NHL Power Rankings: Round Robin teams with most to lose

With Phase 2 of the NHL’s Return to Play plan kicking in this week, the possibility of the 2020 Stanley Cup being raised remains alive. In recent power rankings posts, we’ve focused on Qualifying Round storylines and matchups. But what about the teams who aim to thrive rather than survive. Today we discuss the top four teams in each conference who will compete in Round Robin for Seeding.

To be more precise, we’re wondering which top four teams have the most on the line. In this case, we’re focused on the top four teams in each conference’s outlooks during entire NHL playoffs, rather than just the Round Robin for Seeding.

Let’s rank them first to last as far as desperation goes in each conference. At the end, we’ll debate who has the absolute most on the line, and who’s playing with house money.

The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy, so it seems fairest to start with the top four for the East.

Top four East (Round Robin) NHL teams with the most and least to lose

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Imagine if the Lightning draw the Blue Jackets at some point during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

(Are you cringing too?)

While the Lightning are lucky that they get to jet-ski around a market like Tampa Bay, the rumblings will grow to a fever pitch if they fall short again. (Like, we might need to physically separate Andrei Vasilevskiy from Kenan Thompson.)

Yes, this franchise owns a Stanley Cup. But that was from the Vincent Lecavalier – Martin St. Louis – Brad Richards era. For all Steven Stamkos has accomplished, he’s had his heart and face broken in many NHL playoffs. At some point, it’s going to get awkward if Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman “can’t win the big one.”

(Speaking of cringing, wait for those takes.)

2. Boston Bruins

The 2019-20 Presidents’ Trophy winners keep hiding Father Time’s coat and shoes. It’s not just Zdeno Chara hogging the Fountain of Youth/Lazarus Pit at 43, either. Patrice Bergeron remains dominant at 34. You might make a double-take when you realize Brad Marchand is already 32. Oh yeah, Tuukka Rask is 33, too.

You … gotta think the Bruins are peaking right? Right? I mean, I honestly felt like this group would hit the aging curve hard by now, yet they comfortably topped the NHL standings this season.

It’s not just about wondering if the window will close. Even before the pandemic pause, it seemed like pending UFA Torey Krug would represent a tight squeeze. If they want to bring Krug back, you’d think they’d need to break up some of the band.

As much as this group has accomplished, you have to think that Chara & Co. want a second Stanley Cup (and first for star David Pastrnak).

3. Washington Capitals

*Rubs eyes*

Wait a minute, is this really happening? Are the Capitals relatively unfettered by “must-win” pressure?

Well, not exactly. Aside from the occasional Jakub Vrana, this roster’s getting a little up there in age. If for some reason you want to ponder your own mortality during the escape of watching hockey, merely ponder Alex Ovechkin‘s gray hair.

Alex Ovechkin Round Robin NHL
It works for Ovechkin, but still. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

With Braden Holtby‘s pending UFA status lingering, there’s still room for Capitals drama. No doubt, though, slaying that Stanley Cup dragon relieves most of the angst.

4. Philadelphia Flyers

For some, the Flyers kinda slipped up the ranks under the radar. This has been a team that’s mainly been playoff bubble material, at least when the wheels don’t fall off. Now they’re a Round Robin for Seeding away from possibly swiping the East’s top seed.

Don’t blame at least some of the Flyers for feeling pretty loose, then.

Yet … it’s not as if they’re playing with zero pressure.

Obviously, Philly can be a tough market. If the Flyers flounder, people will grumble about squandering a golden opportunity.

Also, for all the considerable youth on this roster, could this be a “sweet spot” between rising talent and aging stars? Claude Giroux (32), Jakub Voracek (30), and James van Riemsdyk (31) all might be heading toward a decline.

Top four West (Round Robin) NHL teams with the most and least to lose

1. St. Louis Blues

Like the Capitals, the Blues recently ended their franchise’s decades-long Stanley Cup drought. I’d wager there are some Blues fans who view the rest as “all gravy.”

Still, when you’re defending champs, you have a target on your back.

Combine that thought with Alex Pietrangelo possibly being out the door, and the temperature rises. What if this is the Blues’ best chance at a second Stanley Cup for quite a while? That thought won’t inspire the “Jaws” theme, exactly, but there’s some heat on the Blues.

