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.

Maple Leafs’ Muzzin out for rest of series vs. Blue Jackets

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There’s some good news for Jake Muzzin.

The defenseman has left a local Toronto hotel after leaving Game 2 on a stretcher following a collision late in the third period. Muzzin was cross-checked by Columbus forward Pierre-Luc Dubois and sent off-balance, causing his head to collide with Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s knee.

According to the Maple Leafs, Muzzin will miss the rest of the series and remain in quarantine until he’s ready to return.

“No question, seeing one of your teammates go down, especially a guy like ‘Muzz,’ you know the type of warrior he is.” said Maple Leafs captain John Tavares. “I think what he brings to our team is unmeasurable, obviously very tough. All signs are very positive being around him, and nice to close it out for him. But certainly tough to see, especially just how much we love that guy.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

When Muzzin is ready to return, the Toronto Hub Medical Director will decide quarantine/testing protocols before he’s allowed to practice and play again.

“He does a big part for this team, penalty kill, even strength against the best players against the other team,” said Mitch Marner said. “He really does mean a lot to us. So being beside when he did go down and stayed down, obviously it’s a little worrisome. And when you see the stretcher come out, a lot of things run through your mind. We’re all on his side and all praying for him. We just want to make sure that when he does come back he’s 100 percent, and there’s a lot bigger things than hockey.”

The series is tied 1-1 with Game 3 Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers 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.

Aye Captains: Crosby, McDavid provide Penguins, Oilers spark

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TORONTO (AP) — The C’s have it: Crosby and Connor, that is.

It didn’t take long for the two captains – Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid – to make their presence felt three days into the NHL’s expanded playoffs.

With each of their teams facing 1-0 deficits, and both to their respective conference’s 12th- and last-seeded opponents no less, Crosby and McDavid provided much-needed sparks to even their best-of-five preliminary round elimination series, which resume Wednesday.

First, it was Crosby giving the Penguins a lift by beating Carey Price on a partial break to open the scoring in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens in Toronto on Monday night.

A few hours later in the league’s other playoff hub city, Edmonton, Alberta, McDavid put on an eye-popping display – even by his standards – with his first three-goal playoff performance in a 6-3 win over Chicago.

”I’ve seen it for years with Sidney Crosby. I mean, he dictates the work ethic and pace of the game. Last night Connor was the guy to do that for us,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said Tuesday.

”Connor’s not a big ‘Rah-rah’ guy, but he inspires players by how he plays,” he added. ”And last night, he certainly led the way for us, and the rest of our team followed suit.”

In Sid, the Penguins trust, veteran defenseman Kris Letang said.

”When Sid is leading your team, you know you’re in good hands,” Letang said. ”If it was not the case, right now we would be in trouble.”

The Penguins and the Oilers aren’t out of trouble just yet, given how only 15 of 83 NHL teams which lost Game 1 of a best-of-five series have gone on to advance.

Both teams are back in prime-time, with the Penguins facing Montreal (8 p.m. EDT, NBCSN), and Edmonton facing Chicago (10:30, NBCSN), while breathing just a little easier.

”He comes out and he’s flying like that the first couple of shifts, you want to follow right along,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said of McDavid. ”We know he can do that at any given moment. And for him to do that in a huge game like last night, it raises your energy level.”

Islanders-Panthers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Islanders-Panthers stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Islanders and Panthers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Islanders-Panthers Game 3 stream at 12 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Florida opened the scoring, and led 2-1 midway through Game 2, but the Islanders scored three unanswered goals to put the Panthers on the verge of elimination.

“If there’s a team that’s able to do so, I think it’s us,” said Panthers forward Mike Hoffman on the Panthers’ chances of a series comeback.

After a difficult regular season, Sergei Bobrovsky hasn’t been able to deliver a win for Florida this postseason. He struggled in the exhibition game, allowing five goals to Tampa, and has come out on the losing end in both games this series. In Games 1 and 2, the goals that really seemed to change the momentum (Anthony Beauvillier’s game-winning goal in Game 1, Ryan Pulock’s game-tying goal in Game 2) were both scored five-hole from distance.

The Isles have been stingy defensively in their first two postseasons under the direction of Barry Trotz. They’ve now played 10 playoff games with him as coach, and allowed just 22 goals.

