The NHL is officially back. After suspending play in March because of the coronavirus, the NHL has officially opened up play in the bubble cities of Edmonton (Western Conference) and Toronto (Eastern Conference) respectively. The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs officially began play with qualifier and round-robin games starting on August 1. Since there was such a long break between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, it is hard to predict which teams will make it to the Stanley Cup Final. With that in mind, here are the top four Stanley Cup contenders in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After losing on home ice in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Blues last year, the Bruins came out hungry for redemption this year. Boston was a juggernaut during the regular season, racking up 100 points in 70 games played. The Bruins were awarded the President’s Trophy for having the highest point total during the 2019-2020 season. Boston is led on offense by their elite first line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeon and Brad Marchand. Patrnak is one of the top scorers in the NHL, putting up 95 points (3rd in the league) and 48 goals (tied for 1st) during the season. Marchand and Bergeon are two of the best two-way forwards in the league, putting up 87 points (59 assists) and 56 points (31 goals) respectively. The Bruins have depth on their four forward lines and are led on the back end by team captain Zdeno Chara and elite offensive defenseman Torey Krug (49 points). The Bruins also boast one of the NHL’s strongest goalie tandems with the league leader in goals-against average Tukka Rask (2.12 GAA) and veteran Jaroslav Halak (2.39 GAA).
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues don’t believe in a Stanley Cup hangover. After winning the first cup in the long-suffering franchise’s history last year, the Blues came out the gates swinging this season. Playing a physical all-around brand of hockey, the Blues led the Western Conference with 94 points in 71 games played. The Blues kept putting up wins this season despite losing key players to injuries, most importantly their Russian goal-scorer Vladimir Tarasenko. The Blues should benefit from having their most talented goal-scorer back for the playoffs. With Tarasenko out for most of the season, the Blues were led on offense by Selke and Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly is one of the top two-way forwards in the game and led the team with 61 points (49 assists). The Blues benefitted greatly from their elite forward depth this season, with David Perron (60 points), Brayden Schenn (58 points) and Jaden Schwartz (57 points) putting in strong performances. On the back end, St. Louis is led by their captain and elite two-way defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (52 points) and Colton Parayko. In net, the Blues feature the strong goalie tandem of last season’s phenom Jordan Binnington (2.56 GAA) and one of the league’s best backups in Jake Allen (2.15 GAA).
The Avalanche built off of last year’s surprise playoff run to the Conference Semifinals and proved that it wasn’t a fluke. Colorado recorded 92 points in 70 games played this season, which was good enough for second in the Western Conference. On offense, the Avs are led by franchise center Nathan MacKinnon (93 points), who is arguably the best player in the NHL. Colorado supplements MacKinnon with solid forward depth including Andre Burakovsky (45 points), team captain Gabriel Landeskog (44 points) and Mikko Rantanen. On defense, the Avs are led by rookie phenom Cale Makar (50 points) and Samuel Girard. Colorado also boasts a solid goalie tandem in Philipp Grubauer (2.63 GAA) and Pavel Francouz (2.41 GAA) who split time in net.
Tampa Bay Lightning
After suffering an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the underdog Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round last year, the Lightning are trying to turn the page for this season. Playing an all-around clean and fast brand of hockey, the Bolts are trying to make another deep run in the playoffs before their cup window closes. Tampa Bay added some solid complementary pieces in the off-season (Patrick Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk) which helped them put up 92 points in 70 games played, second in the Eastern Conference. The Bolts are led on offense by elite Russian winger Nikita Kucherov (85 points), team captain Steven Stamkos (66 points) and Brayden Point (64 points). On the back end, the Lightning are led by elite two-way defenseman Victor Hedman (55 points), veteran offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (34 points) and Mikhail Sergachev (34 points). In between the pipes, the Bolts are led by elite goaltender and last year’s Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy (2.56 GAA). The main question mark for the Lightning heading into the playoffs is the health of Stamkos, who is integral to the team’s success.