The Toronto Maple Leafs have been eliminated, and the final round-robin games have determined the final pieces of the puzzle in seeding both conferences. The matchups for the quarterfinals of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs are set. So let’s put a bow around the opening round and take a look ahead at surviving teams and some really interesting series.
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About last night…
Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe loaded up a line with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares. They earned a combined $47.8 million this season. They failed to record a point in an elimination game. Joonas Korpisalo made 33 saves, replacing an injured Elvis Merzlikins, and the Jackets advanced to the round of 16 as the Leafs were eliminated. So, in summary: The Leafs blow a 3-0 lead in Game 3; rally from a 3-0 deficit to win Game 4; and then reveal they were just prolonging the agony with a punch-less Game 5 loss that was all over but the crying when Frederik Andersen gave up a soft second goal to the Jackets’ Liam Foudy. Full recap.
Goals by T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson earned the Capitals a first-round date with the New York Islanders and Barry Trotz, the coach who led the Caps to their only Stanley Cup. “It’s something that’ll be obviously a great matchup for the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders. It’s not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden or any of those type of things,” said Capitals coach Todd Reirden, who was an assistant under Trotz. The Bruins entered the round robin as the top seed in the East and the NHL’s best regular-season team. They leave having lost all three games, with a first-round matchup against No. 6-seeded Carolina up next. Full recap.
Joe Pavelski‘s goal with Anton Khudobin pulled tied the game, and Denis Gurianov was the only player to score in the shootout to give the Stars the round-robin win. Khudobin and Jake Allen dueled in the final game for both teams in the warm-up round. The Stars earn a series against Calgary. The defending champs, meanwhile, went winless in the round robin and play Vancouver. Full recap.
Question of the day: Could the Lightning be without Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman?
The last Tampa Bay game of the round robin saw Victor Hedman leave at 9:28 of the first period after awkwardly twisting his leg. Steven Stamkos missed the entire round robin with a lower-body injury. “We don’t know how long this is going to be. But when your perennial Norris Trophy finalist is out, that creates a hole. But we’ve dealt with injuries before,” said coach Jon Cooper. “We have to circle the wagons.”
Looking at the first round
No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets
No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 7 New York Islanders
No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes
Best theme for the next round: Revenge
It’s amazing how things played out for the NHL, considering the randomness of rebracketing. Barry Trotz gets a shot to take down the Capitals, the organization that nickel-and-dimed him after he coached them to the 2018 Stanley Cup. The wounded Lightning take on the team that swept them last season, the Blue Jackets. Robin Lehner, if he gets the crease in Vegas, is taking on the Blackhawks, the team that moved on from him at the trade deadline. The Hurricanes are looking to get one over on the Bruins, who eliminated them in the conference final last postseason.
The Canadiens goaltender was the difference-maker that Pittsburgh feared he could be in taking out the Penguins in the qualification round. Price has been the standard-bearer for the Canadian national team since 2014, in the Olympics and the World Cup. Carter Hart, 21, is one of the favorites to grab the torch from Price. A real “not so fast, kid” vibe here.
Biggest sweep potential: Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks
No disrespect intended to the Blackhawks, who earned their way here with the stunning upset of the Edmonton Oilers. But the Knights are deeper, defend better and certainly have better goaltending than Chicago’s qualification-round foe. Vegas found its stride by the end of the season and continued it into the round robin.
Biggest upset potential: Blue Jackets vs. Lightning
This is almost by default. There’s concern that Tampa could be without Stamkos and Hedman. The Jackets have all the confidence in the world that they can defeat this team, having swept them last postseason. Columbus played the kind of hockey they played last season to eliminate the Leafs. While there’s something to be said for the Lightning being counted out here and pulling the surprise, the Jackets have the best upset potential.
Biggest potential for a Game 7: Stars vs. Flames
The Flames took care of an injured Winnipeg Jets squad in the qualification round. Now they face a Dallas team that plays low-event games and keeps the score close: a 2.58 goals-for average and a 2.52 goals-against average. This one could be a grind to the very end.
Biggest X-factor player: Darcy Kuemper
The Coyotes goalie was the reason they eliminated the Nashville Predators. The Avalanche are the superior team on paper. But, it could be argued that Nashville was, too. For Arizona to advance, it’ll have to be on Kuemper’s shoulders. And he already has one series win to his credit.
Bet of the day
Carolina Hurricanes over Boston Bruins (series, +120). The Bruins didn’t look like themselves in the round robin. The Hurricanes have the hottest line in the tournament, get Dougie Hamilton back and obviously have a little vengeance on their minds. There’s always the chance the Bruins find their game now that the “playoffs” have started. But there’s also a chance this Canes team is just a smidge better now that Andrei Svechnikov has leveled up.
1. Joonas Korpisalo, G, Columbus Blue Jackets. File this under “a good problem to have.” Korpisalo made 33 saves to shut out the Leafs. Elvis Merzlikins came in during Game 3 and bailed out the Jackets. As John Tortorella has said, “We’re not in the bubble out here if it isn’t for those two guys.”
2. Joe Pavelski, C, Dallas Stars. This is why the Stars signed Joe Pavelski. His goal to tie the game late in the third period sent the game to overtime, where Dallas would win in a shootout. It was his second goal of the round-robin tournament. He’s a key player in the next round.
3. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals. While his regular season was up and down, this is probably a good time to remember that Holtby is a darn good postseason goalie. He made 30 saves to earn his 49th postseason win and tie Glenn Hall for 21st in NHL history.
Quote of the day
“I’m obviously not focused on it one bit. But it’s the next thing on the calendar for us.” — Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe on Monday’s draft lottery 2.0, as Toronto now has a 12.5% shot at winning the chance to draft Alexis Lafrenière.
Social post of the day
— NHL (@NHL) August 9, 2020
The NHL continues to successfully battle the bittersweet reality of playing inside empty arenas — with dad jokes.
Controversy of the day
The round robin saw the two best teams in the regular season tumble down to the No. 4 seeds in their respective conferences. The Boston Bruins (100 points) and St. Louis Blues (94) points were No. 1 seeds when the season was paused on March 12. Should three losses have undercut the entirety of their regular-season accomplishments? Or will this ultimately benefit last year’s Stanley Cup finalists in lighting fires underneath them?