Top 5 Storylines for the NHL Play-In and Playoff Games
Written by Raffi Sarrafian
With hearing about the 24 team playoff getting approved by the NHL Players Association on Friday, we can now get a rough idea of how all 24 teams will be formatted in the playoffs. We are unsure who will be playing who yet and we also wait for the official announcement of the playoff bracket, but we at least know the 24 teams in the playoffs. With that, there are a few teams that I believe winning the cup will mean more to their organization and fans this year. Here are my top 5 teams that if they win the cup this year, it will mean much more than being a champion:
1. Boston Bruins
Last season the Bruins had a great season with 107 points before last year's playoffs, and with trade deadline additions in Marcus Johansson, and Charlie Coyle, the Boston Bruins were able to make a deep cup run that ended at the latest point of the playoffs. A game 7 loss to the St. Louis Blues. Over the offseason there were questions surrounding whether or not there would be a runner up hangover for the Bruins in the 2019-2020 NHL season, but they brushed those off as they finished the regular season with 100 points in 70 games, giving them the Presidents’ Trophy for this season. Only 2 teams ( the 2012-2013 Blackhawks and the 2007-2008 Red Wings) in the last 15 years have won the Stanley Cup in the same year as they won the Presidents’ Trophy. The Boston Bruins enter the playoffs looking to be the third team in recent years to win the cup, and banish the demons from game 7 of the cup finals last season.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
If the Stanley Cup was awarded to the team that was the best in the regular season, the Lightning would’ve won the Stanley Cup a month before the playoffs started. With Hart winner Nikita Kucherov, the 128 point Tampa Bay Lightning were poised to make a deep playoff run and win their first Stanley Cup since the 2003-2004 season. Little did they realize how hot Columbus was as the Blue Jackets swept the Presidents’ Trophy winners, out scoring them 19-8. Nikita Kucherov was only held to 2 points in 3 games, and a boarding call in game 2 didn’t help Kucherov, as he was suspended the next game for his cheap shot on Columbus defensemen Markus Nutivaara at the start of the third. It couldn’t have been any worse for Tampa Bay, as their strong regular season success in the last decade hasn’t transferred yet into a Stanley Cup. Watch out for the Lightning as they try to have a bounce back championship run like we saw last year with Virginia in college basketball.
3. Any Canadian Playoff Team
For a sport that is predominantly Canadian (42.8% of players were born in Canada), the teams up in Canada have struggled to bring the Stanley Cup back to a Canadian city. Since the 1992-1993 Montreal Canadiens, a team from Canada has yet to hoist the Stanley Cup. Since then, 5 Stanley Cup matchups have had one of the teams from Canada (Vancouver 1993-1994, Calgary 2003-2004, Edmonton 2005-2006, Ottawa 2006-2007, Vancouver 2010-2011), all of them losing in the Stanley Cup finals. This season, 6 of the 7 Canadian teams (Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto) are in the play-in plan and hope to finally end the Canadian team championship drought. The cup back in Canada will mean much more than any American team this year Look out for Vancouver, Edmonton, and Toronto as the front runners of the 6 Canadian teams to win the cup this year.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
As just mentioned, a Canadian team winning the Stanley Cup this season would be huge, but if the Maple Leafs were that Canadian team to win the cup this year, Toronto would go into a frenzy. Toronto has made the playoffs the last 3 years, and lost in the first round all 3 years. The last two came against the Boston Bruins where they lost in 7 games both times. Beating Columbus would be nice to continue this playoff streak, but to beat the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs would have Toronto celebrating all night long. I’m interested to see how Toronto’s defense steps up in the play-in games, as well as how Fedrick Andersen plays. If Toronto wants to have playoff success this season for the first time in a while, they’ll need to tighten up on defense, and they’ll need lots of offensive production from Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares. If the stars align in the perfect way possible, Toronto could finally make it to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since the 2001-2002 season.
5. New York Rangers
After back to back seasons with below 80 points, the Rangers set out last offseason to turn their team back into the contender they were a few years prior. They made some big splashes by drafting Kaapo Kakko with the second overall pick, signing superstar Artemi Panarin, and trading for Justin Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets. At the halfway point of the 2019-2020 season, the Rangers were sitting at 19-18-4, and it looked like the Rangers were going to miss the playoffs once again this season. Since then, they have gone on a tear with a record of 18-10-1, and if the regular season played out, there’s no question the Rangers would’ve made the playoffs for sure. If the Rangers find their spark again versus Carolina in the play-in games, the Rangers could be a very underrated team to win the Stanley Cup. The biggest storyline for the New York Rangers would be the fact that Henrik Lunqvist isn’t getting younger, and all hockey fans would be happy to see the king finally get his cup that he deserves.