The round-robin and qualifiers are done — the first round of the NHL Stanely Cup playoffs finally begin today! 2020 has been a weird ride so far, but we’re finally back to a sense of normalcy (kind of) with the start of some true best-of-seven series.
Our staff here at Defending Big D have spent the last *checks notes* 36 hours looking over the playoff matchups and making their picks. Here you will find our picks for the Eastern Conference — our predictions for the Western Conference can be found over there.
Who will win? Who will lose? And who will be so terribly wrong with their picks that they’ll delete their social media out of shame?
Philadelphia Flyers (1) vs Montreal Canadiens (8)
Taylor: The Flyers look deep and like one of the most cohesive units in the qualifiers. Carter Hart is an early candidate for the Conn Smythe, and they get scoring from whatever line is on the ice. Never underestimate the power of Carey Price to drag his team to a round win. Flyers in 6.
Robert: The Flyers look like the best team in the East, and the Canadiens have basically one line. If I’ve learned anything from watching the qualifiers over the past week or two, that means Canadiens in 4.
Logan: The Flyers are scary good on the ice and have been going back to the regular season before the pause. They’ve got young scoring talent, depth, and Carter Hart really does deserve to be in the conversation about best goaltender in the league. Montreal who? It’s weird to see Montreal in the playoffs once again and I think it’s a fluke year for them, especially with unexpectedly bouncing Pittsburgh in the qualification round. Flyers in 5.
Derek: There is some major underdog energy to the Flyers, who balance young talent with core veterans and don’t have any fatal weaknesses. I think we’re going to see some breakout performances from their youngsters, especially Carter Hart, and the Habs won’t have an answer for it. Flyers in 5.
Wes: If this was the 4/5 matchup nobody would bat an eye. Instead, it’s the 1/8. Thanks COVID! Montreal shouldn’t have beaten Pittsburgh, but they did. The Flyers aren’t as good as the Pens. Cinderfella keeps his shoes on for one more round. Canadiens in 7.
Ann: It pains me to say but the Flyers had big Gritty energy in their round robin games. Yes, the Canadiens sent Pittsburgh packing when they probably shouldn’t have, but does lightning strike twice? Flyers in 6.
Tyler: Count me as someone who sincerely doubted that Price could carry (pun intended) the Canadiens to victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. But the Flyers caught fire right before the break and are still burning — superior talent will prevail. Flyers in 6.
Rob M: The Flyers didn’t just look good during the round robin, they looked dominant. Montreal beat a Penguins team on the down slope, if we are being honest. Montreal did something impressive, but the Flyers should have no issues with the Habs. Flyers in 4.
Mark: Carey Price is on a roll, and the Canadiens have been generating chances at a high rate. The Flyers looked like champions in their round robin games. There is reversion to the mean for both teams, but ultimately the Flyers just have too much skill. Flyers in 6.
Final Tally: Flyers 7, Canadiens 2
Tampa Bay Lightning (2) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (7)
Taylor: Every team has some bugaboo in the playoffs, and the Lightning should be able to dispel theirs by beating the Blue Jackets in the first round. Lightning in 5.
Robert: The Blue Jackets can annoy teams with their speed and puck pursuit, but it’s the goaltending that really makes the difference. And going up against Vasilevskiy means they no longer have a massive advantage. To that end, I expect them to need six games to win instead of five. Blue Jackets in 6.
Logan: Tampa Bay may be dealing with Victor Hedman being injured and unavailable, but the team have pushed through without him before. Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn stepped up for Tampa Bay in the round robin with some impressive passes and pretty goals. And never, ever discount spite and revenge as great motivators. Lightning in 5.
Derek: Oh, what a delicious rematch this could be. Tampa Bay obviously wants to make up for the huge upset that Columbus pulled off last year, and they have as much talent and firepower as usual. However, the scrappy Blue Jackets showed against Toronto how they can shut down skill. It will be a hard-fought series, but I have to bet on some big performances from Tampa Bay’s big guns. Lightning in 7.
Wes: Ding-ding, ready for a rematch? The Blue Jackets shouldn’t have a chance. Then again, they didn’t against the Leafs, and they sure-as-shooting didn’t have a chance against the Bolts last year. Sensing a theme? Bizarrely, going chalk is my version of picking an upset. The Bolts are ready, a neutral site will help them settle in, and there are just too many weapons for the Blue Jackets to hold firm. Lightning in 6.
Ann: I’m delighted that this match up is happening again, now we really WILL see if lightning strikes twice, and I’m not even making a pun because Columbus pulled the upset last time. Tampa’s too angry, but Columbus is gonna make them work for it. Lightning in 6.
Tyler: Right after Tampa Bay was swept last year, I predicted that they’d follow in the footsteps of Virginia men’s basketball and win the Cup in 2020. A rematch with Columbus is the perfect way to kick it all off. Lightning in 5.
Rob M: I need to stop picking over the Blue Jackets. Obviously Tortorella has the ability to spin up his club enough to pull some upsets. Tampa Bay has some injury problems at the moment, which is never a good thing against an opponent with momentum. Blue Jackets in 6.
