The NHL playoff matchups we’re most excited about
The National Hockey League has unveiled a plan to return to game action after its 2019-20 season was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The league plans to use two yet-to-be-identified hub cities to host games, with training camps likely slated for early July. Dates have yet to be finalized for when the league would begin playing games, and the NHL is currently working to narrow down the locations of the two hub cities from a list of 10 candidates.
While the league announced the conclusion of its regular season, it also unveiled its 24-team playoff format, with a 16-team qualifying round consisting of eight best-of-five series, as well as a round robin format to determine seeding among the top four teams in each conference.
Here are the three play-in round matchups we’re most excited for:
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins are heavy favorites to win this best-of-five series against the underdog Montreal Canadiens, with odds of -190 at BetAmerica.
The time away should help with the injury situation that had plagued the Penguins all season. Entering the qualifying round with a healthy roster would make Pittsburgh an interesting pick to win the Stanley Cup at outright odds of +1800.
The Habs, meanwhile, just barely snuck into the 24-team format thanks to a .500 points percentage, narrowly beating out the Buffalo Sabres and their .493 points percentage.
This has not been Carey Price’s best season in net for Montreal. But a constant storyline each year in the playoffs is about that one goalie that gets hot and steals a few games or even a series.
The Montreal Canadiens going on a hot streak with Carey Price after being 10 points out of a playoff spot to making the 24-team playoff format. pic.twitter.com/SI1ZX1rXB7— Leah Kessel (@leahflame) May 25, 2020
The Penguins finished the season series with a 2-1 record against the Habs, and one of those contests was decided in overtime.
Montreal would be, on paper, significantly outmatched against Pittsburgh. The Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and could get one of their leading goal scorers, Jake Guentzel, back from a shoulder injury.
But the Canadiens have Carey Price. And if he can return to the top of his game, in a sudden amount of time, it will give Montreal a fighting chance.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Expectations for the Toronto Maple Leafs were sky-high to begin the regular season, but they struggled mightily at times during the regular season, even firing head coach Mike Babcock.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, on the other hand, didn’t have nearly the expectations in place entering the season. Despite that, they’ve shown they’re capable of punching above their weight, thanks largely to the goaltending duo of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins.
The Maple Leafs are favored to win this series.
Even without fans in attendance, or the possibility of playing the remainder of the season in a different city, the Maple Leafs would have all the pressure on them to win this series, after three straight years of losing in the first round and potentially murky waters with the salary cap upcoming in the offseason.
They’re one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL, with the third best goals-for per game rate (3.39), but they also give up plenty of goals with the sixth worst goals-against rate (3.17) in the league.
Remember last postseason when the Tampa Bay Lightning was the highest scoring team in the league and Columbus swept the Bolts in the first round?
Will the Maple Leafs be able to outscore their defensive mistakes? They’re fast, they’re highly skilled and the stars like John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews should give them the edge.
AUSTON MATTHEWS WHAT IN THE WORLD pic.twitter.com/ib0YwgS516— Flintor (@TheFlintor) December 18, 2019
But as the Blue Jackets showed a year ago, they may be able to thrive in these situations as the underdog.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid is back in the NHL playoffs. The fastest and most exciting player in the world will have the opportunity to compete again for a Stanley Cup, after the Oilers made it into the qualifying round of this format.
McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers will face the Chicago Blackhawks, who were right above the cut line for points percentage in the Western Conference.
Dave Tippett deserves plenty of credit for the job he did this season, instituting far more structure. But the Blackhawks will have their hands full with trying to limit McDavid and teammate Leon Draisaitl.
You can’t stop that duo. You can only hope to contain them.
The “LOOK OUT” from Ray Ferraro. 😂😂😂— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 22, 2020
He knew exactly what Connor McDavid was about to do. 🚨👀 pic.twitter.com/xuckyzFuZZ
Draisaitl had a league-leading 110 points for the Oilers when the season was suspended in mid-March. That’s a 13-point lead on his teammate McDavid, who was having another impressive season.
It’s time to see what that dynamic duo has in store for us in the postseason. The Blackhawks might not want to find out.
Who do you think will hoist the Stanley Cup? Wager today in the NHL futures market at BetAmerica!