In my previous article, I set the stage for the “first round” of the potential 2020 playoffs, simulating/predicting the round robin and play-in matches to leave us with 16 teams. Now is where things get interesting, as we now have traditional seven game formats.
As I did in the previous article (though I neglected to mention it) I’ve set the games to take place at a neutral arena and will alternate the home and away teams for simulation fairness in the manner that it would be done in a regular playoff year. Obviously we are all unsure as to what the finalized plan would be, and if that plan could be feasible enough to occur, but this is all for fun regardless.
#8 Toronto vs #1 Washington
The Maple Leafs took the first two games from the Capitals off the back of some stellar performances from Ilya Mikheyev (2 G, 2 A) and Auston Matthews (4 G). I would say that this was shocking from a projection standpoint, but truthfully, the Leafs are better in my opinion than their record would show, and are better than their early season struggles indicate. After all, in a normal playoff format, they would be the #3 seed in the Atlantic Division.
The Capitals then took the next two games, both in overtime as the Leafs played them close both times. Looking into game four, it appears that Lars Eller scored the winner shorthanded, which is yikes for Toronto.
Games 5 and 6 were split by both teams, forcing, from what I gathered reading the game files, one of the most unbelievable Game 7s you’ll ever hear about. Toronto had a 3-1 lead heading into the third period, but made it 4-1 when William Nylander scored early in the third. Halfway through the period, that was still the score when Jakub Vrana scored two goals in the span of two minutes (one on the power play and one at even strength) to bring Washington within one. With just around 7:00 minutes left in the game, Alex Ovechkin tied the score on a breakaway goal, and then with only 4:00 minutes left, Garnet Hathaway of all players gave the Capitals the lead on a broken play down low. It was looking like this game was going to end up in favor of Washington, but with 45 seconds left on the clock, a point shot from Morgan Reilly somehow found its way past Brayden Holtby.
Overtime would then be decided on the power play. Unfortunately for the Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom took a tripping penalty that would prove fatal as Mitch Marner scored on a rebound (I imagine similar to Joffrey Lupul in 2008) to send Toronto onward in the playoffs.
Result: Toronto wins 4-3
#5 Pittsburgh vs #4 Tampa
In typical fashion, the Penguins won the first game thanks to two goals from noted NHL 20 re-gen Teddy Blueger. For the next five games, each team would split the decision, with the Penguins winning close, tightly contested games, and the Lightning blowing out the Penguins when they won (sounds familiar right?). Once again, a Game 7 would be needed.
Unfortunately, this Game 7 wasn’t really all that close until the very end. The Penguins penguined again and scored six unanswered goals, two of which were scored by Jason Zucker. Three of Pittsburgh’s goals were scored on the power play, as Tampa couldn’t keep themselves out of the penalty box. In the third period, Tampa fought back, scoring four goals. However, it just wasn’t enough as the Lightning are once again bounced early on in the playoffs.
Result: Pittsburgh wins 4-3
#6 Carolina vs #3 Boston
This series really exposed that the Hurricanes, while upcoming and promising, have some work to do.
Boston swept this series, outscoring Carolina 17-6! David Pastrnak had himself quite a series, scoring four goals in four games, as that Boston top line torched the Hurricanes. From looking at possession metrics and the storylines of how these matches went, I wouldn’t say that the Hurricanes played particularly badly. It was more so that Boston just showed how good they really are.
Result: Boston wins 4-0
#7 Florida vs #2 Philadelphia
Now, it’s game time folks. Finally, your, my, and our Philadelphia Flyers are up to bat.
In front of absolutely nobody, yet in front of hundreds of thousands of Flyer faithful globally, the Flyers won Game 1 5-4, with early goals from Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes setting the pace. Florida attempted a late game comeback, but couldn’t quite finish the job as Carter Hart made key saves on the Panthers’ top line.
Games 2 and 3, however, both went to Florida, the first of which being in overtime as Keith Yandle scored off a screened shot from far back. Game 3 was lost 6-2 as the Flyers could never quite find their footing.
However, it proved in the end that both of those games were simple anomalies, as the Flyers stormed back and won three straight to clinch the series, and win their first playoff series since 2012. The Flyers outscored the Panthers 12-6 in those three games, and it was the captain, Claude Giroux, that led the way, scoring two goals and three assists. Game 5, in particular, was won thanks to overtime heroics from Giroux, as he took a feed from Sean Couturier to bury slap-shot from the left circle.
Result: Philadelphia wins 4-2
#8 Calgary vs #1 Colorado
After splitting the first two games, Calgary shockingly won the next two to put themselves up 3-1, thanks to some balanced scoring all around as all four of their lines contributed at least a goal in those two games.
Facing elimination, the Avs turned to two or their star forwards, Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen to lead the way, and lead they did. Between the pair, they scored eight points in two games to force a seventh game which the Avalanche dominated, winning 9-1 as Gabriel Landeskog scored a hat trick.
Result: Colorado wins 4-3
#5 Chicago vs #4 Vegas
I hate that this matchup exists, as the Blackhawks don’t deserve to be a playoff team, but well, here we are.
Additionally, I am yet again displeased as the Golden Knights (bless them) lost the first three games by one goal differences. They did manage to win the next two, bolstered by big performances by Mark Stone (2 G 1 A) and Paul Stastny (3 A). However, Chicago would win Game 6 in overtime, 4-3, with Patrick Kane beating Marc-Andre Fleury.
This is the worst timeline.
Result: Chicago wins 4-2
#6 Nashville vs #3 St. Louis
The reigning champions are dethroned!
Despite winning Games 1 and 2, the Blues’ goaltending fell off after that, as Jordan Binnington was pulled in Games 3 and 5 (ha!). The Predators came storming back to win four games straight, and were helped by a lot of scoring from defenseman. Roman Josi had a goal in each of the Predators wins, and is tied with Filip Forsberg for the team lead in playoff points so far (only counting from this round onward).
Result: Nashville wins 4-2
#7 Minnesota vs #2 Dallas
Well, they say anything can happen in the playoffs. So, how about the Dallas Stars getting swept?
Yes, that’s right. They were only outscored 11-8 in the series, and all of the games were relatively close. However, the Wild kept finding ways to win. Their hero in this series was Kevin Fiala, who scored two key go-ahead goals in Games 2 and 3 to put the Wild ahead 3-0 in the series.
Result: Minnesota wins 4-0
With those results in, having re-seeded the teams, here is what the updated bracket looks like:
I will simulate both of the Conference Semi-Final and Conference Final rounds in the next article, and look forward to doing so. With some major upsets in the west, this is looking to be quite the intriguing battle coming up with the underdogs in Minnesota and Chicago.