Mark: Last year, the Blue Jackets brought a tight, physical game that threw the President’s Cup winners off their game, putting them in a panic mode out of which they never escaped. Columbus does match up well with the Lightning, but this year Tampa Bay holds on for the win. Lightning in 7.
Final Tally: Lightning 7, Blue Jackets 2
Washington Capitals (3) vs New York Islanders (6)
Taylor: Will these two teams grind each other into the ground? Maybe. Will we have fun watching it? Maybe.... Capitals in 7.
Robert: The Islanders are basically a better version of the Stars. The Capitals are past their prime, but they’ve still got that sort of Chicago ca. 2016 energy that makes you think they might have another run or two in them. In the interests of encouraging the NHL to avoid defensive, boring systems, I will speak this truth into existence: Capitals in 5.
Logan: The Islanders flummoxed a struggling Panthers team and that confidence should give them a boost heading into the series against the Capitals. However, the Capitals, despite aging quickly toward the cusp of “past their prime,” still have the likes of Ovechkin that make most teams quake in their skates. This is going to be a hard-fought series. Islanders in 7.
Derek: Like the Tampa Bay-Columbus series, we’re going to see talent and dynamic offense go head-to-head against a stingy defensive team. The Islanders are so disciplined and structured under Barry Trotz that they’re going to be a pain in the butt to eliminate. However, they’re going to get outgunned by a Capitals team that eventually learned how to handle teams like the Islanders. Capitals in 6.
Wes: The Islanders are immaculately coached, and have juuuuuust enough high-end talent to punch above their weight. The Capitals, meanwhile, have weapons and “been there before” experience. You want some perspective on Alex Ovechkin? Two lockouts and a pandemic later, and the guy STILL has a shot at Gretzky’s goal record. Relevant? Nah. Insane? You betcha. Capitals in 7.
Ann: Barry Trotz now vs Barry Trotz then. This series will come down to Barry Trotz’s coaching skills vs Alex Ovechkin’s pent up quarantine energy, and I like experience over coaching. Capitals in 6.
Tyler: The Islanders are like the Stars if they could score more than once in a blue moon. Defense is supposed to be the name of the game come playoff time, but I’m going to side with superior offensive firepower in this one. Capitals in 7.
Rob M: This one was difficult for me because it’s such a contrast in styles. The Capitals didn’t look great during the round robin and the Islanders handled the Panthers fairly easily. In a matchup of styles, the more tuned-up Islanders get my vote. Islanders in 6.
Mark: The old Trotzkeys vs. the new Trotzkeys. It’s the political Capital versus the financial Capital, and ultimately finance wins out. Islanders in 6.
Final Tally: Capitals 6, Islanders 3
Boston Bruins (4) vs Carolina Hurricanes (5)
Taylor: Boston is still a good team, even if the round robin didn’t necessarily show it. But Carolina is F-U-N and it’s hard to root against them. Hurricanes in 6.
Robert: The Bruins are a great team, but they haven’t quite clicked since the restart. The Hurricanes have that ideal sort of energy that can manifest itself in a vacuum (or disappear just as nonsensically). Ultimately, I think anyone writing about hockey on the internet is obligated to pick Carolina. Look, I don’t make the nerd rules, I only abide by them. Hurricanes in 4.
Logan: The Hurricanes are a joy to watch and make you believe in hockey magic all over again. And who doesn’t love everyone’s favorite bunch of jerks and their storm surge? Boston definitely cratered in the round robin, but that panic will make them a tough opponent. Hurricanes in 6.
Derek: Boy, is there a trend this year in the East or what? Another staunch defensive team against one that can really open things up. There’s something magical about the Hurricanes right now, and their young core is progressing quickly and in unison. The Bruins are always a hard out, but Carolina is going to be going gunz-blazing and eventually the dam will crack. Hurricanes in 7.
Wes: Boston should be the best team in the league. The 1-seed! Only they’re the 4-seed? Pandemic hockey, right? Were I a Bruins fan, I’d be concerned about a lack of depth beyond the top line, and more than a little worried about Tuuka Rask. Were I a Hurricanes fan, I’d be wondering why the James Reimer / Petr Mrazek duo was any more the answer this year than Mrazek and McElhinney were last year. The Canes have fantastic depth at forward and a first-class defense, but they aren’t the best team in the East. Bruins 6.
Ann: Boston has no business being as good as they’ve been, absolutely none, and that was evident in the round robin. Carolina has something to prove, and I want to see them do it. Hurricanes in 5.
Tyler: Although the loser point made the gap between Boston and the rest of the NHL seem wider than it really was, they were still the “best” team in the regular season. Yet they’ve looked like a shell of their former selves so far this postseason, whereas Carolina was firing on all cylinders. Hurricanes in 7.
Rob M: Boston looked just terrible in the round robin, dropping from the one-seed to the four-seed. Caroline looked like the most dominant team in the qualifiers in either conference. Hurricanes in 5.
Mark: Everybody’s favorite Jerks versus a bunch of jerks. Hockey is cursed. Bruins in 5.
Final Tally: Hurricanes 7, Bruins 2