BOLTS OF INSPIRATION
Will the NHL’s best team on paper learn from last year’s crushing defeat and get the job done this time around? We’re betting they will
HreEalRlyEAtLhIiTnYkISa,boWuHtEiNt, yiot’us ehvaerdn otnoe tceoamethautp’s gwoiotdh enough to win the Stanley Cup htflhaisws st,eaakasenondn.aeTvhetureyrynaolngl oehianovgfe ttfhrhoemir world-beater to fuirlel-. blTowhen 20t1ir9eW20ingDse, trwohito Rweidll go down as the worst team of the wsaolarsrty-icnapfraenrachaisnedhoisnteoroyf, bGeoaldtetnheKnBiogshttosn, EBdrmuoinnst,oVneOgailstehriss asenadsoTna.mpa Bay Lightning
If you had the choice of one tehaismyoeratr,hethfeielsdmtoarwt imn tohneeyCuips toimpei, ckregtharedlfeieslsd oefvethrye stienagmle. But another reality is that, unless the COVID-19 virus wipes out the playoffs, somebody has to win this thing. So what better hteaavme atmhaanzetdh,ecoLnigfhotunnidnegd, wanhdo danronpopyed insiOncetobtheer? puck first
To acknowledge that things dthide nLoigt hetndinwg ewll etrhee ltahset tpimroehibitive favorite to win the Cup wthoaut ldEubreotaDnitsanmeyouhnatstno’tsaqyuiintge lvievresdiounp. tYootuhemNigohrthrAememricbaenr tbhuerniLnig,hstinicnegit chraapspheinged ajunsdt tlahsetCsoplruimngbuins BRlouuenJdac1keatsg.ainst
As much as the Lightning ymoiugrht hmeakde aygoauinwstanthteo bwaanlgl,
Tthey’re still our pick to win the pStraonblaebylyC. uWphyin? B2e0c2a0u…semtahyebye’r…e Stolowglyoodandnotdetloib, etrhaatet’lsy, wthye. Lightning have supplementeledagtuhe’sbetsotpgdoaelfieen,soenmeenof atnhde the best and deepest forward group in the NHL with some bitTehaenyd’rsenanrol.t chasing history this season. And history has tnoulmd buesr thoaf ttethamerse tahraet aragiosoed they SrtaenceleivyedCuap doenvlaystatfitnegr gCuatpitpaulsn,chWatshleinagstono)n.ce“W(seelel, I hope that’s true,” said Lightnbeinegn icnotahcehleJaognueCsoeovpeenr.ye“aI’rvse, faindalwinemyasdecothned Syteanrle(2y0C1u5p) and we’ve been close since, bhuapt pernobedabltyonuosthilnagstlikyeawr.haIt really, really hurts when you go through it, but when you do go tithrhourgths ita,nydouyloeuarntrhyotwo maultcehr hyoauprpebnehaagvaionr.”so that it doesn’t
Veteran defenseman Kevin SLhigahttneninkgirlkastwsaesans’tonwainthd wthaes probably just as shocked as everyone else to see Tampa TBraoypfhoyllobwy buepingthsewPerpetsindefnotusr’ estrr’saipgehrts. pAercmtievde wanitdhfarnomouwtshidathaisbitgeapmarmtaotefsthheavreatsooldn hwihmy, twahdaevseLrtishgiethytnfhirnoagdmleotxhspetelsratisaetrntcseoedaf stonhnoe season until the playoffs began, so they were poorly equipped to deal with it when it came, andOnittchaemfiersetanrliyg.ht of the 2019 playoffs, the Lightning skated off the ice with a 3-0 lead af
Who has the best chance of winning it all in this strangest of playoff seasons?
t1h1epBelurieoJdascktheetsy, awnoduilndtbhe noeuxttsacnoirmedpr1e8ss-5iv.e“Sfeixaty, b-tuwtothweyinssaiids tyhheaeavyre,”wwoSenhagwtatemenetksitrthkhreosyuasgidhh.ous“lTodmhni’est cghoatlloevnegresthearfalyctown.e’Orencae dwifefseraesnotnt,ewaemreaanldizietd’swaedwifferren’t
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WHAT I’VE LIKED ABOUT OUR GROUP IS I THINK WE’VE GROWN UP AS A TEAM – Jon Cooper
continued at the trade deadline twrhoheueynnddptehiacelkty tJgh.Tae.vyeMreiulclpeirvtehtdeo wfVihrasentn-fcrooumvetrhetoSgaentJoBsaercSlhayarGkos.odrow theAyngdotininteoaralygaMmaerochf ,skwatheeynpwuenrechryeawdyithantdhsetoBorduuinps,toththeye challenge. They also beat the Bvirnuciends minortehatht agnaamfewanodbsceornvtefohrrescpethltaaoytobtfehfsreesyctakwrotin.lledinwdeitehdwbheena strTeahkes ofL1ig0htanidng11 ghaamdes wthiins tcsheaeapysaobwnlea, nowtf ghteoict. thBinugmt otehnaoanssreosltlthwreeyha’ekrnes chaalosnwobtmeheasykoecdaeintfepdnliasfyifvicseuolylptpotoorolgyurasansadpt
aTnhceeysgainvdehuapveatlotleoafn1o0nbtiemllecsh. theIinr gaoalliea, bguet wwhohedroeesne’vte?ry team has warts, the Lightning’s cgomodpleaxt iothne ismolomoeknint.g Dporetthtye Bplrauyionfsf hruavne ian stehceomn?d Csatrnaitghet Cwseanpysi?teaolCsfaangneytatnoeyauomtnoeinf tmthhaeekiWreeosawtn?ny fTaocrTeohdneatoLLeiangfhstetneaiarnlmgy thMcaaatmrhceahd iajnuntsdot wcohmicehoitffhaadCalolisfot ranlliathdrieseasgtaemr eins and scored a total of two goals. Without Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman in the lineup,
btheeingLioguhttsnhiontg17re-6spionntdheedfirbsyt tpheermiodc,hawsinhgicthhebgasmicealtlhye rlesft
aownfit1h1ea-ng3iag-m6h-te1. Twrheincaotnrliednfgt oTsatfromellapokaw. Buapy ingWahtenthaesksetdarwt hoaft twhaes gmamisse-, “pemriboadrroafssthinagt”gaimne.tBhuet Cfiorostper also said his team has the wherewithal to be great. “There have been games and periods ethxactepI’tvieonwaal,”tchheesdatidhi,s“sgoroI ukpnobwe weThaeveLiitgihntunsin.”g are one of wtChuhepofmwewinllotbteeawmcionsnisinidgtehtrheeedNSaHtaLcnolfmeoyrpWleatsehifnaigltuorne.foItrwa alosntghtaitmwea, aynind just when much of the hockey nweovreldr dothiotu, gthety ftihneaylly wpouut lidt awlol nto, gceothaecrh inBa2r0r1y8.TArfottezr tshaeidy the Capitals decided they had tohfethdeousebctfoindal-lgyuehsasdinegnoaungdh werisll. Ietntoteork thimise.yTeahre’sLipglhatynoinffgs Twhitehy’nllo hsahvoertatwgeo ofmdoonuthbstertso. tfwyuirlnnlgmtwhaehkmenintthtaoellybtedhloeie.mveorrse, wsahtiicsh
make it itno the prlaeyvoioffuss–1j6ustetahsroenest–imbeust ing in Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, the Coyotes always stay wdehfenstihveybrdaon,dyofuh’doctkheinykwtohuelidr
liunvmoblvuesdf.oAr rtihzeonthairtdie-dbewstitghoaClosBaguatinwshteanvKeruaegmepienr srearvlley thtiegmhtewnelul.pBeicnautshe thpionsgtssmeuastonb,ergigohotd? athned lReaagnutea. aPtrosbcolermingisg, oyaolsu,
Awdeirne Hiinlljusrteadrte–d ntihnierdg-astmriensgeinr tpoaor,tiacnudlaArlryizwoenlal. dSoinecsen’2t0d1o2t-h1a3t,
yoJatnesuadryopanpdedFienbrthuearsyta–ntdhiengCso. the bCotytotmes1h0atveeamrasniknegdoamlsopnegr
So how does Arizona get over awthsoeauhtleduanm’tphinaanvthdeemm1aa7dk-e2e4tshoreamnpeglaenyotohifsafest gseaamseo.nTwheaisr iamveprraegsesiovef 2b.7y1ththeisr stialnl jduasrtd2s3, ardmouvletir-aylel.ar high, but any other year? The Coyotes benyjopylaytheres’gcuoidacahncReicokffTeroecdchet. When the Coyotes do stay tchormeepetmitiovnet, hsucohf atshethseeafsirosnt So it’s likely a case of getting when they ranked sixth in the hot at the right time, with conference, it’s because they their playoff-style attention to Vgeirttuthalilnygesvderoynenebwy fcoormwamridttaere-.
