NHL Power Rankings: Best First Round matchups


In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we get you ready for Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs by looking at the best matchups we will see.

The results of the play-in round (made necessary by the 2019-20 regular season being paused) has created some unexpected matchups  with some very unexpected teams.

We have some intriguing rematches from the 2018-19 postseason, some shots at redemption, and a Stanley Cup winning coach going against his former team.

Which matchups do we like the best?

To the rankings!


1. Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes.

A rematch of the 2019 Eastern Conference Final that resulted in a Bruins sweep has storylines galore. If Dougie Hamilton is healthy and ready to play he gets another shot at revenge against the team that originally traded him, the Bruins were — BY FAR — the NHL’s best team in the league during the regular season, the Hurricanes were the most impressive team in the Qualifying Round, and both of these teams are just flat out really, really, really good. It has everything.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets. 

The Blue Jackets have become the NHL’s giant slayers, the underdog team that is here to completely ruin your team’s postseason. A year ago they swept this very same Lightning team — a 62-win Lightning team! — in a First Round matchup to produce one of the most stunning upsets in recent playoff history. This year they already added to the postseason misery of Maple Leafs fans by knocking them out in the qualifying round, and now they get Tampa again. All of the pressure in the world is on the Lightning in this one, and that alone adds to the intrigue of this series.

3. Vegas Golden Knights vs. Chicago Blackhawks. 

If we are being objective here, Vegas might be the best team in the West and Chicago might be the worst playoff team in the West, especially after going into seller mode at the trade deadline. But there is something about this matchup that I like. It should be exciting. Even though the Blackhawks have a horrendous defense, they still have enough top-end players in their lineup and a good enough goalie to make things interesting. Vegas has a great roster and could be getting Max Pacioretty back at some point. And there is also this: We could potentially see Robin Lehner go against the team that traded him at the trade deadline if the Golden Knights have to turn to him or give him a shot.

4. Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders.

Two years ago Barry Trotz was coaching the Capitals to their first ever Stanley Cup. Now he is coaching against them in the playoffs as the Islanders’ bench boss. The Capitals are clearly the superior roster on paper, while the Islanders were trending in the wrong direction down the stretch run of the regular season. That should, in theory, make the Capitals the favorites. But they did not look great in the Round-Robin portion of the return to play and if Braden Holtby can not bounce back from a sub-par regular season they could have a major issue in net.

5. Colorado Avalanche vs. Arizona Coyotes.

This seems like a huge mismatch, but am not giving up on an exciting series. The Avalanche are loaded and play an entertaining brand of hockey. The Coyotes have a white-hot goalie in Darcy Kuemper that could flip things upside down, while Phil Kessel always seems to have some playoff magic and Taylor Hall gets only his second shot at the postseason.

6. St. Louis Blues vs. Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2014-15 season and their exciting young core is going to get quite the challenge — a series against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Canucks just showed they can beat a stingy, defense-first team by knocking off the Minnesota Wild in the qualifying round, and they are going to get an even bigger test in this series.

7. Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens.

A matchup that literally nobody would have expected at any point this season. The Flyers entering this series looking like a complete buzzsaw. They were one of the hottest teams in the league during the stretch run of the regular season, they completed dominated Boston, Washington, and Tampa Bay (three of the best teams in the league) in the round-robin phase, and they are starting to look like a legitimate threat to win the whole thing. Montreal stunned Pittsburgh in the qualifying round but it might need another herculean effort from Carey Price to complete the postseason Pennsylvania sweep. 

8. Dallas Stars vs. Calgary Flames.

There is a danger in ranking this series at the bottom because there is always the possibility that Matthew Tkachuk pours a canister of gasoline on a fire and turns the whole thing into a rumble. That could happen. That ABSOLUTELY could happen. In fact, it would not surprise me at all if it did happen. But even with that possibility this is the series that does the least for me. The Flames badly regressed this season. The Stars have two great goalies and two great defensemen, but they cannot score. Neither team is going to fill the back of the net and while the potential for an exciting series is there, it just seems to have less potential than the other seven matchups.

• 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.

Teravainen scores late, Hurricanes rally to beat Rangers 3-2

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NEW YORK – Teuvo Teravainen scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period, Frederik Andersen stopped 29 shots and the Carolina Hurricanes rallied to beat the New York Rangers 3-2 on Tuesday night.

Jalen Chatfield and Stefan Noesen also scored for the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes, who won for the third time in four games.

