The NHL will have playoffs and a Stanley Cup Champion for their 2020 season. After a lengthy stoppage due to Covid-19, the NHL has decided to scrap the rest of the regular season and jump straight into a unique 24-team playoff format.
The top four teams hailing from the Eastern Conference are the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Philadelphia Flyers. The teams without a first-round bye are the Penguins, Canadiens, Hurricanes, Rangers, Islanders, Panthers, Maple Leafs, and Blue Jackets.
The top four teams from the Western Conference are the reigning champion St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars. The teams that will be playing in the first round are the Oilers, Blackhawks, Predators, Coyotes, Canucks, Wild, Flames, and Jets.
The top four teams in each conference will play in a round-robin to decide their seeds while the rest of the teams will play each other in a five-game series to determine the rest of the seeds for the first round. The extra rest the top seeds get could give them an advantage, or it could be a slight disadvantage after the long break these teams have already had. Getting back on the ice is going to be unusual for these teams no matter what and we could see it cause some upsets to give the lower teams a 5-game series before they face the top seeds.
Teams Who Could Upset
Out of the bottom teams, I could see a few causing upsets that could go all the way to the Stanley Cup. One team to watch out for is the Edmonton Oilers. They have the most gifted player in the NHL on their team in Connor McDavid, along with Leon Draisaitl. Their only concern is their lack of depth, and they face one of the toughest first-round matchups in the Chicago Blackhawks.
While the Blackhawks have not had the best record this season, they do have some players with a ton of playoff experience, and with all the rest they had, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Corey Crawford could make for a very tough matchup for any of the 24 teams involved.
Teams with the Strongest Shot at the Cup
It may seem like a crapshoot for the top teams this year with the unique format, but there are a few teams I like more than others. I wouldn’t say I like the chances for the Blues or Bruins to make a trip back to the Cup. Some players have already voiced their thoughts on playing in a “COVID Cup.” Teams with less to prove like the Bruins and Blues may have a hard time finding motivation for this Cup.
Teams I like at the top of the group are the Avalanche and the Lightning. Tampa Bay had the best record in the league last year but was swept in the first round for an early exit. They should be coming into this playoff with everything to prove.
The Avalanche seem to have one of the top rosters every season but cannot seem to get the job done when it comes to playoff time. I like them to make a run out of the West this postseason and possibly take home the Cup.
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