Part 1: Eastern Conference 1st round
With the NHL Season on Pause it is time to play a very big hypothetical. What would have happened if the season was not on pause who would win the Stanley cup if the playoffs started when the season stopped? The Season still had about a month left when the NHL went on pause so the playoffs where not set in stone. But for the sake of this hypothetical, the playoffs would have started the day when the NHL paused.
The first set of matchups to start off would be from the Eastern conference Quarterfinals where the (A1) Boston Bruins take on the (WC 2) Columbus Blue Jackets. This matchup would take five games and would see the bruins moving on as the team, just is better all-around and would outplay Columbus at every turn with the main factor being goaltending. As the bruins would have Tuukka Rask at full strength and even if he was half as productive as he was in the 2019 finals run the bruins would move on to the second round. Columbus did stun the entire sports world last season against Tampa Bay. But the team had got significantly weaker over this past offseason and even with Elvis Merzļikins being 100% healthy and ready to go he is a first-year rookie and not ready for the playoffs against the big bad bruins, that’s why the bruins move on in five games.
Now with Boston still defending their eastern conference title the question is who would meet Boston in the second round? Well, that would be the winner of (A2) The Tampa Bay Lightning and the (A3) Toronto Maple Leaf’s. After a six-game series, the Tampa bay lightning would move on to play the Bruins in the second round of the playoffs. Yes, taking into account that this Tampa Bay team is not as good as they were last year, they are not the 62 wins dominate bolts form last season. But that is why I think they will win this series. Tampa has had time to rest after their first-round elimination last season and has been quiet for most of the regular season and are poised to strike in the playoffs. As for the Leaf’s they add another year to their Stanley cup drought as even thou they have all the pieces that make them a strong playoff contender. They don’t have a very strong defensive core. Also, as much as Fredrick Anderson and Jack Campbell make a good goalie tandem it isn’t enough to stop a strong Tampa Bay offense, setting up a rematch of the 2018 playoffs.
Now the hardest first-round matchups to predict are the Metropolitan division matchups. As it is anyone’s race and both matchups should be a blood bath. With the first matchup being (M1) The Washington Capitals taking on the (WC 1) Carolina Hurricanes. This Is a seven-game war just like the series these teams had in the 2019 Stanley cup playoffs. This is a very tough pick but at the end of the day it comes down to who would have had the healthier squad of players if the playoffs started when the season went on pause. That would have to be the Washington Capitals, they had a stronger goaltending core of Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov. The Canes where a more broken-down team especially with both of their goalies coming off injuries heading into the hypothetical playoffs it would have been tough to deal with Ovechkin and his strong offensive core.
The last matchup in the eastern conference is the battle of Pennsylvania as the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Philadelphia Flyers. Once again after a tough 7 game series that saw each team trade wins all the way to game 7. The winner is the Philadelphia Flyers, this comes down to two major factors endurance and timing. Once the playoffs would have started Philly was hot and they would have taken that momentum into the playoffs especially against a rival as hated as Pittsburgh this would put them over the pens. Also, even thou the penguins put up a fight they would be very tired and broken-down team.
This has been the story for the whole season as players would bounce back from the Injury reserve to taking the ice. This team is good and they should be they have some of the best players in the world but the pens to most people including myself are tired. The reason fans haven’t seen back to back Stanley cup champions is that it is very difficult and very straining on the players that’s why the gap between the penguins back to back and the last one in the late nineties was so long because it is hard. The team needs time to reset and then they may have a chance to win one more before Crosby hangs up the skates.
But for the Eastern Conference second round, you have in the Atlantic Division Semifinal the Boston Bruins taking on the Tampa Bay lightning. In the Metropolitan Division Semifinal, the Washington Capitals take on the Philadelphia Flyers. Next week we switch over to the Western Conference Quarterfinals then the second round.