With the comeback win, the Hurricanes became the second team – following Boston – to reach the 100-point mark this season as Carolina increased its Metropolitan Division-lead over second-place New Jersey to two points and the third-place Rangers to eight.

“That was a great effort. All 20 guys contributed and we got what we deserved,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “If we play like that, we’ll be in good shape. This time of year it gets tougher and tougher.”

Tyler Motte and Kaapo Kakko scored for the Rangers, who had won four straight were 6-0-1 in their last seven. Igor Shesterkin finished with 36 saves as the Rangers played their third game in four nights – the previous two shutout wins at home.

“Igor kept us in there as long as he could and we just didn’t have enough in the tank,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. ”They won more battles and played a hard game.”

Teravainen scored his 11th goal with 2:33 left on a pass from defenseman Brent Burns, redirecting the puck past Shesterkin. The Hurricanes, who trailed 1-0 and 2-1.

“Somehow they left me open in the back side, great pass by him,” Teravainen said of the winning-goal pass to him in the slot. “We knew this would be a tough night. They have a good team. We knew we had to battle to win this game.”

The Rangers led 1-0 entering the third and were vying for their third-straight shutout before Chatfield tied the score at 9:49 – the first goal the Rangers allowed in more than eight periods. New York was coming off a 6-0 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday night with Shesterkin in goal and a 7-0 triumph over Nashville behind Jaroslav Halak on Sunday.

Kakko then put New York back ahead 31 seconds later with his 13th goal, only to have Noesen answer right back 18 seconds later to tie it 2-2.

Motte opened the scoring at the 17-minute mark of the first, knocking the puck past Andersen for his third goal in four games and sixth of the season overall.

The Rangers hadn’t lost in regulation since a 4-2 defeat on March 4 at Boston.

“Tonight we didn’t play near well enough to beat that team,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. ”Honestly, the whole game they outplayed us. They were a lot quicker. They managed the puck real well … We didn’t play our game.”


Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal played his 729th game with Carolina on Tuesday, tying defenseman Glen Wesley for the second-most games played in franchise history since relocation from Hartford in 1997. Staal, 34, trails only his brother Eric, who played 909 games for the Hurricanes from 2003-16.


Hurricanes: Host the Rangers on Thursday night to finish the home-and-home set in the opener of a four-game homestand.

Rangers: At Carolina on Thursday night to open a two-game trip.

Ullmark’s 40 saves carries Bruins past Senators, 2-1

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BOSTON – Linus Ullmark made 40 saves, Jake DeBrusk had the go-ahead goal and the NHL-best Boston Bruins continued their pursuit of the league’s record for regular-season victories with a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.

“I thought he was outstanding and he needed to be,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery said of Ullmark. “Unfortunately we gave up a lot of good looks, a lot of odd-man rushes because of our puck management and he bailed us out like he has all year.”

David Krejci added a power-play goal for Boston, which won its fourth straight.

Dylan Gambrell scored for the Senators and Mads Sogaard made 33 stops.

“We had a shooters’ mentality for two periods,” Ottawa coach D.J. Smith said. “The third period, they’ve won 54 games now, they’re not going to give you an odd-man rush, they’re not going to give you anything. You’re going to have to earn it.”

The Bruins posted their 54th win and with 12 games left are on pace to break the mark of 62, set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96 and matched by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018-19.

Chasing the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, Ottawa has lost six of seven following a season-high, five-game winning streak.

Coming off a 3-2 road trip where they won the last three games by a combined score of 15-2 that included two shutouts by backup Jeremy Swayman, the Bruins converted on a two-man, power-play advantage to tie the game at 1 midway into the opening period when Krejci poked in a rebound from the edge of the crease.

DeBrusk completed a nifty play with Brad Marchand when he collected a pass cutting down the slot at full speed, shifted and tucked a rebound past Sogaard at 15:52 of the first period for his 23rd goal.

“It was ‘all world.’ I saw him and he fed it through a lot of guys for a breakaway,” DeBrusk said of the pass. “It was one of those passes where I didn’t know what to do. I was going to point at him (after) but I was going too fast.”

Gambrell’s wraparound score gave Ottawa a 1-0 edge.

“I thought I played a good game today,” Sogaard said. “I just battled and stayed with it the entire way. … These ones are tough because we were so close.”