mos who have greatly underpteearmfosrmpelady r–ivDinegreikn SAtreipzoan,aNoivcekr Sthchemyeaaltrzs, thcaisn soefatseonn.swSpinegciaal MTaiyclhoareHl aGllra–bsneeers, aPhdirlopK-oesffseinl,
snerviers.bAereinzotnoap’snpootcwhe, rbuptlaiytshPaKs op-rwodayucptliaoyn. but an uptpiecrksionntawl
is among the best. Maybe that’s With a veteran defense led by the key there.
BRAD RICHARDSON is a heart-and-soul player and the longest-serving forward on the Coyotes. The handoff comes from Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a 10-year veteran.
THE COYOTES RARELY
PHIL KESSEL, final-round flier? His first season as a Coyote was arguably the worst of his career, but he’s always been a great playoff performer. Only three NHLers have more points over the past four post-seasons. It’s possible Kessel is merely starting to decline in his age-32 season, but maybe the playoffs spark some of his old magic.
Former Coyotes assistant GM Brad Treliving put it best when he said, “They should change the name of hockey to goaltending.” That’s because so much in a game depends upon the performance of the stopper. A good goalie can turn a series on its head. The last time the Coyotes won tahepylawyoeffrerkonuonwd,n MasikPehSomenitihx awnads spectacular in a 2011-12 run to the conference final. For Arizona to have any sort of success this post-season,
must be otherworldly good. The promising news is both men have that potential. Good health is always an issue.
When Boston traded Danton Heinen for everyone understood. Ritchie epitomizes Bruins hockey. He’s a tank at 6-foot-2 and
230 pounds, and in the past three seasons, among forwards with at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5, he ranks in the
95th percentile in hits per game. He was a top-10 draft pick in 2014 but never fully blossomed as an Anaheim Duck, averaging just 12 goals per 82 games. He also never played on teams as good as the 201920 Bruins, and his heavy game should translate better to post-season hockey, when the officials let more things go.
slipped tshproinug,hasththeeByrluosint sG’ afminege7rosfltahset final on home ice. This year, they played like a team hungry for revenge, winning the Presidents’ Trophy with a league-best 100 poWinthsilien thGeMshorDteoned Ssweaeseonne.y couldn’t add much over the offseaamseont,eahme ,reatnudrnitedwamsotshtluystnhoe surprise to see the Bruins look lmikaeinthaelmirousstupaelesrelelvsessd. eTfheenysivrely. No team allows fewer goals per game, they boast a strong penalty kill, and they rank among the league’s best in preventing shots, scoring chances and high-danger shot attempts at d5e-oenp-,5.wTehlle-ryoudnodietdthdanefkesnstoe BcorrapnsdoinnwChaircloh dZodetnhoe Cshuatrdaoawnnd Twoorreky KanrudgCmhoavreliethMe pcAucvko.yGoanaldie Tuukka Rask, who was superb in the 2019 playoffs, has had his best regular season since winning the 2013-14 Vezina Trophy.
THE STANLEY CUP
If Boston wins the Stanley Cup, TUUKKA RASK will be a big reason why and should get first dibs. As a starter, he’s endured two deflating series defeats in the final.
RATING parMtiacnuylaorflythethBeruinpso’ wfoerrwhaorudsse, line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, are among the best two-way pesiloiatnyeegraastmicneotn–htearonNldlHinaLtg. sTtchoeryinprgeo.msPsaaeisn
RtrincahkarwdoTnraopshyarewoitfhth4e8Rgoocaklest. oMnadrcshtraanidghwt 1as00o-npopianctesefaosrosne.c
Boston has always relied a liottskoenwtehde ‘tPoerthfeectpioninLtinoef,’cbountcern this season. At the time
Bnuomstobne’rswgoasal4s.1L.2asptesrecaesnot.n“,Stthoapt the big line and you can beat the eBrrsuinNsi”ckis Rtritucehriethaanndit’Osnedvreerj been. Sweeney acquired wingKase in February but couldn’t sinegcutrhereant.otBhoesrtohnignhe-ednsd dsecpotrhforwards such as Charlie Coyle apnladySineatnheKpuoraslty-steoaseolenvlaitkeettheeiyr did last year.
Expanded rosters for 2019-20’s unprecedented playoff format will allow teams to tuck away some prospects who would’ve been battling in the Calder Cup playoffs had the AHL not cancelled its season. Don’t forget about JACK STUDNICKA, then. His blend of scoring and two-way ability makes him suitable to use on any line. He’s a deep sleeper.
best possession Up front, sophomore left
winger Andrei Svechnikov has rteidaemss a inbalathnecedNHatLt,ackCaaronldina
TwbeeirethanvaaSiernbeevanes,tlaiatgniiovniAnohgno ttahhneedtoHTpeulurinrvioeFcAaldondreisndgaa lBinrienudp’Atmhaotuhrasmgaijvoern bcouayc-ihnRond aVstcinatrchyee,nhtdiegTahrd-oslcichnoercinkfugrfttrhroiemor. most nights. The Hurricanes can pforreescsheycoku, owritthheayn cuanforregliyvionng othneoirthsekrillntigohptsu.sh them through bsoultitdretswseod-wayghroucpkeyt,hatndplanyys
liisneguopinfgeattourcinargryJusitsinelWf williitahmas Injuries had taken a bite out soefaCsaornowlinaas’spabuluseldin, beubtetfhoereHtuhrerdiecfaenessemcoeunldbhaackveina
little more confidence. Caroflirnoam’s ctohuepllienekuepy AaHbLiliCtyhartolotptel,uwckhicphlawyeorns
the Calder Cup last season, has thCeuNpHLt’osusrunma menrti.mDe oSutagnielfeoyr
meant great depth as well, most hHalmf biletofonr,ewfhraocthuardinaggthreatfibfiurslat crecnetenrtlMy doergmaonnGstereaktieed. by rookie in his left leg in January, is ready If there’s one big question atonortehjoerinsthaelwtaeratmD. -Mmeaann, wBhrielett, manadrknoin, tChaeryolicnaan,’tit’ssigin unnedte–PfeeattredMrEaBzUekG Pfiensische,ewd adsuientitoiaslhlyouthldoeurghsut rtogebrye aDnadviJdamAyerseRs.eBimoethr cinouMldarccohm. BeubtatchkerifeC’saaroclhinaancweihnes isinjtuhreiegs,uybuitn itdheehalalyveMbratztelekd aWpaldadyeolflf arocquunidreodr tswlicok. GsMkaDteorns Hcreapsoesotendcetwthoesphluatyouffts bineg1in1. Batrathdey tSrkadjeei daenaddlSinaem, isoVathtaenre’ns tahpepeHaurrarniceasnelsasatdvsaenacsoedn twohtehne plenty of depth on the back end. conference final.
