The National Hockey League finally returns on August 1st after a 141-day hiatus. The puck will drop at 12:30 from the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto as the Rangers and Hurricanes will play game one of their qualifying series.
New York and Carolina kick off a 5-game Saturday that also includes the intriguing matchup of Winnipeg vs Calgary from the NHL’s western hub city, Edmonton. The dates, times, and locations have been set leaving only one question: Who will advance to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
#5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #12 Montreal Canadiens
The Penguins missed out on a top-4 spot by just three points and will be looking to make quick work of the Canadiens in the qualifying series. Pittsburgh’s star-studded line-up is chalk full of playoff experience and has the clear advantage in the series.
Montreal, on the other hand, barely made the field by edging out the Buffalo Sabres for the 12th seed in the East. The Canadien’s only hope in this series is if goaltender Carey Price steals three wins from Crosby and the Penguins. My matchup to watch in this series is Carey Price vs the entire Penguins offense.
Prediction: Pittsburgh wins in 4
#6 Carolina Hurricanes vs #11 New York Rangers
The Rangers were one of the hottest teams in the NHL at the time of the stoppage and will look to continue their success into the qualifying round. Led by center Mika Zibanejad and Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin, New York looks to make some noise against the Canes and beyond in the 2020 Playoffs.
The Hurricanes are propelled by 22-year old Sebastian Aho and 20-year old Andrei Svechnikov. The Canes’ forwards have helped them secure the #6 seed and appear to be making Carolina a mainstay at the top of the Eastern Conference for years to come.
My matchup to watch will be the goalie matchup which is expected to be Henrik Lundqvist vs Peter Mrazek. The goalie who can slow down the opposing high-powered offense should win the series.
Prediction: Carolina wins in 5
#7 New York Islanders vs #10 Florida Panthers
The Islanders are a defensive powerhouse guided by coach Barry Trotz. New York does not possess any big-name defenseman, but rather use a committee approach to achieve their success. On the offensive side, the Islanders are led by emerging star Matthew Barzal and six-year veteran center Brock Nelson.
The Panthers made a splash this offseason by signing goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, but for the second straight year were considered sellers at the trade deadline. Florida’s top six forwards led the Cats to a 78-point season and can be extremely productive at times. My matchup to watch is how the Florida offense attacks New York’s defensive game plan.
Prediction: New York wins in 5
#8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs #9 Columbus Blue Jackets
Toronto comes into this series with an elite offense, but a sub-par defense. This has been their downfall in the past as they look to get past the Blue Jackets in the qualifying round. Leading the charge for the Maple Leafs are 47-goal scorer Auston Matthews and Captain John Tavares.
Head coach John Tortorella is once again a Jack Adams Award finalist and has whipped his rag-tag crew into a playoff caliber team. Columbus plays a tight defensive game and spreads their scoring throughout their lineup. Pierre-Luc Dubois led the Jackets with 49 points in the regular season and will look to teammates Gus Nyquist and Nick Foligno to take down the Maple Leafs.
My matchup to watch in this series will be Toronto’s first line of Matthews, Tavares, and Marner against Columbus’ defensive pairing of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.
Prediction: Columbus wins in 4
#5 Edmonton Oilers vs #12 Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks just made the cut in the Western Conference, but are a dangerous team moving forward. Chicago is loaded with playoff experience as their core of Patrick Kane and Johnathan Toews are still capable of making a deep playoff run.
Standing in the way of the Hawks are Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid is the NHL’s brightest young star and Draisaitl is the favorite to win the Hart Trophy, but the Oilers lack depth. This lack of depth may end up costing Edmonton if McDavid and Draisaitl are unable to make quick work of Chicago. My matchup to watch is Kane and Toews vs McDavid and Draisaitl.
Prediction: Chicago wins in 5
#6 Nashville Predators vs #11 Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes got off to a hot start way back in the fall of 2019 but slowed down around the All-Star break. Darcy Kuemper was a major part of Arizona’s success before a lower-body injury kept him out for just over two months. For the Coyotes to have success in the postseason, Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel need to step up.
Nashville has been a team that has flown under the radar this season. The Predators are led in points by defenseman Roman Josi and have a negative goal differential this season. My matchup to watch in this series involves the goaltending position: the inexperience of Darcy Kuemper vs the experienced Pekka Rinne.
Prediction: Nashville wins in 4
#7 Vancouver Canucks vs #10 Minnesota Wild
The Canucks are one of the NHL’s youngest and most exciting teams. Vancouver is powered by their young core of Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, and Elias Petterson, while being two years ahead of schedule for making the playoffs.
Minnesota is a team full of veterans who ended the year finishing 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. My matchup to watch in this series will be how the veteran defenseman of the Wild handle the young, explosive attack by Vancouver.
Prediction: Vancouver wins in 3
#8 Calgary Flames vs #9 Winnipeg Jets
The Flames are a solid, well-rounded team that has underperformed this season. Coming off a disappointing first-round loss to Colorado in 2019, Calgary will be out for blood in 2020. Calgary is led defensively by Captain Mark Giordano, while Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau lead the Flames offensively.
Winnipeg has had an up-and-down season much like Calgary. Kyle Connor had a breakout year tallying 73 points and tying Mark Scheifele for the team lead. The Jets are anchored by Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck in net. My matchup to watch is the goaltending battle between Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and Calgary’s David Rittich.
Prediction: Calgary wins in 5