We are heading down the home stretch for the 2019-20 season and there are a number of intriguing matchups if the playoffs started today.
From rematches to boiling-hot rivalries, hockey fans should be excited if some of these possibilities hold through the remainder of the regular season. Every team has at least 30 games remaining, so a lot could change before the playoffs are set in stone. It’s always nice to look at the playoff picture as it molds, though.
Talk about some first-round matchups!
Which series would you be most excited for? pic.twitter.com/QkfrPQ3Sqi
— NHL (@NHL) January 23, 2020
In the Eastern Conference, the Capitals and Hurricanes would square off for the second straight year in the first round. As for the West, the Battle of Alberta — with its reignited rivalry thanks to the Matthew Tkachuk/Zack Kassian situation — is a seven-game series all fans should want.
Here are how the teams line up for the playoffs at the All-Star Break:
M1 Washington Capitals vs. WC2 Carolina Hurricanes
Last season, the Carolina Hurricanes pulled off an unexpected upset of the Metropolitan Division champion Washington Capitals in seven games. While many expected Alex Ovechkin and company to take down the “Surge,” Carolina — along with all three other wild card teams — prevailed.
This year, perhaps fans would be more hesitant while filling out their brackets. Justin Williams (AKA “Mr. Game 7”) is back and should the Canes hold on to a wild card spot, they are not to be underestimated this go-round.
Washington: 71 points (33-11-5)
Carolina: 61 points (29-18-3)
M2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. M3 New York Islanders
Yet another 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff rematch. Last season, the Islanders swept the Penguins in the first round before being swept themselves by Carolina in round two.
Should the Penguins exact revenge, we could see the birth of a modern rivalry thanks to the NHL’s playoff seeding format, which, by the way, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
Pittsburgh: 67 points (31-14-5)
N.Y. Islanders: 63 points (29-15-5)
A1 Boston Bruins vs. WC1 Columbus Blue Jackets
Would it be odd to say this matchup favors the underdog? To be fair, after what happened in last year’s first round any matchup could favor the Blue Jackets. Boston has the second-most points in the league (70) and while they are strong candidates for another Stanley Cup Finals appearance, Columbus has been on a hot streak: they’re riding a 10-2 run into the All-Star Break.
Looking at this matchup without the lens of last season’s Columbus sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston should be able to handle the Blue Jackets. They did beat the Blue Jackets in six games last year. But we don’t know for sure — that’s what makes playoff hockey great.
Boston: 70 points (29-10-12)
Columbus: 62 points (27-16-8)
A2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. A3 Florida Panthers
Welcome to the Battle of Florida.
Tampa Bay would surely like to put their playoff jitters to rest while the Florida Panthers want to prove they are a team worth mentioning in the Stanley Cup conversation. The good news with this matchup would feature an apparent lack of jetlag.
Tampa Bay: 62 points (29-15-4)
Florida: 61 points (28-16-5)
C1 St. Louis Blues vs. WC2 Vegas Golden Knights
St. Louis’ route to the Finals looks a lot cleaner in 2020. Last year, St. Louis had to battle without home-ice advantage in all but one series, with every one lasting at least six games. The Blues hold the No. 1 seed in the entire Western Conference; they shouldn’t be too worried about home-ice advantage this postseason.
Vegas squared off with rival San Jose in each of its first two playoffs runs ever. Against the Blues, the Golden Knights now arguably see a tougher test ahead of them in 2020.
St. Louis: 68 points (30-11-8)
Vegas: 57 points (25-20-7)
C2 Colorado Avalanche vs. C3 Dallas Stars
This is quite an interesting matchup. Colorado — a team powered by youngsters such as Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar — is hot. The only team that has seemingly been able to slow the Avs down is . . . drumroll please . . . Dallas. Offense is key for Colorado, which is second in the NHL with 179 goals. In Dallas, defense is at a premium; they have allowed the fewest goals (120) in the league.
Both teams have their eyes set on the Division title, but should they meet, the Stars hold the season lead over the Avalanche with a 4-0-0 record. The Avs did push the Stars past 60 minutes on two occasions, falling once in overtime and once in a shootout.
Colorado: 62 points (28-15-6)
Dallas: 58 points (27-17-4)
P1 Vancouver Canucks vs. WC1 Arizona Coyotes
Who saw this coming? The Vancouver Canucks are leading the Pacific at this point in the season, and the Arizona Coyotes are vying for a playoff spot. We’ll tell you who: the fans.
Vancouver fans should be excited with their young nucleus of players, namely Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. The Coyotes took a different approach, rebuilding through acquisitions via trades for players like Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall. Which method is best? Well, whichever one makes it to the second round.
Vancouver: 58 Points (27-18-4)
Arizona: 57 points (26-20-5)
P2 Edmonton Oilers vs. P3 Calgary Flames
Who wouldn’t want to see this? The Battle of Alberta is alive and well after Zack Kassian’s feud with Matthew Tkachuk boiled over earlier this month.
Fans are eager to see how the two teams compete in their next meeting on Jan. 29, but a seven-game series might be spoiling us. These teams are deadlocked at 57 points apiece with Calgary playing one more game. If they remain in-step the rest of the way, grab the popcorn.
Edmonton: 57 points (26-18-5)
Calgary: 57 points (26-19-5)
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