He’s won it all before, but JUSTIN WILLIAMS has meant so much to the team, and his return has been crucial. Maybe he’ll start a Storm Surge with Gary Bettman…
ONE OF THE
JUSTIN WILLIAMS might tempt poolies as a sleeper pick. He’s ‘Mr. Game 7,’ after all, and he was great after joining the Hurricanes in January, sniping eight goals in 20 games. Can he flip a switch and get back in game shape at 38 after another multi-month layoff? It’s a gamble. In his past three post-seasons, he has 23 points in 40 games. Meh.
Not that long ago,
was seen as an elite two-way center in the making, racking up 75 points for the Florida Panthers in 2017-18. Injuries and inconsistency have slowed him down, but Carolina needs him to be that secondary trhurne.aTtroifciht’escgkoginogt to make another off to a slow start with his new team, and he’ll have to get up to speed, figuratively and literally, because one of the guys he was traded for – Erik Haula – is the untyfopregoivfinfagstpalanyder who’s tailor-made for the postseason. It’s time for Trocheck to live up to the standard he set for himself just a few years ago.
Until can figure out a counter-attack to the swarming defenses he faces, the Flames are a team without a dynamic difference-maker. The chemistry he and Sean Monahan shared for Gaudreau’s first five seasons is gone. In the
82 games between all-star breaks in
2019 and 2020, he had 28 goals and
64 points, a far cry from the point-pergame player and Hart Trophy contender he’s been the past few years. The good news is Gaudreau looked to be coming out of his funk in February and March with 18 points in 18 games. Can he maintain that gear in the playoffs when the game becomes harder to play?
of Sean Monahan between Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm was one of the best in the league in 2018-19. In
2019-20, it was predictable and stoppable. The line accounted
afogro.3T.2h4ispyoeianrtsispwearsg2a.m29e. aThyaeta’sr a 3O0pppeorscienngt tceoarmrescteixopne. cted the Gaudreau button-hook inside tbheefobreluheleinceoualnddesffwecatrimveelyd dhiismh off a pass. Monahan struggled in his pursuit of the puck, and his
13.3 shooting percentage was tLhinedlhowolemst coofnhtisnucaerdeehri.sAtolerarisdt pgoaacels,. lMeaodsitngnigFhlatsm, etshewsitehcon2d9 line of Mikael Backlund between Matthew Tkachuk and AnrderqeuwireMdapnlguicakpatonebasthtloewtherdouthghe ednefdesnosfesthaenidcew. ork hard at both
In last year’s playoffs, the Flames were manhandled by the speed of Colorado’s attack and didn’t have the physical makeup
THE TOP LINE
MIKAEL BACKLUND has been a reliable Flame for 11 seasons. He’ll move into third place on the all-time GP list within two seasons. He’ll get the pass from Mark Giordano.
RATING to wear them down by taking the dThDeearedkdiFtioornbsoortf aMdidlamn Loruebciocdayn. snarl to the lineup, but does it slow them down as well? TMrarvkisGiHoardmaonnoi,cT.fJo. rBreoxdtienadned sVuarligmerayk.iTthoesaecaqsuoins-ietinodnisngofkFnoerebort and Erik Gustafsson at the taraedneindeabdlluineelinmeersandetheep Ffolarmthees poAstg-aseinastovni.rtually every potential playoff opponent, the Flames look overmatched in the goalhtseanaddsoiangsonldiodewpf,airrDstmatvheidnaltf.RbitFutoitcrhwtohwranos dhowmne astnrdetscthr.uIgtg’slead gdouordingthtinhge sthtoepFplearms easngdivyeouthewnonodetro wRhitytich most of the time.
It’s time to pass on JOHNNY GAUDREAU and make him prove it. In his past two post-seasons, he has zero goals and three assists in nine games. Because officials tend to put the whistles away in the playoffs, the more physical style neutralizes Gaudreau’s shifty puck skills. Matthew Tkachuk, who plays a heavier game, is a better playoff-pool pick.
paused its seaMsoanrcbhec1a2u,sethoef pects. If the Blackhawks had any
inkling they’d be in the playoffs, tChheicaogronaBvlaircukshawks they likely would not have dealt cLoemhneebr.acItk’stoahamuonvtethtehmat. could were sitting six points out otof aovpelarycomff espaontdwjiuthstfo1u2rgteaammes thoWuhghy CiosreythaCtr?awWfoerdll, haedvena bloosui ngce-rbeacockrds. eAasnodn,t he Bhaladckahawks
COSVoI,Dt-h1e9BlIancvkithaatwioknsalenatesr the have this propensity ectoitniodn-waonrdst otenaemthiant thise actomorps f3o5r.1givpienrg guapmae lotht eoyf swheortes. sTuhreOrmenonlrdyeiongngoeawtlseaaspmewrogfratshmteien2, 4atnhgdeavnNeoHunLpe. tohfatnhetmhehHaadwakws.orse power play been a fitting hub-city choice pifnolra, ybtiehncegauwBslieathctkhhiosauwiskecslmetaoornlcyeoyam. tpeaemte awthkesy’arere nOoKthionfgfenTshiveelBy,labckuht special. Patrick Kane was his theAsneyBlarceksheamwbklasnacned tbhetwteeaemn
RTuosoueowaklisebwrDialolsimaonitnpiskaeclKfe aufonbrda7liJ0konpwaotaihnsatsna. tlehadtiwngonump utlotip2le01S5tanisleypuCrueplys ceossinecnitdiaelnlytal.adTmhitetedBlacskhmawuckhs lmesasjotrhafninadnyanodthedridplmayoerreinwtihthe
NHL. He scored 30 goals despite the ytrwadeeredesaigdnlinfiec,adnetasleinllgewrhseant
tgiemtteinpgerugnadmere.15 minutes of ice tdheefenCsaelgmaaryn FElraikmeGsusatnadfssgoonaltioe
huAgell hiinll taoll,cltihmeb Hifatwhekys hhoapve toa iLgehhtsnefrortoptihceksVeagnads GprooldsRenobKin
make a deep run.
Jonathan Toews has had three cracks at this, so he’s getting pretty good at it. Chances are it will be COREY CRAWFORD, a pending UFA who likely won’t be back.
WHEN THE NHL
DOMINIK KUBALIK’S rookie year was marvellous. He led all qualified NHLers in goals per 60 and became the eighth freshman this decade to score 30 goals. Kubalik, however, scored on 19.1 percent of his shots. Considering the NHL’s highest active shooting percentage is 16.9, Kubalik’s number will regress to the mean – perhaps in these playoffs.
You know how the mantra for real estate is ‘Location, location, location’? Well, this team will enter the playoffs chanting ‘Experience, experience, experience’. There is literally no postseason situation that the core of this group has not seen multiple times before. Overtime in Game 7? Been there. Overcome series deficits? Pfft. Whether that translates into this group being able to use that to overcome a lot of glaring deficiencies remains to be seen, but there are a lot otfhpalnayPeArTsRoItChKer Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford that teams would rather face in a playoff series.