WHAT: New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Tirico, Keith Jones, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Islanders-Panthers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI leads series 2-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

The Wraparound: Panthers keeping faith facing elimination

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• The NHL Bubble Wrap has your nightly roundup of all the postseason action.

James Reimer‘s goaltending and Sebastian Aho’s highlight-reel goal helped the Hurricanes complete the sweep of the Rangers.

• Here are the updated round-robin standings and scenarios as of Wednesday.

Facing elimination, Joel Quenneville isn’t learning towards making a change in goal for Game 3 (12 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream). “Very likely,” he said after Tuesdays’ loss to the Islanders about going back to Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bob was their big summer acquisition, a $10 million a season investment. Their season is on the line Wednesday and they’re going to ride with him. Chris Driedger played well in only 12 regular season appearances, but he’s inexperienced. Quenneville has never been one to have much confidence in throwing young players into the fire.

Beyond the goals allowed, the goals for haven’t been helping. Florida has just two even strength goals in two games. There’s also the discipline problem as the Panthers have handed New York 12 power plays, allowing three extra man goals.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Florida isn’t looking past Game 3, knowing there’s plenty of work to be done.

“This is the best time of my life,” said captain Aleksander Barkov. “You get to play playoff games. Our whole team is here. We want to win. We want to play our best game. Obviously, our last two games are not our best. We can do a lot better. We’re going to do a lot better in the next game.

“If I’m disappointed in being here? No. This is a great chance for us. I’ve seen so many teams coming back from 3-0, 2-0, 3-1. It’s not over until …”

“The fat lady sings,” chimed in teammate Keith Yandle.

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 3: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream – (Series tied 1-1): A short memory is what Rick Tocchet is pounding home to his players. “We’ll move by this [loss to Nashville] in about two minutes,” he said after the Predators evened the series with a Game 2 win. Getting clean shots through on goal will be one of Arizona’s keys. They sent 26 Juuse Saros‘ way Tuesday, but Nashville blocked 21 shots.

Round-robin: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream: At the end of every round this postseason, teams will be re-seeded – so round robin standings are critical. If Boston loses, the Presidents’ Trophy winners would no longer have a shot at the first seed in the East. Tuukka Rask, who has been dealing with a fractured finger on his glove hand, is expected to start. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos did not take line rushes with the team on Tuesday and has been ruled out.

Round-robin: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream: How do you top a buzzer beater? Colorado is going to try. As they look to try and claim the West’s top seed, the Avs take on a Dallas team eager to forget about Monday’s third-period collapse to Vegas. Jared Bednar has no named starting goalie, but Pavel Francouz is expected to play.

Game 3: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (Series tied 1-1): Sidney Crosby has two goals in this series, scoring in each of the first two games. With his goal in Game 2, Crosby tied Gordie Howe for 18th all-time with 68 playoff goals. The only active player with more postseason goals is Crosby’s teammate, Patrick Marleau. The goal also gave Crosby 188 career playoff points, tying Joe Sakic and Doug Gilmour for eighth-most in history.

Game 3: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (Series tied 1-1): Many expected this to be a high-scoring series, and it hasn’t disappointed. Nineteen goals have been scored through two games, with the winning team scoring six goals in each game. The big names on both teams have impressed, including Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who both have six points after consecutive three-point performances. Patrick Kane has three points in the series (1G-2A).

THURSDAY‘S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 3: Wild vs. Canucks, 2:30 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Round-robin: Flyers vs. Capitals, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Round-robin: Blues vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Game 3: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Round-robin standings (ties broken by regular-season points percentage)

EAST
Lightning – 2 pts. (.657)
Flyers – 2 pts. (.645)
Capitals – 1 pts. (.652)
Bruins – 0 pts. (.714)

WEST
Avalanche – 2 pts. (.657)
Golden Knights – 2 pts. (.606)
Blues – 0 pts (.662)
Stars – 0 pts. (.594)

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Eastern Conference top seed round-robin preview
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Rangers vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Panthers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Western Conference top seed round-robin preview
Jets vs. Flames
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Predators vs. Coyotes
Wild vs. Canucks