2. Vegas Golden Knights

It feels deeply weird to put a third-year team on this list. Shouldn’t the Golden Knights enjoy basically a decade-long “honeymoon phase?”

Well, the Golden Knights are a deeply unusual expansion team.

Rather than being full of young debris, this is a full-flavored contender. And that goes right down to having some expensive players who are getting a little older. Not “Bruins” old, but the core Golden Knights might suddenly enter declines in the not-so-distant future.

Most obviously, Marc-Andre Fleury probably already hit a wall at 35. The Golden Knights made the smart investment to acquire Robin Lehner, but that could set the stage for drama. After all, if we’re being honest … Lehner probably should be the No. 1 guy for now.

The Golden Knights gambled earlier than expected, so if they leave with empty wallets, it will be pretty painful. Not “Joe Pesci’s gruesome death in Casino” painful, but painful.

3. Dallas Stars

The Stars should rank lower. As much as any team, it’s bewildering to realize that they’re basically a hot week from owning the top seed in their conference.

But, honestly, any team that’s thrown Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn under the bus this often faces some bleeping horsebleep if they end with a whimper.

4. Colorado Avalanche

Honestly, it feels like we’re still in the “rising fast” portion of the Avalanche’s growth.

While they’ve made some nice moves, you get the impression something splashier lingers down the road. They haven’t gone all-in by any stretch yet, and most of their core is still so young. Nathan MacKinnon‘s 24, Mikko Rantanen‘s merely 23, and Cale Makar‘s a 21-year-old rookie.

If anything, this feels like the “young kids hit a bump in the road” part of the narrative. Sports can be strange even in pre-pandemic times, though, so who knows?

Round Robin Team with most, least to lose

• Lightning have the most to lose

If they fall especially flat, it could conceivably cost Jon Cooper his job. That’s absurd by any measure, and particularly now, but … it’s also far from unimaginable.

•  Flyers have least to lose

The best might be yet to come for this group, aside from the aforementioned aging players. Probably.

MORE NHL RETURN TO PLAY:
League clears up 2020 NHL Playoffs picture
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft odds
A look at the Western Conference matchups

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.

NHL schedule for First Round of 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Tuesday, Aug. 11 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto. The league has released the 2020 NHL playoff schedule for the First Round.

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round. The losing teams from the Qualifying Round have been entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is the 2020 NHL playoff schedule.

Note: Teams are re-seeded after each round.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

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

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Philadelphia 2, Montreal 1 (recap)
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

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Lightning 3, Blue Jackets 2 (5OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Blue Jackets 3, Lightning 1 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 19: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Tampa Bay at Columbus – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD

No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Islanders (NYI lead 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Islanders 4, Capitals 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: NY Islanders at Washington, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Washington at NY Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – USA Network
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Washington at NY Islanders, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Thursday, Aug. 20: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Washington at NY Islanders – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (Series tied 1-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks (VGK leads 2-0)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Golden Knights 4, Blackhawks 1 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Golden Knights 4, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Vegas at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Sunday, Aug. 16: Vegas at Chicago, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Chicago at Vegas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Vegas at Chicago – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Chicago at Vegas – TBD

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes (COL leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Colorado 3, Arizona 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Arizona at Colorado, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Colorado at Arizona, 3 p.m. ET – CNBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Colorado at Arizona, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Arizona at Colorado – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Colorado at Arizona – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Arizona at Colorado – TBD

No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames (Series tied 1-1)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Flames 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Stars 5, Flames 4 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Dallas at Calgary, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Dallas at Calgary, 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Calgary at Dallas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Dallas at Calgary – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Dallas at Calgary – TBD

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

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver 5, Blues 2 (recap)
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

2020 nhl playoff schedule

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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: Korpisalo, Heiskanen dominate; Golden Knights take control

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Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 1 (Series tied 1-1)

Alexander Wennberg scored a highlight reel goal, Pierre-Luc Dubois had another big game with a pair of assists, and Joonas Korpisalo continued his magical postseason run as the Blue Jackets evened their First Round series with Tampa Bay in a 3-1 win. This was a great bounce back game for the Blue Jackets after losing that five overtime game earlier this week. It would have been easy for them to have nothing left, but they did what they have done all season and simply found a way to get it done.