No doubt the Blue Jackets need more scoring punch, and as the regular season wound down, they may have found some in rookie right winger
Elevated to the top line with Pierre-Luc Dubois, Bemstrom put up most of his offense in the final month or so before the season was paused, using his quick shot and great instincts. A December rib injury likely delayed his NHL development, but the potential he showed off during his breakout SHL campaign last season is becoming quite evident. Can the slight-framed rookie make an impact in the rugged NHL playoffs? The Blue Jackets will be a lot better off if he can.
many thought was daecsttuianlelyd fvoerrythecobmapsemtiteivnet this season, despite a slew of devastating injuries that included all-world defenseman Seth Jones and former 40-goal man Cam Atkinson. Surviving adversity is something these Blue JacIknetstehramvse covf ersetrdeonfgftehass, ilyC.olumbus has been masterfully led by coach John Tortorella, and the Blue Jackets are more than happy to keep things wthineys lethdisthseeNasHoLn.inWohnielegtiogahlt: the team was bottom-five in odfeffeenssee,, istowifaCsoalulsmobtuosp-isfivpelaiyning the way it wants and imposing its will, there isn’t going to be a loGtivoefngoahloswon tphleayboofafrdh. ockey taednvdasn taoggeof,otrhattheis BdleufeinJitaeclkyeatsn. T–heevye’rnewaitheoauvty,ppowhyesricfaolrwtearmd Josh Anderson, who isn’t expected to return until next season – and that style has proven
THE TEAM THAT
As the longest-tenured Blue Jacket, CAM ATKINSON deserves it. He’s been through the wars and has always been a good soldier – especially in the playoffs.
RATING tyoubceonssuicdceerssthfuel moafkelautpe owf hlaesnt year’s finalists in St. Louis and Boston. Pierre-Luc Dubois is the type of two-way center who can really make an impact in the poFsto-rseastoena.m that lost a marqburoevesnkeytmlefitndfoerr FwlohreindaSearsgaeifBreoeqburoevesnkeytmlefitndfoerr agent last summer, Columbus hcraesasaec.tuJoaollnyabseKeonrpgoisladleondind the heavy lifting early, even earning a nod for the All-Star Game before a knee injury held him out. tInookhiosffp, lnaacbe,biEnglvifsiveMsehrzultiokuints cinonhfiisdefinrtstro2o4kiaeppreoavreadncteosb. eTahne insTtahnet fBalnuefavJoarciktet.s are not a great possession team, the penaplotwy ekrillpliasymiserueglyly,OsKo, tahnids Cthoelwuamrbtsu. sBuotutifityocuer’rteainloloykhinags fiotsr a team that can use “Nobody believed in us” as motivation, this is your best candidate out of the Eastern Conference.
Feeling lucky? It doesn’t get more boom/bust than ELVIS MERZLIKINS as a late-round dice roll. He’s not even a lock to start over platoon mate Joonas Korpisalo, but Merzlikins’ ability to go on hot streaks gives him series-stealing upside and could turn him into Columbus’ MVP during the playoffs. His five shutouts came in an eight-game stretch.
Achvanlagnec.hTehrwee rseeavsoienwseadgoa, sthae
goal scoring, and if MacKinnon moribund franchise. Now, under doesn’t get you, Mikko Rantanen,
GBuabrarkieolvsLkaynwdeilslk. oPgluso, rnoAtnedarme the guidance of coach Jared maBmeodosntnagdr,atCnhogeleorNroaHudLso’soifsdfecneospnievsseidt eoarunetdmay have benefitted more from the ANvHsLw’sosuuldspheanvseiohnadopf lpelnatyy, aosf tfihtrso. ugAhnNd atehvaenrMytahcinKginnfounn.nels
sintajurrteydcaosncsechrnesduhlaed .the playoffs MaWcKitihnnoenacdheveplaospssiningtosaemasorne,
One worries about the Avadopfoocmshsieansnasgtioinng. atHagleaemnitse, wouninteqhucaeaspitnaiobgnlealtahfnfactihrsed,’osnh’oatwbibelievtceyor.mtoDeewsepniindte-tgosa-omemnedes offaebnlysivtheedrsitnrakwintChoaltosrtaidrso.the defensive weapons, Cale Makar
iosnagttrhuemsh, uwthdaotwCnoploariarcdhoielafcakms However, the adjustments ing that can match up against the othpepoAsviatiloan’cshbeehsot.ldAnudp hinowgriwndil-l epnaidthinecrAevdailbalnecdhievidaettnadcsk. Fhraovme
psdtoyrlcteaugnaimtieaesks?ewTthenhmotohpseetyiosfbCeiotcslooomrpaersietcobonigd--nlainmeecaedndteitrioNnaszesumchKads slouwch-riassk,Vahliegrhi-rNeiwchaurdshkiink,inthges atevsatisla, pbelerhainps olonwt-hsecoproiwnger pcolany-.
Aftrhvoamnlan7ac5hqeugionhatalesvteaonfredncoe1tia6vbe0dlepmsouionmrtesNmearrlyacuqnuriisviatilolends.ofTfehnesivre sfuirlet?pthoewfeivr.e slog.
Landeskog, the captain, has played more games in Colorado than any current Avalanche player, but ERIK JOHNSON is the longest-tenured and has been through it all.
HOW QUICKLY THINGS
PHILIPP GRUBAUER was Colorado’s unquestioned No. 1 goalie to open the year, but Pavel Francouz was lights-out in the second half while Grubauer was injured. Even though the Avs are a top-tier Cup contender, Grubauer isn’t an elite playoff-pool pick. He should get the first crack to start, but Francouz’s emergence will shorten Grubauer’s leash.
Goaltending can be the position of most importance in the post-season, but it may be the position at which the Avalanche are least confident.
who was sidelined down the stretch, has only 16 games experience in the post-season and a wholly unflattering career .909 save percentage. Meanwhile, Pavel Francouz, he of an ugly .895 SP and 3.31 GAA in four AHL playoff games last season, has never seen post-season action inotphpeoNnHenL.t,Aggoaainl-st a defense-minded tending will swing the series, and if eiFtrhaenrcGoruuzbsahuoewr sor cracks, it will spell disaster for the Avalanche.
Few players wear their heart on their sleeve quite like
the former Sharks captain who was a cap casualty in San Jose. After signing in the summer, he became a key middle-six cog in Dallas. Though the veteran center has had a modest offensive output, he remains a premier net-front player – and perhaps no one in the league is as adept at high-slot tips as the 36-year-old. His play in all three zones has been a boon to the Dallas lineup. He came ohso-close to winning a Stanley Cup in San Jose, and he’s in the twilight of his career. He can be a player the Stars rally around, and his play is sure to inspire.
to smother and suffocate every opponent who crosses their path. That is theWghoialel. coach Rick Bowness’ group wasn’t tops in the league ingsuapttpermespstisnognshnoetts, owrhperevDenatllas thrives is in limiting prime opportunities against. Led on the blueline by the woefully underrated trio of Miro Heiskanen, JtohherneKalrinegfbeewrgteaanmdsEasacrLoisnsdtehlel, loepapgouseittiohnatagsivteheasSltiattrlse. tDoaltlhaes was so good at insulating its crease that Ben Bishop and AntboenstKinhduidvoidbuinalhsatvaetisatimcsonogf atnhye goaltenders in the league. It’s no wonder their combined save percentage is better than that of anyWoet’hversdeueno.how effective the bSteairns’tdhefpeonstiv-seesatsyolen,otfopol.aIyt wcans just last year that Dallas nearly toppled the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in the second round. The two
THE STARS WANT
tehamt ist wtoeorke dsouebvlenolyvemrtaimtceheind Game 7 to decide the series. Had kitnnoowtsbewehnefroer thaetSOtTargso’ apll,awyohfof run would have ended? thaTtheDailslsause,athotiwmeevser,beiscomtheast so transfixed with its own-zone psgcolaoeyrsetdhoafftfeinwtsaelr.mOgoosntalylesnftipivrerlytgefaoamreesthoansetchleubSsta–rtsh, eanCdoluomnlbyuosnBeluoef JacIkt’ests n–omawdoentdherp, latyhoefnfs, . that ler Seguin was the only Star to epxlacyeiendg tshuech40s-tpaouincthpldaetefeanus.ivIne hgeorckoefyo,fDfeanllsaivseplutlslsitshealtf ainreddainffoicrutlht etoStsahraskteo. fIltipcathnebsewaitchoorfefensively in times of need when tohuetyin’vgepsrpoevnidtitnhgeamshajeollriftoyr othf eainr netminders. All of which is to say: jumping out to an early lead is crucial.
