Roundtable: Qualifying round excitement; draft lottery reaction

1 Comment

Which Qualifying Round series are you most excited to see?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: There are two reasons why I’m eager to see the Canucks-Wild series. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.

They’re the two cornerstones of the Canucks rebuild and they helped Vancouver take big strides this season. This will be their first postseason — if you want to describe it like that — experience and in such a short series they could cause plenty of problems for Dean Evason and his charges.

Pettersson and Hughes weren’t the only two key cogs for the Canucks. J.T. Miller and goaltender Jacob Markstrom could share the team’s MVP award this season. Miller was their leading scorer (72 points) after being acquired from Tampa last summer and Markstrom finished top five in even-strength save percentage (.925). That will be important going against a Wild team that averaged over three goals per game.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: As tempting as it is to go rogue from my own selections — and as difficult as it was to rank all eight qualifiers to begin with — I should stay consistent and choose Penguins vs. Canadiens.

And, really, there’s a lot to love. For one thing, whether the Penguins are really “scared” of Carey Price or not, it adds some sizzle to the steak. There should be plenty to chew on with this series, too, as Pittsburgh boasts those big stars, while the Canadiens have been a strong possession team with not-so-strong results for some time now. The Penguins might be the most “overqualified” team for this play-in format, so imagine if Montreal pushes Pittsburgh to the brink?
(After watching Jaroslav Halak upset the Penguins back in 2010, wouldn’t it be odd for Price to do the same a decade later?)

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: I’ll have my eyes glued to the TV for the Toronto-Columbus series. The Maple Leafs have not won a playoff round since 2004, and the pressure is mounting considering how firmly entrenched in “win now” mode they are. After three straight first-round exits, a coaching change, and a lot of cash paid to its superstars, Toronto is running out of time to capitalize on their plan.

From Columbus’ perspective, a couple things stand out. First, the question mark in net. Neither goalie has any playoff experience. Joonas Korpisalo was stellar in the first half of the season and was named an All-Star, but got hurt and didn’t play much in 2020. Elvis Merzlikins didn’t win a game until New Year’s Eve, but once Korpisalo went down, he took the starter’s load and at one point recorded 5 shutouts in less than a month. Who will step up?

Another other major factor is Columbus’ health. Their top players were battered and bruised all season, and rarely at full capacity. With such a long layoff, we may see the best version of these Blue Jackets.

Considering the Leafs were staring down a First Round matchup with the Lightning before the pause, they will seemingly have their hands less full with Columbus. Then again, those Blue Jackets were a buzzsaw last year and swept the Presidents’ Trophy winners, so you really do never know. Especially when John Tortorella is involved.

 

[NHL announces return-to-play plans]

Complicated as it is, do you like the draft lottery procedure for this unique season?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: I had to read it a dozen times just to come close to comprehending exactly how it will all go down.

It should have just been simplified: Those seven teams who didn’t make the Return to Play plan? Congrats! You have an equal shot at landing Alexis Lafreniere and are part of the lottery. Then, at the conclusion of each round, the losing teams will be slotted into the appropriate spots by regular season winning percentage until we end the Round 1 order with the two Stanley Cup teams.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Not really.

For one thing, if the NHL was so eager to run an early-June draft (at least according to reports), weren’t they doing so to create buzz? Going to go out on a limb and say that when rules are so convoluted that even Gary Bettman is apologizing for them, you probably aren’t going to leave fans very excited about the draft lottery. Considering that many of the most hardcore hockey fans only know a smattering of prospects, shouldn’t the lottery to win the few known quantities be a little more straightforward?
We live in complex times. Why not make sports easier to follow?

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Putting the very intricate details of the draft lottery aside for a moment, I am thrilled that the decision was made to place the draft itself after the conclusion of the season. The concept of a June draft never felt right to me. Not only would the determination of a draft order have felt somewhat arbitrary without a completed season, but there are so many components of crucial league business predicated on the draft taking place in the offseason. By keeping the draft in its traditional place, the NHL has ensured the most fair outcome for its teams as they prepare for what is hopefully a somewhat normal 2020-21 season.

Now, regarding the draft lottery: I am not a proponent of the procedure as outlined. The complexity doesn’t bother me; if the goal was to come as close as possible to the traditional format, where 15 non-playoff teams all get a shot at the lottery, then this is the best way to do it because there is no incentive to lose in the Qualifying Round, and the odds for the teams at the bottom of the standings remain as high as they usually are.

Except there are not 15 non-playoff teams. Effectively, there are only seven. And those seven teams are at a disadvantage relative to the 16 teams who will play in the Qualifying Round.

A reason why the NHL ended up with a 24-team format was to accommodate the large number of teams who were on the playoff bubble. So, the cutoff line for those who will get a shot at the Stanley Cup was made more forgiving. Why then is there simultaneously a reward for those teams (getting the chance to win a Cup), as well as a safety net (chances at the top 3 picks). Normally, you either get one or the other. Now, you get both, all while the system remains unchanged for the teams at the bottom.

