’s that too.

Final Thoughts

Now is the perfect time to get rid of the biggest disgrace in franchise history. Unretire No. 9.

DTFR Podcast #200- 200th Episode Celebration

To mark 200 episodes of the DTFR Podcast, Nick and Colby talk about the origin story of DTFR, give podcast advice and share some of their favorite memories from the show or otherwise from the last six years of Down the Frozen River. Also, Lindy Ruff is the new head coach of the New Jersey Devils, more Florida Panthers talk and extended CBA musings.

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DTFR Podcast #199- Cheese!

Colby’s back, Jack.

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DTFR Podcast #183- Loyalty Loyalty Loyalty

Nick talks a little about why Joe Thornton didn’t get traded and the moves the Boston Bruins made leading to the trade deadline.

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Analysis: Marleau’s new team is his best chance for a Cup

The San Jose Sharks dealt Patrick Marleau to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a conditional 2021 3rd round pick at Monday’s trade deadline.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson was in a selling mood for the first time in a while as Penguins GM Jim Rutherford was buying low left and right in hopes of getting back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2017.

The two teams met in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, in which Marleau’s Sharks lost to the Penguins in six games, but it seems all is good between the competitors– or at least, Marleau’s going to one of his favorite teams as a kid and now has a chance of seeing at least one more postseason before he ultimately hangs up the skates.

San Jose will receive a 2021 2nd round pick instead of the Pens’ 2021 3rd round pick if Pittsburgh wins the Cup.

Marleau, 40, is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and had 10-10–20 totals in 58 games with San Jose this season.

The Aneroid, Saskatchewan native is 52 games shy of tying Gordie Howe’s record for the most games played all time and is in his 22nd NHL season (20 with San Jose and two with the Toronto Maple Leafs).

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound winger was previously traded in the offseason by the Maple Leafs to the Carolina Hurricanes along with a conditional 2020 1st round pick and a 2020 7th round pick in exchange for a 2020 6th round pick before he was bought out by Carolina and signed with the Sharks as a free agent on Oct. 9, 2019.

Marleau served as captain of the Sharks for five seasons (2003-09) and was an alternate captain in his time with San Jose (2002-03, 2009-16) and Toronto (2017-19).

He has 561 goals and 625 assists (1,186 points) in 1,715 career NHL games for the Sharks and Maple Leafs and was originally drafted by San Jose in the first round (2nd overall) of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, which was in (you guessed it) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

With the acquisition of the conditional 2021 3rd round pick and a 2020 1st round pick in a separate trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Sharks have 15 selections in the next two NHL Entry Drafts– including two in the 2020 2nd round and three in the 2021 3rd round.

While Marleau is best suited for a chance at his elusive first Stanley Cup championship in Pittsburgh, the same cannot be said for long-time Shark, Joe Thornton, who elected to stay in San Jose instead of waiving his no-movement clause for a trade to a Cup contender.