TYLER SEGUIN has been Jamie Benn’s Texas partner for seven seasons and more than 500 games now. It only makes sense Benn dishes it off to his center.
DENIS GURIANOV won’t win the Calder Trophy but was one of the league’s best rookie forwards. He led the Stars in goals and, among their forwards who played 500-plus minutes at 5-on-5, was second only to Tyler Seguin in points and shots per 60 minutes. Gurianov will be available late in drafts and could give your goal total a nice boost.
are taking care of business in their own end, too. Edmonton bsptueirltl atghllaeomwpeldattaohocaonunpieltetmmgieonnrdeirnsahgtoeotdsf, and Leon Draisaitl is unquestwioany,abrelygaardtlhersesaot ftoplagyoofafllsetehde Tbhigegdeystnoramhoicmdeu-ioceaaredvtahnetatgweo. sMeiekmkoedKtooskwinoerkn. and Mike Smith goaffmenes, iavnedntehedflaec-tmthoevyer’rse isnomtheeboTtthoem Ooifletrhse rlaenagkuede ine5ar-onth-5e
Corsi percentage, but no team timeschoanngthese eicveryathitnhge wsahmene is more dangerous on special teams. Edmonton has far and stitopcesochimaultetstehateommds.edfeonwsniv. eAsttlreaatsetgioens away the best power play in the league and is a top-two team on wthheEepdnemnboaonlttthyonkKioilslsakmsinowesnetlvla.unldneSrmabitlhe The Oilers, under new GM
pruronvceonld1. ASuarne,dit1’sBg, oboudt ttherec’ossat oRnookiMe cDKaviliedr YaanmdamDortoaishaiatdl.
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Under defensive specialist top 50 blueline offenders when coach Dave Tippett, the Oilers it comes to giveaways.
It only makes sense that Connor McDavid passes the Cup to Art Ross Trophy winner LEON DRAISAITL. But it would be touching if 38-year-old Mike Smith got it first.
The Oilers have lacked a master blaster from the blueline since the days of Sheldon Souray many moons ago. Is trade-deadline acquisition the guy to step in and add an extra dimension to Edmonton’s potent power play? He obnaccek henadd ain3W1-agsoha-l season from the ington, albeit 11 years ago. The best an Edmonton defenseman has done in the past decade is Oscar Klefbom’s 12 goals in 2016-17. Green has been fragile much of the past two seasons with Detroit and got hurt two games into his Edmonton stint. At the very least, he’s a player other teams have to respect, especially on the power play.
is the definition of a playoff X-factor. He has the potential to erase all the disappointment of the regular season by catching fire in the post-season. He entered last spring known as a playoff choke artist but redeemed himself with a .925 save percentage across 10 games. Florida draws a New York Islanders team that had lost seven consecutive games heading into the March 12 shutdown. Bobrovsky can still steal a series if he’s healthy and focused at the right time. He hasn’t played since Feb. 29. In his case, a five-month layoff might be a blessing, as it can act as a mental reset for him.
to be it. After years of failure despite consistently building talentedon-paper rosters, the Panthers really went for it last summer with coach Joel Quenneville and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky among their top additions. But the sum result was technically more of the same. The Panthers sat outside the playoff mix when the season paused, but the 24-team play-in format gives them life. If they get hot at the right time, anything can happen. eTvheryy phoasviteiong.ame-breakers at onTohfefePnasnet.hTerhseyarehavdeeethpetebaimg, silky-handed, two-way center every team covets in Aleksander Bunardkeorvr,atoende opf ltahyemNakHinL’gs mloesft wingers in Jonathan HuberdcaesatuofanfidnisahesrtrsoingclusduipnpgoMrtinkge Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov. The Panthers have five 20-goal scorers and would’ve had six or seven in a full season. They iced the league’s sixth-best offense,
THIS WAS SUPPOSED
Only eight active NHL skaters have logged more playoff games than BRIAN BOYLE without winning a Cup. Beloved in the room, he’d be a popular sentimental pick.
RATING athftoeurgthethaell-gsotarlsbdreraiekd. up a bit
The defense corps hasn’t wreoarskoendwohuyt aGsMhoDpaeled.TTahlleorne’esxapressed a desire to get more help for workhorse Aaron Ekblad at the trade deadline – which didn’t happen. Mike Matheson has struggled to earn Quennevialleh’esatlrthuyststcoratthcehpaonidntgoefttbineginga look as a hybrid defenseman/ fTohrewParadntahleornsg’ mwiatihn Misasruke Phyasynk’t. bweheinch ohvaesrablelendemfeindsdilvee-of-pthlaey-, ptoacakl,lobwut rhaigthe-dratnhgeeprrochpaencseitsy. tEhxeacfearcbtattiwngo-tihmeeprVoebzlienma Twraosmphiyserwaibnlny,ergrBaodbinrogvsokuyt flaospptehde isnevgeonatlhs -swavoerdstagbooavleieaivnerthageeNpHeLr m60inaumteosnpgltahyoesdeawt 5it-hon1-,050. 0-plus rivFalorTidoaroinstoa: logtreliakte doifvfeisnisoen, mediocre defense, hurt by unexpectedly bad goaltending.
AARON EKBLAD experienced a minibreakout this season. He set a career high with 41 points even though he played just 67 games. Among the 197 defensemen who played 500 or more minutes at 5-on-5, Ekblad led the NHL in primary assists per 60. If you think Florida can go on a surprise run, he’s a decent late-round selection.
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Devan Dubnyk had a combined The perception that the Wild .902 save percentage, and the aere-onotishinsogmmeowrheathamnisaguhiadnegd-, 2W9itlhd’sinovtheeralNl HSLP. S(t.a8l9o7c)k was
dubenogwsienantetinhdgeDstutorbenrtyockhu,nfodhlolowinwetovinegrf.otrHhme tohpo-uegnhd. Wfirheipleowit’esr,trtuhe tahtetayclkaciks vDgerretievaritnaegnr stth,haienncotlhfufednisnsugemiPsoafariitsselep, waErrtoiscf. balal-cskt.aSrtablorecakkis alanrdgedlyidunn’ttelsotoedk cinarpeoesrt-psleaaysooffngacmtieosn ownithisforuersume, SmthtoaroastlugahinmoduptMretahstsesivbeZa,ucckcpahararetlflilcoou,flabtrhulyet but he has performed well campaign, was Kevin Fiala. The when called upon, as his .931 SP 23-year-old bordered on unisntotoppMaabrlceht,hsrcourginhgFaetbmruoarreytahnand can attest.
Only three active players who have yet to hoist the Cup have played more games than RYAN SUTER. The workhorse has earned the right to hold the hardware high.
TWO WEEKS BEFORE
KEVIN FIALA morphed into a top-end scorer this season, amassing 53 points in his final 56 games and exploding for 14 goals and 26 points during an 18-game point streak leading into the shutdown. Because of a slow start and the season ending early, his overall numbers don’t pop too much, meaning he could slip to the late middle rounds in drafts.