Vegas Golden Knights 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3 (Vegas leads series 2-0)

The Golden Knights are 5-0 this postseason and new starting goalie Robin Lehner is 7-0 since joining the team at the trade deadline. Reilly Smith scored the game-winning goal in overtime to help the Golden Knights take a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Blackhawks. Vegas is looking like a force right now in the Western Conference and is 16-2-0 in its past 18 games dating back to the regular season.

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Boston Bruins 2 (Series tied 1-1)

Dougie Hamilton scored the game-winning goal against his former team late in the third period to help the Hurricanes even their first round series. Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen also continued their great postseason performances with goals, while James Reimer played great in goal to get the win. The big story in this one, though, was the fact superstar Boston winger David Pastrnak did not play. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game he will probably be a game-time decision for Game 3 on Saturday afternoon.

Dallas Stars 5, Calgary Flames 4 (Series tied 1-1)

This was probably the wildest game of the day. Jamie Oleksiak‘s game-winning goal with 39 seconds to play in regulation helped the Stars pick up a 5-4 win to even the series. That goal came just after the Stars had allowed a two-goal lead to slip away late in the third period. Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk was injured in this game after being sandwiched by Jamie Benn and Oleksiak early in the third period.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets. He is quickly becoming the story of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After taking the tough-luck loss in a record-setting performance in Game 1, Korpisalo came back on Thursday and stopped 35 out of 36 shots in Columbus’ 3-1 win over the Lightning. In his six appearances so far this postseason he has a .962 save percentage.

2. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars. The best player on the ice in the Stars’ big win. He scored a pair of goals, while the Stars held a commanding edge in shot attempts (19-10), shots on goal (14-5), and goals (3-0) in his 20 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. The type of performance you want from a top defenseman in a playoff game. Games like this are why he seems to have a Norris Trophy in his future.

3. Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights. Smith was outstanding for the Golden Knights with an assist, five shots on goal, and the game-winning goal in overtime. He was one of their expansion draft steals and been one of their best players from the very beginning. He has been outstanding this postseason and already has seven points in their first five playoff games.

Highlights of the Night

This is the goal of the day to help the Blue Jackets put the game away against Tampa Bay.

It came in a losing effort, but Patrick Kane had a huge day for the Blackhawks with three assists including this insane pass to set up Dylan Strome late in the second period to tie the game.

Smith gives the Golden Knights the 2-0 series lead with this overtime goal.

Oleksiak finishes a beautiful pass from Corey Perry to give the Stars the Game 2 win.

Factoids

  • Kirby Dach became just the sixth teenager to score a playoff goal for the Chicago Blackhawks in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • No goalie in NHL history has made more saves in the first two games of a playoff series than Korpisalo has for Columbus. [Sportsnet Stats]
  • Heiskanen is the fourth-youngest defenseman in NHL history to have a multiple goal Stanley Cup Playoff game. [NHL PR]

Friday Schedule

Game 2: Colorado Avalanche vs. Arizona Coyotes, 2 p.m. ET (Avalanche lead series 1-0)
Game 2: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Flyers lead series 1-0)
Game 2: St. Louis Blues vs. Vancouver Canucks, 6:30 p.m. ET (Canucks lead series 1-0)
Game 2: Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Islanders lead series 1-0)
Game 3: Calgary Flames vs. Dallas Stars, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Series tied 1-1)

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Stars win crazy Game 2 against Flames; Tkachuk injured

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The Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames wrapped up an exciting Thursday of playoff hockey with what was probably the wildest game of the day.

Even though they let a two-goal lead slip away with less than 10 minutes to play, the Stars were able to escape with a 5-4 win to even their series at one game each.

It was probably not the type of game you would have expected from these two teams given their offensive struggles throughout the season.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak scored the game-winning goal with less than a minute to play in regulation when he found himself alone in the Calgary zone, taking advantage of a blown line change. That goal came just minutes after the Stars had allowed the Flames to tie the game and was set up by a beautiful pass from veteran winger Corey Perry.

Perry also scored a goal of his own earlier in the game.

