But I will still try.
The following five bold predictions are not meant to be presented as foolproof, or even probable, results. They aren’t completely weird either (at least to me). You won’t see the Montreal Canadiens’ Stanley Cup pick here. In this article, we try to predict an outcome at long odds, but with a basis in reality.
Shout at me in the comments.
NEW YORK RANGERS ARE THIS YEAR’S CINDERELLA TEAM
New York is a popular choice against Carolina in the first round, although the “Canes can easily blow up that whole prediction.” You pretty much know what you’ll get out of it and if they come out, it won’t be quiet. The Rangers, however, swept the season series 4-0 (take that with a grain of salt).
But let’s take it a step further and say New York will be the surprise team this postseason and win a few rounds. The Rangers are an intriguing blend of established star power and a whole host of high profile uncertainties.
Take the example of goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin. A much-vaunted prospect, the plan was to keep him in the AHL this season, but he was too good to stay down. He won 12 NHL appearances at the end of the season and immediately snatched the starter posting a save percentage of .932 and a 10-2-0 record. But what can he really support?
If he gets close to that, it will combine with an attack that has been in the season’s top five and top three from Jan.1 until the break. Artemi Panarin is the headliner, but Mika Zibanejad is a straight 70-point player and Chris Kreider is still a handful. And what about young players? Adam Fox has had a stellar rookie campaign – how will that translate into the playoffs? Kaapo Kakko’s transition to the NHL hasn’t been so smooth, but will the break help him find a higher level?
The Rangers will be fun anyway. In the shortened back half of the regular season, they were one of the better performing teams – second in 5v5 shots and eight in blockers. If the goalkeepers get up, they could be tough. And, hey, if Shesterkin starts out slow, you could do worse than having Henrik Lundqvist as your plan B.
WINNIPEG JETS WILL BE CANADA’S LAST TEAM
The bigger question in Winnipeg is whether Connor Hellebuyck can be in the playoffs what he’s been all season: an absolute wall behind one of the league’s most elusive defenses. If his show presentation is any indication, he and the Jets will be doing just fine.
But the Jets are more than their goalie. They can score and they can be difficult to face. After losing Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers from last year’s roster, the squad size isn’t as big this season, but they’re more of a hybrid. They can play big and physical, and they can play fast and freely.
And while that blue line is a real concern, Winnipeg may actually have the fewest questions of any Canadian team. Few teams have better goalkeepers. Few teams have such a beautiful distribution of skills and traditional “playoff courage” in the lineup. They are two years away from the final of the Western Conference. Most of that list has been there and already has – which you can’t say for Edmonton, Toronto, Calgary, Montreal or Vancouver.
Winnipeg’s qualifying game against the Flames also looks like a good game. Neutralize Calgary’s front row and it could be a quick streak. It was last year when Colorado limited Elias Lindholm, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan to five points. Hellebuyck himself could eliminate the trio.
On top of that, Nikolaj Ehlers is expected to make a playoff breakthrough. Still scoreless in 21 postseason games, Ehlers has scored 100 times in the past four regular seasons and converted once in the show. If it can be unlocked and add to what Winnipeg is already throwing at you with Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, they might have the best offense in Canada.
SERGEI BOBROVSKY TAKES ALL GOALS IN SAVE PERCENTAGE ON THE QUALIFYING LAP
The $ 10 million Florida man has drawn a lot of negative attention for posting the worst season of his career as a starter after signing a monster free agent contract last summer. But there is a way for him to redeem himself.
Consider that last season Bobrovsky finished with a save percentage of 0.913, but in January he was sitting at 0.901. It took a big push at the end of the year and through two playoff rounds for him to come out much like a hero, leading Columbus to a sweep of Tampa Bay. The two-time winner of Vezina could regain that form in the blink of an eye.
But the Florida defense is losing high quality chances and will make it harder for the goalie.
Similarly, Winnipeg and Hellebuyck keep them in the race.
If Florida were against a team like Toronto or Pittsburgh, that prediction would be hard to understand, but the Islanders’ offense doesn’t have that kind of advantage. While the Islands have placed in the middle of the league with a 5-to-5 scoring odds this season, they have converted the fewest of any Eastern Conference team back. They don’t have a revolutionary goalscorer and rely on structure to win. When the Islanders play a little boring, they’re on the right track.
If Bobrovsky plays the way we expect, the Islanders will be even worse off on offense. Florida defense may not need to be an upgraded unit this series, although this is a concern for them. It’s a series that Bobrovsky can absolutely steal. He is one year removed from an excellent postseason season, three from a victorious year for Vézina. The break could have been good, to clear his mind and to rest from his heavy workload.
Florida needs Bobrovsky’s real comeback.
KEVIN FIALA TO LEAD THE SCORING QUALIFYING ROUND
During the 2019-20 regular season, only Chicago, Rangers and Ottawa allowed more shots against per game than Vancouver and they were gradually getting worse in that department year round. From January through the break, only New Jersey averaged more shots against Vancouver, and in the last six weeks of action, no one has allowed more than the Canucks’ 35.2.
Minnesota, meanwhile, found a pace and stacked victories. Fiala was at the center of that charge, with 14 goals and 26 points in his last 19 games.
Now it’s impossible to say what, if anything, will carry over from a regular season that ended nearly five months ago, but Fiala was by far Minnesota’s best player in their exhibition game. . It certainly appears to have reached some level of lasting evasion, although we need more evidence to be sure. A solid playoff series or two will do that.
The Wild-Canucks series is, on paper, one of the closest to the qualifying round and a popular choice to play all five full games. It could also be a high score – these are the eighth and ninth best offenses from January 1.
The Canucks have Jacob Markstrom back in good health and that could be a game-changer for them, but if the defense in front of him is as loose as the last time we saw her, his return may not have enough time. ‘importance.
It’s not bold enough to say that Fiala will lead the Wild in scoring – he will have to be a productive player for him to win. But if this thing goes the distance, it might come out with a bunch of points.
MORE THAN HALF OF THE ROUND 1 SERIES WILL BE LOOPS
Note: Remember that the first stage is the qualifying round, which will be followed by “round 1”.
Upheavals occur regularly in the first round of the playoffs, so it would be just as daring to predict a clean sweep in favor of all teams that get a bye through qualifying. But having at least five lower-ranked teams knocking out a favorite in the first round is much less common. It happened in 2019, but it was the first time since 2013 that there had been so much upheaval. In the past 30 years, this has only happened once (1993).
The rationale for this is simple: The eight teams that survive their qualifying streak will already have played high-stakes playoff hockey and raised their game to the required intensity levels. And while all eight teams in the round robin will play for the standings, there just isn’t that much at stake. Of course, you’d rather put yourself in a position to play a Florida or Columbus rather than a Pittsburgh. or Carolina, but the threat of elimination just won’t be there. We would expect these games to have a higher sense of urgency than the exhibition games we’ve seen, but it’s just not a playoff atmosphere.
The winners of qualifying could simply be better from the start and inside the track. Home advantage is just not really a factor this year. The biggest benefit might be a brief introduction to the game’s best of five action. Injury, of course, could blow it all up.
But that’s a double prediction. While the qualifying round winners might have an advantage to start with, in the long run playing fewer games may favor the higher seeds. They still have to play four official rounds to win it all, while the others have to play five. The regular playoffs are enough. One more lap – even a short one – could turn into a curse.
So while part 1 of that prediction is that a ton of upheaval will happen in the first round, part 2 is that a goodbye team will win the Stanley Cup. Predicting that one of the best regular season teams will eventually become champions is certainly less spicy, but since I knocked out five early on, it’s pretty hot.