Which version of shows up? Though he’s had a career resurgence in Minnesota, his last three trips to the post-season were fruitless. Dating back to the
2016 playoffs, during which he was a member of the New Yohraks Raasninggelres,gSotaalal and three points in
15 games. That level of production is a far cry from his past as a playoff warrior. During the Hurricanes’ run to the
2006 title, Staal led players with 19 assists and 28 points.
gHoaelsfoalnlodw1e5dptohiantts with a team-best 10 in 18 games during Carolina’s 2009 conference final run. Rediscoverinwgillthinactroealdsesptharek potential for a Wild upset.
beckons. The Canadiens haven’t had a star francophone forward since Vincent Damphousse and Pierre Turgeon in the mid-1990s. Now, after ‘Qualifying Team’ won the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft lottery, each of the eight losing teams from the play-in round has a 12.5-percent chance of scoring the supremely skilled left winger. The Habs, who finished with a .500 points percentage, do not have a 12.5-percent chance to win the Stanley Cup. Players aren’t capable of consciously tanking, but will they realize on a subconscious level that they may be better off losing? Could it lead to a flat performance? (see pg.
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E. Aafeot Trym
If you don’t want to splurge on elite offensivedefensemanRomanJosiearly, youcouldwaitseveralroundsandnab RYANELLIS, whosescoringpacein49
gamesextrapolatedto64pointsin82 games.Heaveragedthefourth-most primaryassistsandfifth-mostpoints
Barring 2017, when postedan outstanding .930 save percentageandhelped Nashville to its first StanleyCupfinal appearance, crease catastrophes have beenanannual occurrence in the post-season for the Predators. Saros cementedhimself as the starter, but there will be questions about his preparedness should he falter. Rinne’s playoff resume does little to inspire confidence, however. In five of his eight trips to the post-season, Rinne hasposteda.909 SPorlowerand has posted a .911 SP or better just twice. Given the Predators’ lack of firepower, goaltending will make all the difference.
The Islanders’ offense runs through Mathew Barzal, but when it comes to big-game moments, keep an eye on veteran
Best-known for his game-tying goal against Russia with
5.4 seconds left in the semifinal of the
2009 world juniors (when Canada went on to win gold), Eberle is still potent when the temperature rises in the rink. Last year, he led the Isles in post-season scoring with nine points in eight games and was instrumental in putting the Penguins on their heels in the first round. It would be a huge lift to the Islanders’ offense and take a lot of pressure off the entire team if he can be clutch once again.
style you’re getting with the Islanders, and it is not fun to play against. Under coach Barry Trotz, New York pgalamyse tahatstirsubcotulsrteedr,eddbefyenssoilvide –areso loimffeitnesdi.ve Tohpisgpoartltuenidtiiensg wyeaasr’psafrirtisctu-rlaorulnydevsiwdeenpt ionf ltahset Penguins and will undoubtedly be the strategy again this time.
While the penalty kill was mid-table, the Islanders did add PshaogretahuanadtedtheacteradJeand-eGaadblirni el, and he can strike at any time. Pageau got off to a slow start oahfaftfeeinrdstiRv-geaalnymgienrsNfiegenhwdteYaorgreakdi,nthshtiomuthgthoe the Isles faithful immediately.
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o1f0f.eTnhs e wIsalasnmdeirresddionnt’ht ehabvoettaonmy point-per-game players in their lineup, and Brock Nelson was the only player on a 30-goal pace.
Led by Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin and Leo Komarov, New
YOU KNOW WHAT
An Islanders lifer who jumped straight from the draft to the NHL, JOSH BAILEY is a great candidate. He also happens to be one of the team’s top forwards.
York still goes old-school with boanttgoemrs siaxn, dancdrasthaetrsabinrastihve game comes back in style once othfethpelayIoslfafsndceorms’e oabrojeucntidv.esOnies atos twheagramdoews gnotahleoinrgo, apnpdonthenat saeprpireosagcoheshdoeuelpd. be effective if a SemBeytowneeVnarltahmeovpipanesd, 1sBtaroteprtion Thomas Greiss have both bGereinssasasnetds, Rboubt innotLteohtnherexwtenret last year, when the duo ranked aasamnvdoendGgraetbihsoesvNearHaeLvpelroeasgidteeiv.reVssainrinlagmothaoalvst category, but not by much. At the least the Islanders have two gthoaotdhnasetomftinendebrsee–n ksoeymeinthtinhge plaByeocfafsuisneroefcethnet yweayrst.hey play, the Islanders will be the worst pJseorassseoeynsswi(ooennrelytewaDmoertsroeinitthtahinsedypeNoaesrwt)-, but that was true last season and they still won a round.
Don’t overpay for the name brand and past playoff success of JEAN-GABRIEL PAGEAU. He was having a career year in Ottawa before being traded, but his role was bigger with the Sens. Pageau’s average TOI dropped by 1:18 with the team change, and he managed just two goals and seven points in his first seven games with New York – all losses.
field Speaking of speed, the Rangmeans the Rangers are still alive ers have an impressive assort
ment of skaters on the back end, rinesgtueladr odfigveistitoingaljopblbaeydofbfyftohre
Aledabmy TFonxy. DWehAantgtehleo aBnludersohoikrties tmicakte. tN, tohwe tehamt NceowuldYovrekryhawselal do need, however, is the puck on their sticks more often. New tphlaeytoausrpnoamileern/tu.nderdog role in
YseosrskiownasteoanmesoifnththeewNoHrsLt, paonsdBlessed with Hart Trophy
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sltehwyeeCRputapnNgieenwrs2Y0po1lar4kye–wdLif.toAhr.owtuhtoeuhSlidtma’vn–eeloxwteenddCehdrisseKasroenidebrretoakheaallsforoamlabhaebcrkwokfoeurnldtfh’oveoest.tjaIunrsttoorbfdetihneenarpyclaotyimoifenfssg,. Shbhuoectkstteheyartkyeiwnaarhsa.aOs nlsootnhmgeetoiKtmhHeLrahgpaolnaiydn-,
off experience (backup on a title tNoogwethbea’lclkhuapvetoasptreaeidn.ing camp
team), but none over here.
It’s HENRIK LUNDQVIST, and it’s not even close. Even if he doesn’t play in the playoffs, he’s a franchise legend who has never had the chance to hoist the Cup.
THE NHL’S EXTENDED
ADAM FOX didn’t get the same rookie hype as Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes but was almost as good. Fox ranked top
30 in points per 60 among all D-men with 500-plus minutes played at 5-on5, and his per-60 stats on the power play were elite. Tony DeAngelo is the Rangers’ top fantasy D-man, but Fox rates similarly and should cost less.
was a revelation for the Rangers this season, nearly doubling his career-best output with 53 points in 68 games. Even more impressive, his 34 even-strength points tied him for third in the league among blueliners. Defensive-zone play has never been a strength for DeAngelo, however, so he’ll have to buckle down if this team is going to mainkethaenyplhaeyoadffws.ay He was one of the team’s best possession defensemen, but DeAngelo also started more shifts in the offensive zbolnueeltihnaenr. Canayn oNtehwer York get enough of the good stuff from DeAngelo to make up for his deficiencies?
has made some impressive playoff statements in the past (including when the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup final against Chicago back in 2010), but his more recent outings have been muted. Since a monster 2012 run that saw him put up 17 points in 10 games, Giroux has just 10 points total in three straight first-round exits. If the captain can’t lead by example, Philadelphia might be sunk early. On the other hand, if Giroux can ride the offensive momentum he was building up in the season’s second half, then the Flyers will be a much more difficult opponent. At the very least, it would make Gritty happy…
hired Alain being one of the worst defensive taetaomp-s1i0notuhtefitletahgisueselasotny,ewarhitloe also drastically improving on thePparetnoaflttyhkaitllc. an be attributed to Vigneault, but credit is also due to GM Chuck Fletcher for remaking the blueline last summer. Bringing in veterans Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen had the exact intended effect on tshtaeundcehfendseefecnodreprs, atoddaingrotwupo tnhoattewxasctylyoudnegtainl-dortiaelnentetded. Tbhuet upshot of the veteran injection has yielded rebound seasons for eIvxatennPt,rovSohraoyvneandG, otostiasblehseserer (hoGbivbelendtbhyatatkhneeeFliynejrusrya)l.ready have one of the premier twoway centers in the game up front in Sean Couturier, this defensive development bodes well. Speakiansgtroefnogfftehnfsoer,
WHEN THE FLYERS
There is really only one candidate, and it’s OSKAR LINDBLOM, who was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer in December. The team has rallied around him.
