We’ve made our way through the Qualifying Round and Round-robin games. It’s time to begin the traditional four-round journey to the Stanley Cup.
The First Round begins Tuesday, and to get here we’ve seen some upsets, dramatic comebacks, and star performances. What will the next two months bring us? Probably some more craziness and memorable Stanley Cup playoff moments. The PHT team have locked in our First Round and Stanley Cup predictions. The surprises that happened over the last 10 days will surely continue as we make our way to the Cup Final in late September.
Will the Blues repeat? Can the Lightning overcome those pesky Blue Jackets? What Bruins team will we see after a sluggish round-robin? Is this the year for Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche? Those questions and more will be answered.
[FULL SECOND ROUND NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE]
Here are our picks for the First Round, Stanley Cup champion, and Conn Smythe winner. Let us know in the comments who you think will take it all.
Sean Leahy, NHL writer – Hurricanes/Avalanche: Why not those “jerks”? They’re fun, entertaining to watch, employ plenty of young talent. Plus, it’s a wild idea to think they could make a run through this Eastern Conference. They shut down the Rangers and showed off just how strong defensively they are, even without the services of Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton. What the Hurricanes can do this postseason could really shine a light on how much more love Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho really deserve.
It won’t be easy, but the Avs’ road to the Cup Final may have to end up going through the Golden Knights or the defending champion Blues. But Sakic bolstering his roster has set them up for this opportunity. The Nazem Kadri trade could be looked back upon as the GM adding that final piece to a championship puzzle.
James O’Brien, NHL writer – Lightning/Blues: With everything in turmoil, why not … go with the prediction you made (does math counting on fingers) 5,000 days ago in October? Yes, the Lightning meandered into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and I’m worried about the health of Stamkos and Hedman. But let’s not forget that, before the Bolts were the team that got swept, they were a team that almost made a SCF with Stamkos almost entirely on the shelf. Maybe this loaded team will benefit from a little early turmoil? Look, the hockey has been good, but it’s also been unpredictable, so let’s roll with it.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer – Lightning/Golden Knights: I will say up front that a lot of this pick depends on the availability of Steven Stamkos and/or Victor Hedman through the playoffs. But assuming they play and contribute, I am still very much a believer in this Lightning team. I know about the postseason failures. I know about how often their offense has wilted when they have been on the verge of doing something special. But I still believe in talent, and I am going to keep betting on talent. The Capitals eventually broke through. The Blues eventually broke through. I think the Lightning will eventually break through.
As much as I love the Avalanche roster and everything they can become in the future with this core, salary cap space, and young assets, I still think Vegas is the best team in the Western Conference this season … as long as the goaltending holds out, which was their biggest flaw early in the season when they stumbled out of the gate. Fortunately for them they addressed that at the trade deadline with the addition of Robin Lehner. It would not surprise me to see him get an opportunity in the playoffs and run with it.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Lightning/Golden Knights: Am I fully confident in this pick? No. I don’t know if the Blue Jackets are Tampa’s kryptonite, or if the Lightning will unleash a Bruins-circa-2011-vs-Philly revenge sweep. But Tampa is stacked and once again, and it feels like they made all the necessary additions to what was already a Cup-contending roster.
After watching Vegas go 3-0 in the Round Robin, all without their regular season leading scorer Max Pacioretty, they seem like the class of the Western Conference. I see the Avalanche giving them all they can handle in an epic seven-game series, but the Golden Knights will advance to their second Cup Final in three years.
Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor – Lightning/Avalanche: The Lightning win the East as they have the most talent, the best defenseman and best goaltender in the East. The only problem that could arise is if Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos are injured to a greater degree than we know about and the duo miss a lot of time. If those are the circumstances, they could have more trouble with Columbus who are an extremely well-coached defensive team.
The Avalanche will win the West because of their tremendous talent, including Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. The off-season addition of Nazem Kadri will do wonders for the Avs as long as he doesn’t get another post-season suspension that has been his tendency the last two years. I love Cale Makar and they get great goaltending from both Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz.
[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
Stanley Cup Champion/Conn Smythe Trophy winner
Sean Leahy, NHL writer – Avalanche over Hurricanes (Nathan MacKinnon): Joe Sakic should be up for the Jim Gregory Award when GM of the Year finalists are announced after the Second Round. He added depth and secondary scoring and it’s paid off. Colorado finished with the second-best points percentage in the Western Conference and have a roster full of skill. Plus, Jared Bednar just wins. He’s won an ECHL Kelly Cup and AHL Calder Cup. Now he just needs that shiny silver one the NHL hands out every year.
Once again, I’m rolling with my picks from before. Point probably still isn’t as well-known as he should be among casual NHL fans. With Stamkos possibly out for a bit early, and Point seemingly healthy now that he’s further removed from offseason surgery, this could be the sort of mainstream breakout that could make him closer to a hockey equivalent to a “household name.” (Yes, you already knew well about Point, but we’re talking about hockey-less-knowers. *Shares your disapproving look tsk tsk*)
Adam Gretz, NHL writer – Lightning over Golden Knights (Nikita Kucherov): Everything I said about the Lightning up above remains true here. As long as Stamkos and Hedman are there (still a big if at this point) I like their chances. A lot. This is their year.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content – Lightning over Golden Knights (Andrei Vasilevskiy): Tampa is due. And recent history tells us this type of team is bound to break through. Just like Washington and St. Louis, who had been to the postseason year after year without winning it all, I predict a similar result for Tampa in 2020. They have been to the Eastern Conference Final four times in the last nine years, but have nothing to show for it…yet.
Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor – Avalanche over Lightning (Nathan MacKinnon): The Avalanche will win the Stanley Cup for the reasons listed above. I think they are the best team in the NHL and the lack of travel for Western teams (which used to really hurt as they could be travelling across three time zones in the first three rounds) will help the team.
Nathan MacKinnon, the second best player from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (in case you don’t know, it’s the same hometown as Sidney Crosby) is a Hart Trophy finalist and he will add the Conn Smythe to his trophy case.
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