The NHL Stanley Cup round-robin begins August 2 as the Eastern Conference’s top four teams battle for First Round seeding. This week, PHT look at one question facing each of the top four seeds in the East and West.
Round-robin — TV schedule, start times, channels
Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m. ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 3: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD
Eastern Conference Round Robin preview: Questions facing Bruins, Capitals, Flyers, Lightning
Bruins: How will Pastrnak follow up career regular season?
David Pastrnak could have easily hit 50 goals and 100 points for the first time in his career if the pause hadn’t robbed him of 12 more games. He split the Rocket Richard Trophy with Alex Ovechkin and his next goal is to help the Bruins win a different kind of trophy a year after coming up one win short.
Pastrnak practiced with the full Bruins team Tuesday for the first time since Phase 3 began. Quarantine rules after arriving back in Boston from Europe prevented him from skating early on, and then he was deemed “unfit to participate” days later. Boston’s three round-robin games will be important for him to get the chemistry back with his linemates and settle him back into a goal-scoring groove.
The Bruins employ very good depth, one reason why they made it to the Stanley Cup Final last season. That depth helped them to the NHL’s best points percentage (.714) at the time of the pause. You still want your top players producing, and Pastrnak did that during the 2019 playoffs with 19 points in 24 games. Along with Brad Marchand, the duo will look to lead the offense yet again.
Capitals: What impact will Kovalchuk make?
After being acquired via a February trade, Ilya Kovalchuk only played seven times for the Capitals before the pause. He scored a goal and added three assists in limited time. The 37-year-old forward can become an unrestricted free agent in the off-season, so a big postseason could payoff with a nice (final?) contract.
Kovalchuk has featured mainly with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. But head coach Todd Reirden hasn’t been shy about powering up and putting him with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov to really put an opponent on their heels at 5-on-5. He can give the Capitals scoring depth and, if his play in Montreal is any indication, a bit of a spark once the First Round arrives. At even strength and on a second power play unit, the veteran was a low-risk gamble by GM Brian MacLellan that could pay off big time.
Flyers: Will Hart be the answer in net?
Since he made his NHL debut last season, a lot has been placed on Carter Hart‘s shoulders. He’s been dubbed the franchise goalie for a franchise that has a long history of that position being an Achilles’ heel. But in two seasons in Philadelphia the 21-year-old has played well. His .915 even strength save percentage since 2018-19 puts him top 10 among all netminders with at least 70 appearances.
The postseason is always a different animal, but the Flyers have exceeded many expectations in their first season under Alain Vigneault. Hart has handled the pressure of the position well and now he gets his first taste of NHL playoff hockey. He had some injury concerns during Phase 3, but said he feels fine now and the three round-robin games will be a good opportunity to get up to game speed.
Lightning: How will they handle the pressure to win?
Tampa was on pace for a third-straight 100-point campaign before the pause, cementing themselves as a Stanley Cup contender yet again. Last season’s 128-point campaign that put them as heavy favorites ended in a disastrous four-game sweep by the Blue Jackets. They responded with 92 points in 70 games in 2019-20 and the third-best points percentage in the NHL.
But as has been the case for several years now, the regular season is a warmup for the Lightning. It’s what they do in the postseason that will matter. GM Julien BriseBois bulked up, adding Pat Maroon, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow, while getting a bounce-back year from Kevin Shattenkirk and see Anthony Cirelli take big strides in his third season.
Does another playoff disappointment result in BriseBois, in his second full season as the team’s GM, making sweeping changes?
• NHL announces zero positive COVID-19 tests during second week of Phase 3
• Power Rankings: Stanley Cup-less veterans to root for
• A look at the Western Conference matchups
• Previewing the Eastern Conference