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Not only does CARTER HART continue to blossom as one of the game’s better young goalies, but he also has a great defensive team in front of him. Under new coach Alain Vigneault, the Flyers allowed the fewest shots per game in the NHL. If Philly goes on a deep playoff run, it’ll be winning games 3-2, not 6-5. Hart is set up to post nice numbers.
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one major concern heading into of other contributors. No NHL the playoffs, it’s in the crease.
Normally that wouldn’t be a ptbealaasymeedrlsonsmtaviasessrianmgae. niAycenmdtiamnye-gtoa, fmthees nwtithhe arotswteor-,tibmuet CMuapttwprionbnlermo,
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But then, once the team got relatGivoefliyghuerea.ltGhiyv,
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stopper this season. For what byTCorobsebysuarned, aMnaylktienamhashealmsheodt
iiCntu’sp2w0wo1ri4t,hs, WoJaHrhreLy kwEndoomnwoasnMtwoehnmabtoariitca’ksl at ttahlenStetadn,leyxpCeurpie,nacned tshqiusaids that is well-coached with Mike like to play under pressure.
He’s the perfect totem for a team that has tasted victory twice in recent years: PATRICK MARLEAU is a beloved NHL vet who just needs a Cup ring to cap his career.
TRY AND FIND
JAKE GUENTZEL would’ve missed the whole post-season under a normal NHL schedule but is on track to rejoin the Pens in time to face Montreal. He could be quite a profitable pick if healthy. Among players with at least 40 games, Guentzel sits sixth all-time in postseason goals per game, sandwiched between Wayne Gretzky and Pavel Bure.
Rookie defenseman was one of the most crucial additions to the Pittsburgh lineup this season, providing secondary offense (only Kris Letang had more points among Penguins blueliners) and puck-moving ability. But will Marino’s lack of playoff experience be an issue? The intensity of the NHL postseason will surely pose a challenge, at least initially, for the 23-year-old Harvard alum. The Penguins were good about not overloading Marino durwinitghtihcee treimguelar season, as he moninlyuatevseraangiegdhta. little more than 20 They’d be wise to follow that formula in the playoffs.
After sustaining a shoulder injury in October that needed surgery, it was possible
would have missed at least the first round of the playoffs had they started when they were scheduled. But now the Blues will have the sharpshooting winger from the start, and that adds a lethal 40-goal scorer to an attack that is already among the league’s deepest. It also gives the league’s third-best power play yet another weapon. Already a stingy defensive outfit, the Blues will have the ability to overwhelm any opposition at both ends of the ice with Tarasenko, who scored 11 playoff goals last season, in the lineup.
reason to believe the Stanley Cup hangover was going to scuttle St. Louis’ shot at repeating as tcuhranmopveior,nasn. Tdhseomroestbeerliseavwedlitthle fsotarganfatliloin tmheadCenthtrealBDluiveisiroinp.e
But this season has been the opposite of a decline for the organization. The club residing in the Show Me State made it clear it’s to be taken seriously as a conMteonstdeirmopnrcesasigvaein.about the Blues is that they’re a multifaceted team, relying not on one aspect of their game but playing effectively in all three zones. Offoefn-tshivee-plya,cSktg. rLoouupisanisdahamsnid’tdelexfoefn-tshivee-plya,cSktg. actly won by scoring in volume gamSeevienralndpglaymeersoutp.aced the Bsilxue4s0a-tptaocinkt. Tphleayefrins,ishaend wfivthe more were on pace to reach 30 points. That offensive depth helped give St. Louis one of the top power plays in the league, an asset that aids any legitimate
THERE WAS AMPLE
His season is over as the result of a cardiac event, but JAY BOUWMEESTER is a no-brainer to receive the Cup from captain Pietrangelo if the Blues repeat.
RATING conTtheantdseariidn, tmheucphlaoyfoftfhs.e Blues success is predicated on defendiPnige,trlaendgbelyoNaon.d1 baluleolainderdAdlexfense corps that includes Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk and deadlTiongeethpeicrk, uaplonMgsairdceo gSocaalntednedllear. JgorroduapnhBeilnpneidngStto. nL,otuhiesdteofeantsoivpefiveAngdoalyso-uagacainstnaevveerragreu.le out HthaevinimgpjoursttanwcoenotfhexCpuerpi,enthcies. group knows how to survive the plaOynoeffwgroirnd .of warning, though: Bdoinwnningthtoenswtraestnch’t. qFuriotemhiJmans.el1f until the season was stopped,
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ROBERT THOMAS was one of the NHL’s most productive players relative to ice time this season. He played just 14:34 per night but ranked fourth in the league in primary assists per 60 among forwards with 500-plus minutes at 5-on-5. If the Blues entrust him with a bigger role in the playoffs, he will deliver sneaky-useful fantasy numbers.
pJulaliyenfrBormiseitBsofiosrhwaasrwdso,rakned an NHL
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The Lightning looked invincrmoibisnlteedrltathsoitsicyteiemaarev,.itrotuoa, lwevinsgkeiyr, tNhiekirteaigKnuinchgeMroVvPaindrigt het tBhuetirthReoyunfdell1besehrinieds eaanrdly goint
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lpoewneadltifeivseignofaolus ronga1m0 eCsolaunmdbaulsThe Bolts aren’t just about
power plays. This season, they fPloasinhty aonffdenesme, erigthinegr. ISneBlkreayTdreonphahvyethtwreoatofAtnhtehognaymCe’isreblleis,
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and got suspended for a game usegalysohnocwkaesy agnamineasbwiliittyh tpohwysiincGaMl
No D-man has more career games in a Lightning uniform than VICTOR HEDMAN, and he leads all Tampa Bay players in career playoff appearances with 84. He’s earned it.
THE LIGHTNING TIED STEVEN STAMKOS
had core-muscle surgery in late February and was given a recovery timeline of six to eight weeks. That ended his regular season and put the first round of the playoffs in significant jeopardy. With the league shut down for more than four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stamkos unexpectedly had ample time to heal and should be 100 percent for the playoffs. More than any other team odtdhsisinsecraesaosne,dthaes a Bolts’ Stanley Cup result of the pause. There’s always a risk of reinjury, but Stamkos had the equivalent of a full NHL off-season to rebuild his strength. He won’t have to hold back.
Getting blueliner Jake Muzzin back from a broken hand for the playoffs matters most, but don’t sleep on the impact of
His rookie debut was a smash before he sustained a freak cut on his wrist from a skate in December. Among
334 forwards with
500-plus minutes at 5-on-5, he sat
13th in assists per
60 minutes, 33rd in points per 60 and
24th in shots per
60. His 6-foot-3,
195-pound frame, good speed and responsible twoway play present a package that could make a difference. The Leafs have struggled to win puck battles during their three straight first-round playoff defeats. Mikheyev can help.
suited up for Toronto’s Game 7 loss to Bfoorsthoen Mlaaspt lAepLreilanfso. Ilto’sngremr palrakyable, then, that this team’s idenitnitgy tihs evi2r0tu2a0llpyluanyochffasn. ged enteritnitgy stilSlampoessoelsdsesLesaufsp. erTbhi scoterianmg tgaolaelnst ecvaeprayblegaomfehiagnhdli,ghutn-rdeerl new coach Sheldon Keefe, Toronto’s best offensive weapons get more ice time and compile even better numbers. Auston Matthews finally has the elite goal-scoring stats to match his eNlyitleanadevranhcaesd rmeaeltirziecds. Whiisllipaomtential as a top-end scorer now that he has a coach who lets him take a regular shift with other Mgrietacht pMlayrenresr. rJeomhnaiTnatvwaroeosfatnhde league’s best offensive weapons even though they play on separate lines. Even Zach Hyman has reached a tier of production nobody knew he had. The Leafs ice the NHL’s No. 3 offense and No. 6 power play despite having
SEVEN SKATERS WHO
JASON SPEZZA is almost six years older than any other current Leaf, he hasn’t won a Stanley Cup, he’s well-respected and he’s from Toronto. An easy pick.