MORE:
NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft odds
A look at the Western Conference matchups

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Bubble Wrap: Plenty of playoff action, including a double OT Game 1

NHL scores Bubble Wrap playoff double OT around the NHL
Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Hey, the Bruins and Hurricanes got to play, and it went to (double) OT. And Rod Brind’Amour got really mad, and less rich.
  • Barry Trotz got … uh, the latest laugh(?) against his old team, the Capitals.
  • Carey Price made a righteous save, but lost.
  • Plenty of Game 1 action, so let’s get rolling.

NHL scores from 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff Game 1 action

Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 [2 OT] (Boston leads 1-0)

After having their game postponed from Tuesday, the Bruins and Hurricanes made up for lost time by taking a lot of time in their Game 1. These two teams needed to reach a second overtime period to decide their Game 1, with Patrice Bergeron scoring the OT GWG after Petr Mrazek was just a tooooouch off of his angle.

Islanders 4, Capitals 2 (Isles lead 1-0)

T.J. Oshie scored two power-play goals to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead. Then things fell apart. The Islanders took advantage of some sloppy play from the Capitals, and Anders Lee made some Capitals enemies with a fight, a hit that may have injured Nicklas Backstrom, and a goal. Barry Trotz’s new team took this one against his old pals.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Avalanche 3, Coyotes 0 (Colorado leads 1-0)

For much of this one-sided Game 1, it seemed like Darcy Kuemper might steal (another?) win for the Coyotes. It took until fairly deep into the third period for the Avalanche to get a puck past Kuemper. But when it rained, it poured, with three goals in about a minute and a half. As great as Kuemper’s been for the Coyotes, Arizona needs to do more than sit back and only fire 14 SOG against Philipp Grubauer and the Avs.

Flyers 2, Canadiens 1 (Philadelphia leads 1-0)

The Carter Hart – Carey Price hype seemed fairly justified in Game 1. While Price made the save of that Game 1 (see: highlight of the night), Hart got the best of his idol in this one. The 2-1 score might indicate that it was a slog. Not really; the two teams played with pretty solid pace. That said, the Canadiens couldn’t get a whole lot done in the third period, when the Flyers were really clamping down.

Canucks 5, Blues 2 (Vancouver leads 1-0)

Well, then. The Canucks never trailed in Game 1, building leads of 1-0, 2-1, and then a 3-2 edge that they would not relinquish. The Canucks’ power play did a lot of damage in Game 1, and Bo Horvat was a locomotive, scoring two goals (including a beauty to really put Game 1 out of reach). Not the greatest game for Jordan Binnington, who also saw some drop-off during the regular season.

Three Stars from Wednesday in 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

1. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins

Really, hand it to “The Perfection Line” if you’d like. Bergeron scored the overtime game-winner, and also collected an assist. David Pastrnak (1G, 1A) and Brad Marchand (2A) enjoyed two-point outputs, as well. While the Hurricanes kept that line from dominating as much as they sometimes can in Game 1, they still made the difference. (Rod Brind’Amour would argue that the refs made a big difference, as well.)

2. Josh Bailey, Islanders

Here’s another award where you could hand it to forwards who made similar impacts. Still, Bailey came up big during the Islanders’ comeback, scoring the shorthanded goal that ended up being the game-winner, and assisting on the 4-2 goal that put things out of reach. Brock Nelson and Mathew Barzal both came through with two-assist games, delivering as well for the Isles.

3. Bo Horvat, Canucks

It’s tempting to go with Carter Hart, who outdueled Carey Price (his idol) on Wednesday. Maybe there’s an urge to reward Darcy Kuemper for his 37-save performance, nearly willing the Coyotes to a win before allowing three goals late against the Avs.

But Horvat scored the first goal to set the tone for the Canucks against the Blues in Game 1, and then the 4-2 tally with a beautiful move to make a St. Louis surge less likely.

Highlight of the Night

It has to be Carey Price’s diving, Nick Suzuki-saving stop, right?

Factoids

  • Shea Weber became the second defenseman in Canadiens history with a goal streak of three consecutive games or more (Weber’s now at four goals, one assist in three games). Guy Lapointe ranks as the other Canadiens defender to do so, meeting that mark in 1973. [NHL PR]
  • The Islanders are developing a knack for coming back against the Capitals in playoff games:

THURSDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Blue Jackets vs. Lightning (TB leads 1-0), 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights (VGK leads 1-0) , 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Hurricanes vs. Bruins, 8 p.m ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Flames vs. Stars, 10:30 p.m ET (CGY leads 1-0) – NBCSN

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Flyers vs. Canadiens
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Bruins vs. Hurricanes
Stars vs. Flames
Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights

First Round predictions
Power Rankings: Best First Round matchups
Conn Smythe Watch: Korpisalo, Aho leading entering First Round
Roundtable: NHL playoff surprises; vulnerable top seeds

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks never trail, beat Blues 5-2 in Game 1

Leave a comment

The young Canucks didn’t look like they feared the defending-champion Blues, at least not in Game 1. The Canucks never trailed in Game 1, breaking a tied third period to win 5-2, taking a 1-0 series lead against the Blues.

