The Conference Finals of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs have arrived and it is prediction time. Down to the final four teams, who will advance to the Stanley Cup Final? Let us know your NHL playoff predictions in the comments.
Will the Lightning or Islanders represent the East? Can the Stars continue their run and upset the Golden Knights?
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 6 New York Islanders
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Lightning in 6. Tampa has been on a mission since their 2019 upset at the hands of the Blue Jackets. But their quest for the Cup will be tested in a big way against an Islanders team that has been buzzing. Through two rounds Barry Trotz’s troops have shut down the big guns on opposing teams. Will the Lightning’s top stars be kept quiet? What could aid Jon Cooper’s charges is their depth and how it’s already played a huge impact through two rounds. Factor in Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s been having an outstanding postseason, and a possible Steven Stamkos return and they should find a way into the Cup Final.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Lightning in 7. I still think the Lightning are going to ultimately get it done and win the Stanley Cup with this core, and I still think it is going to happen this season. So am going to pick them here, but my confidence level in that pick is shaky simply because of the way the Islanders are playing right now. They have played three teams this postseason (including two very good teams!) and have made all three of them look completely helpless offensively. They have found a level that I did not know they had, and it is impressive. So I am going to consider the possibility that they can do it again, especially given the health concerns with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos for Tampa Bay. Having said all of that, I still think the Lightning have just enough talent, just enough offense, and just enough to get through this series and win the Eastern Conference.
James O’Brien, NHL writer: Lightning in 7. It doesn’t feel great to wonder about the health of Kucherov, especially with Stamkos seemingly not getting healthy anytime soon. Even without those two, the Lightning still boast game-breakers in Hedman and Point. They’ve proven that they can win low-scoring series after prevailing against the Blue Jackets and Bruins. Also, they’re easily the most rested — though not the most healthy — team remaining in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bank on the Bolts in this one.
Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Lightning in 6. The Islanders have been playing great playoff hockey but the talent of the Lightning will be too much for New York. The Lightning are so talented, they barely miss the contributions of Steven Stamkos. Tampa Bay has the best goalie, the best defenseman and the best forward in the series and should prevail.
The Islanders work so hard and play such a good defensive game, that I’ll give them a couple of games in the series but it will be the Lightning going to the Stanley Cup Final.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Lightning in 5. This has been my squad from the beginning, and I see no reason to deviate. Whatever caused Nikita Kucherov to leave Game 5 against Boston doesn’t appear to be serious, and it’s still possible that Steven Stamkos becomes available. At some point, I think fatigue will become a factor as well. The Islanders are the only remaining squad who came through the Qualifying Round, so they’ve played 16 games of true playoff hockey. On the other side, Tampa will have had a week off, and they only needed 10 games to get through the first two rounds.
As much as I would love to see the Islanders go up against their former goalie Robin Lehner in the Cup Final, this mountain is too steep for New York to climb.
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Golden Knights in 6. We didn’t get dreamy Avs-Golden Knights matchup, but with the way the Stars’ offense has woken up, this one should be real fun. Now that the goaltender controversy is out of the way — for now — it’s Robin Lehner’s net and he’s been a steady presence for Vegas since they acquired him. His performance in Game 7 against Vancouver showed he can rise to the occasion. That play will need to continue against a Dallas team that has been scoring the lights out. Seeing Mark Stone frustrate opponents with his elite defensive play is a treat and there’s no reason to think that will stop in this series.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Golden Knights in 6. Am a little surprised the Stars here at this point, and really surprised at how they got here (all of that offense the past two rounds!). Miro Heiskanen is worthy of all the hype, they have their offense starting to click on all cylinders, and they can keep teams off the scoreboard. The problem is they have to play a Golden Knights team that is healthy, really good in all areas, and playing at an elite level right now. The Golden Knights have assembled a superpower roster in the Western Conference and with Robin Lehner taking over the net and playing the way he has so far in these playoffs it is really difficult to find any sort of a weakness on this team. They get through this series and get to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in their first three years in the NHL.
James O’Brien, NHL writer: Golden Knights in 6. Amusingly enough, for all of the Golden Knights’ goalie drama, their netminding situation is actually pretty reassuring. The Avalanche showed that you can exert some offensive pressure on the Stars, but Colorado’s goaltending collapsed. Vegas has the depth and firepower to create similar problems, and with healthy goalies, would make a run-and-gun series dangerous for Dallas. Luckily for the Golden Knights, they have the sort of rugged players to handle a less open setup, too.
Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Golden Knights in 5. I can’t seem to get Dallas right at all in the playoffs as I had both Calgary and Colorado beating them. Their offense was tied for the third-worst in the NHL during the regular season and that continued in the round-robin with only five goals in three games but they have gone crazy in the first two rounds, scoring 48 goals in 13 games. But that should end here.
The Golden Knights dominated Vancouver even though the series went to seven games. If it wasn’t for the outstanding play of backup goalie Thatcher Demko, who stopped 123-of-125 shots in the last three games, the series would have ended in five. Vegas is much the better team than the Stars and not even the heroics of Joel Kiviranta can prevent the Golden Knights from going into their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Golden Knights in 6. Again, I had Golden Knights coming out of the West from the beginning, so I’m sticking with them. I wasn’t sure that going back to Robin Lehner for Game 7 was the right call, but he proved the doubters wrong. Sure, he didn’t see a ton of rubber (14 shots), but that near-impossible save on Brock Boeser to keep the game scoreless in the second period bought Vegas the time they needed to finally break through Thatcher Demko and eliminate Vancouver. On paper, the Stars pose a greater challenge than the Canucks, and Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen has to be the Conn Smythe favorite at the moment, so I do see this being competitive series…but still one that Vegas will win.