RATING played a large chunk of the seabsoluneliwnietrhoMuotrgtaonpRpieullcyk. -moving doTeshethegoboad. Trhemis ateinasm, sbtuiltl dseofTehnedLs eatfsadboerlaonwk-ainvethraegteoplehvaelf. obsufoptttphormeeslsheiaaolgnfu, iebnuistnctohsrehinyogts-icathtitanenmtchepest ranadtthemeyp’rtes oanlealonwdedhaigth5--doann-g5e, of the weaker penalty-killing teams in the NHL. They’ve actuhaelblyoairmdpinrotvheedir adlemfeonsstivaecprolasys this season despite enduring injuries to Rielly and Jake Muzzin, bgouatltshieny tahlleowNHedL ttheansikxstht-omtoesrtrible goaltending. Frederik Andweorrssetnsesatsuomnbolefdhitshrcoauregehr. tHhe graded out 41st among the 54 qgoualsifysianvgedgaobaolivees avinerag5e-opne-5r 60 minutes. Keefe has insisted Andersen is “our guy,” but if he struggles in the early going, Toronto could turn to insurance policy Jack Campbell.
With Andreas Johnsson out for the season, the Leafs are a bit thin at left wing. That means top prospect NICK ROBERTSON has a real chance to make an impact in a top-nine role. He’s a high-motor goal-scoring machine who ripped off an incredible 55 goals in 46 games in the OHL this season. The post-season provides a key audition.
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Canucks didn’t have much of a ptehaymsictahlat dceatnerbre nte. utTrhaleiyze’rde bya The Canucks can get you in daovwanriethtye sopfeewdayans.dTpruycktomsohvuetment
pushing them around. ALEXANDER EDLER is in his 14th season with the Canucks. He broke in under the guidance of Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo. Edler gets the first pass from Bo Horvat.
TYLER TOFFOLI was a hit after arriving shortly before the trade deadline, picking up six goals and 10 points in 10 games. Is he guaranteed to maintain that production, however? A fully healthy Brock Boeser could take Toffoli’s first-line right winger spot or at the very least steal power-play time. Toffoli has more competition for looks now.
Just when some Vancouver fans were anointing Thatcher Demko as the team’s new No. 1, this was the coming-out season for
Always a plucky battler with more good games than bad games over the years, the 30-yearold took it to a new level this season. He was even a fringe name in the Vezina Trophy conversation when he went down with an injury Feb. 22, three weeks before the league shut down. The Canucks aWbwelyestrienanfithdftehcpoinlmaytfhooerfft-s when Markstrom was sidelined. With him gone, they slid to eighth. With him healthy, the Canucks can roll with the best teams.
We’re still not sure on the deep meaning behind the acquisition of at the deadline. Was it simply depth because the backup options weren’t cutting it? Or is it to shorten the leash on Fleury, who has been mediocre? Lehner won all three of his starts after arriving – with a .940 SP and 1.67 GAA – while Fleury won one and lost two. It’s hard to see Fleury on the bench when the playoffs begin, but it isn’t hard to imagine Lehner in the crease when the season ends, one way or another. When he coached San Jose, Pete DeBoer had no qualms about turning to backup Aaron Dell when Martin Jones’ game went south.
were one of the league’s best teams under new coach Peter DeBoer. Who knew Gerard Gallant was Wsuechjeastb, iogf pcoroubrsl em, abthoiustsGeaslloan?t being the albatross, but clearly the message DeBoer started deliveTrhineg rGeoalldlyenhit hKonmigeh.ts were Corsi darlings, cruising along at a league-leading 54.8 percentage when the league shut down. lVeeagdaesrwinassfhaortanddiffaewreanytitahle–NaHvLeraging 34.5 per game (ranked first) and allowing 29.3 per game (tied for second-best). That’s a differential of 5.2 shots per game. Carolina was the runnerupT, bhuet wKnayigbhatsckdaitd4.0it. at both ends of the ice. They’re close utondaehralDfegBooaelrbeatntedr colfofesensitvoelya choaalfcgho’saldsetfienngsieivreunsdcheermthee. nTehwe result is almost a goal difference per game, and it showed in the standings. Under Gallant, the Golden Knights were running
THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Vegas is still without a captain, so alternate DERYK ENGELLAND – assuming he’s not a healthy scratch as a No. 7 D-man – will accept the Cup and give it to Fleury.
RATING ftiuftrhe ianndthoeuPtaociffitcheDipvliasiyoonffwpiitcha .551 points percentage (24-196Ve).gaIns r2o2segtaomfierstuindthere dDievBisoioenr,
h1a5dcoaabcehtitnegr rcehcaonrgdes. ince the Jan. sulAtebdailnanfocuerdfoscrowrainrdgsaotntaVcekgraes-’ top two lines potting 20-plus gPoaauls,SwtaistthnWy iclloiasme Ktoartlhsastonpacned. The addition of Alec Martinez on the back end nicely rounds out a blueline that is seven-plus deep witGhoeaxlipeeriMenacrec.-Andre Fleury struggled for a good chunk of tshaevesepaseorcneanntadgpeositnedahidsewcaodrset. Prya’rst osflutghgaitshas ttaortdso twoithgaFmleeus-, achnadstihnagt thhaed tmhaejGoroiltdyenofKntiimghetss. Valelgoawsedledin ththee lefairgsute pienriogdo,alas dofubRioubisndLisethinncetrionfr.oTmheCahricraivgaol stems that tide.
SHEA THEODORE graded out statistically as one of the league’s elite defensemen. No blueliner had a bigger possession share, and only two D-men averaged more shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (min. 500 minutes). His 46 points were a career high, and his puck luck suggested he could’ve scored even more. He’s an underrated pool pick.
The last time played in a Stanley Cup final, he was a monster. That was back in 2012 with New Jersey, and the Devils lost the series to Los Angeles, but absence always makes the heart grow fonder. After half a decade in the KHL, ‘Kovy’ came back last season and his brief stint in Montreal – after sputtering for a year-andchange with the hKeincagns –stpillrobveeadn offensive force. At 37, Kovalchuk doesn’t have many cNhaHnLcteitslele,fbtufot rhaisn big, heavy frame is tailor-made for post-season havoc. Add in a bucket load of skill, and you’re looking at a dangerous operator.
didn’t have one monkey on his back entering the playoffs last season – he had the whole barrel. Prone to streaky scoring, the Jets sniper had one goal in the final
19 regular-season games. However, when Laine heats up, there are few players more lethal. He scored in three straight to kick off the first-round series against the eventual champion St. Louis Blues and was all over the ice. Laine’s scoring wasn’t nearly as turbulent this season, with 28 goals spread over
68 games, but he can still get whitehot in the playoffs, and if he does, he can singlehandedly power the offense and turn the tide in any series.
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FINDING SOLID GROUND lSahsattyteeanrk,ibrkutwhaes’ns’tseweinthgTraomwtphaiBnatyhe Bolts after a bumpy start to 2019-20.
BAY WITH BITE Tampa started adding snarl in the off-season with Maroon and brought in even more at the trade deadline.