Blues found themselves chasing Canucks in Game 1

When we look back at this First Round 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff series, we may say that the Blues eventually neutralized the explosive but inexperienced (and not particularly deep) Canucks. That was not the story of Game 1.

During the first period, both teams scored fairly similar power-play goals, with Bo Horvat and David Perron finding the net with quick shots from the “bumper” position. Vancouver’s power play continued to cause problems, as Elias Pettersson also briefly gave the Canucks a 2-1 lead during the second period. Jaden Schwartz quickly answered with a 2-2 goal as the last tally of that period, yet this would not be the last time the Blues found themselves trailing in Game 1.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In a moment Jordan Binnington would like to have back, Troy Stecher boomed a shot by the Blues goalie 5:37 into the third. About two-and-a-half minutes later, Horvat bamboozled Vince Dunn with a splendid move to score his second goal of Game 1, and make it 4-2.

While the Blues managed some pushes late in Game 1, they couldn’t come back against the Canucks. After St. Louis got whistled for a late penalty, J.T. Miller scored the 5-2 goal on a power play at first focused on clock-killing.

Vancouver managed one of the bigger Game 1 upsets of the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, leaving the Blues with some serious work to do.

There was some nastiness in Game 1, including this ugly spear by Troy Brouwer on Antoine Roussel:

Will this series get nastier? Perhaps. Considering the makeup of this Blues team, the finesse-heavy portion of the top of the Canucks lineup would be wise to mostly avoid the fray. So far, Horvat, Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes didn’t seem overwhelmed by the moment in facing the defending champs.

One other side note: should the Blues keep an eye on Binnington? As great as Binnington was during that 2019 Stanley Cup run, his NHL sample size isn’t enormous. And, quietly or not, Jake Allen enjoyed a much better 2019-20 season than Binnington did.

Consider this comparison, via Hockey Reference:

Game 1 Canucks Blues Binnington Allen comparison

Just food for thought, particularly if the Blues struggle as the First Round progresses.

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks (VAN leads series 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver 5, St. Louis 2
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers beat Canadiens as Hart gets edge over Price in Game 1

Leave a comment

Carter Hart and the Flyers stayed hot in Game 1, holding off the Canadiens by a score of 2-1 to take a 1-0 series lead.

Hart, Flyers win Game 1 against Canadiens

The Flyers never trailed against the Canadiens in Game 1.

To start the scoring, Ivan Provorov scored a power-play goal as the lone tally of the first period. While the Canadiens got a goal back when Shea Weber connected with a PPG, it was a short-lived burst. Joel Farabee connected on his own deflection rebound to score 16 seconds later, scoring a 2-1 goal in the second period that ended up being the last of Game 1.

This wasn’t a stodgy, all-defense affair despite the low 2-1 score.

Instead, Carey Price and especially Carter Hart were sharp for the Canadiens and Flyers in Game 1. While Hart stood out, Price also made what was almost certainly the save of Wednesday night:

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Montreal’s biggest push of Game 1 happened during the second period. The Habs managed a 17-7 SOG advantage in the middle frame, but couldn’t make enough of a difference.

Chalk it up to some special teams play or not, but the Flyers actually fired more SOG in the third period (13-6) even though they were managing a lead against the Habs.

Overall, the Canadiens didn’t seem totally out of place against the Flyers. Even so, the Flyers stayed hot, and mostly thwarted any comeback attempts by the Habs. If this becomes a pattern, Carter Hart will really gain some esteem compared to his idol, Carey Price.

No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens (PHI leads series 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Philadelphia 2, Montreal 1
Friday, Aug. 14: Montreal at Philadelphia, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Philadelphia at Montreal, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Philadelphia at Montreal, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Philadelphia at Montreal – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks-Blues stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

Canucks-Blues stream
Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Wednesday’s First Round matchup between the Canucks and Blues. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canucks-Blues stream at 5:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The defending champion Blues finished the regular season atop the Western Conference, becoming the first defending champ to finish the following regular season atop their conference since the 2000-01 Devils. But in Round Robin play, St. Louis  went winless (0-2-1), blowing a third period lead in all three of their losses.

The Canucks were the seventh seed in the playoffs based on regular season points percentage. After getting shut out in Game 1 in their Qualifying Round series against the 10th-seeded Wild, Vancouver won three straight to advance to the traditional First Round. The series win over the Wild was Vancouver’s first since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.

The Canucks took two of the three games against the Blues this season. Two of their matchups went past regulation, while the final game was a one-goal game until an empty-net goal.

WHAT: Vancouver Canucks vs. St. Louis Blues
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, August 12, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canucks-Blues stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver at St. Louis, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule