As the NHL resumes in the bubble cities of Edmonton and Toronto, eight teams are vying for semifinal spots, and it’s anyone’s guess which team will go all the way. Hockey is notorious for its upsets, and with all teams coming off of a four-month hiatus, it is more likely than ever that the unpredictable happens. Here are The McGill Tribune’s predictions for the “Final Four” teams most likely to make the conference finals in the 2020 NHL Playoffs.
Fresh off a Stanley Cup Finals appearance last season, the Boston Bruins are a strong defensive team at the top of their division. Having acquired two versatile pieces in Ondřej Kaše and Nick Ritchie, this is a hard team to beat. They have the depth of some of the best wingers in the game and present their opponents with a tough defensive strategy. They are as safe a bet as any for the Final Four.
This pick is more dubious; however, the Caps still have Ovechkin. While he is aging, he is still a star player in the league, having scored 89 and 87 points in each of the past two seasons respectively. The Caps also have a healthy T.J. Oshie, who was instrumental in their 2018 Stanley Cup victory. Moreover, the team has more than enough offensive depth, and their first string defence is supreme, including stalwarts John Carlson and Dmitri Orlov. The second and third string defence was lacking early in the season, but the addition of Brenden Dillon seems to have made them a more cohesive unit. The only major risk factor is goalkeeping. Ilya Samsonov is injured, forcing Brandon Holtby to be the team’s main netminder. His save percentage of .897 this season leaves significant room for improvement.
The Avalanche were just two points behind the St. Louis Blues when play stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time they faced a slew of injuries that stopped them from putting their best roster on the ice. Most of their players have since recovered, leaving only Nathan Mackinnon and Colin Wilson on the injured list. Cale Makar, an integral part of the Avalanche defence and contender for the Calder trophy, will be returning after spending much of the season injured. Additionally, Phillip Grubauer is an exceptional goalie, and the Avalanche’s offence is phenomenal. Playing together as a team, they are quick on the break, and have proven themselves capable sharpshooters. The return of Makar and Samuel Girard has made their defence one of the best in the league. It also doesn’t hurt that the Avalanche are a young and hungry team—it’s hard to prove statistically, but pure willpower and grit may carry the team all the way to a Stanley Cup victory.
Vegas Golden Knights
The return of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Alex Tuch has improved the Golden Knights’ championship chances. Both Pacioretty and Stone lead the Knights in points, and their return makes their starting line-up one of the best in hockey. They were already 15–5–2 under the helm of Coach Peter DeBoer, but now he and his new staff have had time to get to know the players and implement his system: Getting defencemen more involved in the offensive game. Before DeBoer arrived, the defence had 1.63 points per game; they now average 2.41. This translates to heavy and consistent offensive pressure, and in playoff hockey, that’s enough to win those extra-critical games. Not only do they have one of the best netminders in Marc-André Fleury, but they also have a strong backup in Robin Lehner, making for one of the best goalie tandems in hockey. All this, coupled with a stingy defence and some sharpshooters on the wings, makes for a true Stanley Cup contender.