Oleksiak’s goal is a massive one because it helped the Stars avoid what would have been a devastating collapse that would have put them in a two-game hole in the series. It would have been extremely difficult to climb back out of it.

While leading by two goals with less than eight minutes to play, the Stars were on a power play with a chance to put the game out of reach. It was at that point that Tobias Rieder scored a shorthanded goal to bring the Flames within one. Just a few minutes later, the Flames tied the game on a Sam Bennett power play goal just after Dallas’ Alexander Radulov had been called for an offensive zone penalty.

At that point it appeared as if the game was going to overtime, until Oleksiak scored his winning goal.

He was not the only Stars defenseman that had a huge game on Thursday.

Miro Heiskanen was the best player on the ice for either team, scoring a pair of goals and looking like a future Norris Trophy winner on pretty much every shift.

The numbers paint a pretty striking picture as to how dominant he was in this game. With Heiskanen on the ice during 5-on-5 play (nearly 20 minutes), the Stars held a 19-10 shot attempt advantage, a 14-5 shots on goal advantage, and a 3-0 goals edge with Heiskanen himself scoring two of the goals.

This game also featured a little bit of controversy thanks to a disallowed goal early in the third period.

With the Flames trailing by two, they appeared to get back to within one when Andrew Mangiapane appeared to score a goal five minutes into the period. Upon further review, though, it was determined that Mangiapane had used to a distinct kicking motion to put the puck in the net. What made it such a controversial play is the fact he was being hauled down to the ice as his skate made contact with the puck. The officials saw it as a kick and took the goal off the board.

That play was especially damaging for the Flames because it also resulted in an injury to Matthew Tkachuk.

Just before the Mangiapane sequence, Tkachuk was sandwiched between Jamie Benn and Oleksiak on a play that left him clearly shaken up. He exited the game and did not return.

Game 3 of the series takes place on Friday night.

No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames (Series tied 1-1)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Flames 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Stars 5, Flames 4
Friday, Aug. 14: Dallas at Calgary, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Dallas at Calgary, 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Calgary at Dallas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Dallas at Calgary – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Dallas at Calgary – TBD

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Hamilton’s late goal helps Hurricanes get even with Bruins

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Before Dougie Hamilton was injured earlier this year he was having the type of season for the Carolina Hurricanes that could result in a Norris Trophy.

When healthy, he is a difference-maker on the ice and his return to the lineup for the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a massive addition for a Hurricanes team that looks capable of going on another deep postseason run.

His goal midway through the third period on Thursday night was the game-winner in a 3-2 Hurricanes win as they evened their First Round series with the Boston Bruins at one game each.

Along with Hamilton’s third period tally, the Hurricanes also received a pair of quick goals from Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov just two minutes apart late in the second period.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Overall this probably wasn’t the Hurricanes’ best performance, but they were able to do enough to get the win out while also overcoming a few things along the way.

For one, Brad Marchand‘s game-tying goal with just three seconds to play in the second period could have been a backbreaker. The Hurricanes had just rallied to take the lead and were seconds away from going into the intermission with the lead.

In the third period, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour was unsuccessful on another coach’s challenge as a potential Hurricanes goal had been waived off due to goaltender interference. Brind’Amour challenged the play hoping to get the call overturned arguing that Bruins defense Torey Krug had pushed Teravainen into Tuukka Rask. The officials did not see it that way and upheld the call on the ice, sending the Hurricanes to the penalty kill. They successfully killed that penalty, setting the stage for Hamilton’s game-winning goal. Brind’Amour was extremely critical of a replay decision on Wednesday resulting in a $25,000 fine from the league.

Then, with just a few seconds remaining in regulation, Hamilton made what could have been a costly decision when he went for the empty net in the and was instead whistled for icing, giving the Bruins a late offensive zone face off. That face off ended up resulting in a prime scoring chance right before the buzzer that James Reimer had to turn aside.

Reimer, making his second start of the playoffs, stopped 33 out of 35 shots in the win.

The Bruins played this game without star winger David Pastrnak who was deemed unfit to play just 30 minutes before puck drop. He played 24 minutes in Game 1 of the series on Wednesday, scoring a goal and adding an assist in the Bruins’ double overtime win.

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (Series tied 1-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.