Ullmark stopped 22 shots in the second period with at least a dozen of them high-quality chances. During an Ottawa PP, he jumped from a crouch to make a right-shoulder stop on Alex DeBrincat’s bid from in close.

“We talked about it,” defenseman Hampus Lindholm said of the second period. “We know we’re a good team in the third and wanted to tighten it up for him. … They got a lot of chances that were our own fault in the second.”


The Bruins highlighted women who work and compete in the sports community, having Olympic gold medalist and Boston Pride defender Kali Flanagan accompany Bruins players during pregame walk-ins along with local high school scholastic award winners. In addition, in-arena host Michaela Johnson handled the PA for the night and they also left yellow roses at the seats of female reporters.

NOTES: The Senators entered the game as the only team holding an advantage in their series against the Bruins this season, winning twice in three games. … Montgomery said after the morning skate that defenseman Derek Forbort would likely be sidelined with a lower-body injury at least through the rest of the regular season. … DeBrusk, playing on the top line most of the season, is four off his career-high goal total, set in 2018-19.


Senators: Host Tampa Bay on Thursday.

Bruins: Host longtime rival Montreal in an Original Six matchup Thursday.

Boldy’s goal with 1.3 left in OT lifts Wild over Devils

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NEWARK, N.J. – Matt Boldy scored with 1.3 seconds left in overtime and Filip Gustavsson made a career-high 47 saves to give the Minnesota Wild a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.

The game was a chippy, defensive struggle. After two scoreless periods, the Devils were outshooting the Wild 22-19.

Minnesota finally broke through 6:41 into the third when Mason Shaw scored his seventh goal of the season on a wraparound.

Timo Meier answered for the Devils five minutes later with his 35th goal of the season on a wraparound of his own.

New Jersey was unable to convert on a late power play, and the teams went to overtime.

It was a back-and-forth five minutes of extra hockey, with both goaltenders making good saves. After Jack Hughes hit the post for the Devils, the puck caromed off a post to Boldy and he beat the buzzer with his 23rd goal of the season.

Vitek Vanecek stopped 27 shots for New Jersey.

NOTES: The Devils are 10-4 in overtime, while the Wild improved to 4-5.


Wild: Play at Philadelphia on Thursday night.

Devils: Play at Buffalo on Friday night.

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar signs extension through ’26-27

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DENVER – Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar has signed a three-year extension that will keep him in charge of the reigning Stanley Cup champions through the 2026-27 season.

The new deal for the winningest head coach in club history kicks in once the current contract runs out after the 2023-24 season.

Bednar, 51, is the only person to win championships in the ECHL, AHL and NHL as head coach. He directed the Avalanche to their third Stanley Cup title in team history last season by beating Tampa Bay, the two-time defending champions.

This season, the Avalanche have dealt with an array of injuries, which include missing captain Gabriel Landeskog all year after he underwent knee surgery in October. But they’re starting to creep closer to being healthy – and working their way up the standings. Colorado is riding a six-game winning streak to remain in a tight race with Dallas and Minnesota for the Central Division crown. The top spot in the Western Conference is in play, too.

“Jared has done a tremendous job behind the bench and certainly deserves this extension and to continue as the leader of our team,” Joe Sakic, the team’s president of hockey operations, said in a statement.

It wasn’t the prettiest of starts for Bednar in his inaugural season for Colorado. In 2016-17, his team amassed only 48 points (22-56-4) to finish last in the league. Since then, it’s been full steam ahead for Bednar and the Avalanche. They became the first NHL squad to go from worst to first in a span of four seasons or less since the 1970-71 Bruins, according to research by the team.

In addition, Bednar has led the Avalanche to five straight playoff appearances – and is closing in on a sixth – to become the first Avalanche coach to accomplish the feat. His 40 postseason wins are the second-most in team history, trailing only Bob Hartley (49).

“His strength as a communicator, his relationship with the players, the way he prepares each and every day is a huge reason our team has been so successful,” general manager Chris MacFarland said. “He is an exceptional leader.”

Bednar is currently the third-longest tenured coach in the league, behind only Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper (March 2013) and Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan (December 2015).

“Being able to lead this team over the last seven years has been a privilege,” said Bednar, whose team faces the Penguins on Wednesday. “I am grateful and excited to have the opportunity to continue building on what we’ve accomplished so far.”

Bednar captured a Kelly Cup (ECHL) with the South Carolina Stingrays in 2009, along with a Calder Cup (AHL) with the Lake Erie Monsters in 2016.