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Predicting the qualifying round

Hockey is back and the Stanley Cup playoffs begin in earnest on Saturday. Here’s some predictions on how qualifying round could play out.


In what feels like a lifetime ago at this point, we broke down the eight qualifying round matchups and assigned them a rating based on their watchability for the average NHL fan. Some series were rated as must watch television for all fans while other left much to be desired and may be best reserved for fans of the participating squads.

When that piece published, there was still a mountain of uncertainty as to whether or not the NHL was actually going to be able to pull this plan off successfully. With the pandemic still raging across the globe, their proposed idea seemed good on paper but in reality perhaps less so.

Well, lo and behold, two months after the plan was announced, the NHL is now just a day away from playing real hockey again. Somehow, someway, the NHL made it all work and hockey is back. As final preparations are underway in Toronto and Edmonton, let’s make some predictions for the eight qualifying series that will kick things off starting Saturday.

The Bracket

Before we get into predictions, less first look at the bracket to refresh everyone on the matchups at hand in the qualifying round along with the four teams from each conference that will be playing round robin for their seeding.

This year’s setup will not work in typical bracket fashion like you may be used to from previous years. All playoff matchups will be determined by seeding in each round.

For example, if the Penguins win their series as the #5 seed, they will play whichever team comes out of the round robin as #4 seed in the first round. On the flip side, if the Canadiens win as the #12 seed, they know they will face-off against the #1 seed in the first round. The teams will reseed after every round for the whole of the playoffs.

via @NHL


Here’s the schedule for the qualifying round set to begin on Saturday and run through August 9th should it be necessary. You can also find the lineup for the round robin seeding games below as well.

via Yahoo! Sports

Now, let’s get to the predictions.

Eastern Conference

Before the shutdown back in March, the Eastern Conference playoff chase was setting up to be quite a show with multiple teams competing for only a handful of spots. Now with the expanded playoff for this season, those teams plus a few others will join an incredibly deep conference slate that should provide plenty of elite hockey for fans to watch.

No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens

This is the series that will garner the most interest here at Pensburgh, but from an outside standpoint it offers little in the way of overall intrigue. The Penguins were cruising for a playoff spot while the Canadiens were days away from being eliminated before the shutdown occurred. Now they will face-off in a best-of-five series to see who advances.

The Penguins are fully loaded and look primed for another deep playoff run while the Canadiens have some skill but the matchups do not play to their favor. On paper this looks like a lopsided affair, but anything can happen in a short series.

Series Prediction: Penguins in 4


Who is your pick to advance?

This poll is closed

  • 94%
    Pittsburgh Penguins
    (797 votes)
  • 5%
    Montreal Canadiens
    (43 votes)
840 votes total Vote Now

No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers

There’s a reason Carolina voted against the NHL’s return plan and this is it right here. Prior to the season pause, the Hurricanes were tracking for a second straight playoff berth but will now have to play a qualifier against a Rangers team that beat them four times during the regular season.

If the Hurricanes are to advance they will have to do so without star defenseman Dougie Hamilton who is out weeks after sustaining an injury. Whether or not Hamilton plays again this season will rely on how the Hurricanes fair against this Rangers team with plenty of questions of their own.

Series Prediction: Hurricanes in 5


Who is your pick to advance?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Carolina Hurricanes
    (390 votes)
  • 45%
    New York Rangers
    (321 votes)
711 votes total Vote Now

No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10. Florida Panthers

Depending on how much weight you placed on the exhibition contests this week it may influence how you feel about this series. The Islanders grinded out a 2-1 victory in their typical fashion while the Panthers and Sergei Bobrovsky looked like a sieve in their blowout loss.

The Islanders can defend with the best of them and they will need that defense to come up big against the high flying offense the Panthers will dress. Both sides were in a downward spiral when the season shutdown back in March and were heading for the golf courses rather than the playoffs. This summer provides a reset and a fresh start to prove they belong.

Series Prediction: Islanders in 4


Who is your pick to advance?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    New York Islanders
    (484 votes)
  • 29%
    Florida Panthers
    (199 votes)
683 votes total Vote Now

No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets

Both Toronto and Columbus has tumultuous seasons just for very different reasons. The Maple Leafs struggled out of the gate which led to the firing of Mike Babcock as head coach to be replaced by Sheldon Keefe. On the other side, the Blue Jackets were decimated by injuries all season.

Despite the obstacles, both teams live to fight another day and will now go head-to-head in a qualifying series. The break allowed the Blue Jackets ample time to heal and they will need everyone playing their best to slow down the speed and offensive prowess the Maple Leafs bring to the table.

Series Prediction: Maple Leafs in 4


Who is your pick to advance?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Toronto Maple Leafs
    (395 votes)
  • 44%
    Columbus Blue Jackets
    (312 votes)
707 votes total Vote Now

Bonus: Round Robin Seeding

The top four teams in the East will play a round robin format to determine their seeding heading for the rest of the playoffs. For these games, the NHL will apply regular season rules for points and overtime.

Seeding Prediction: Tampa Bay Lighting, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals


Who do you pick to be the No. 1 seed in the East?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Boston Bruins
    (274 votes)
  • 44%
    Tampa Bay Lightning
    (321 votes)
  • 13%
    Washington Capitals
    (95 votes)
  • 4%
    Philadelphia Flyers
    (32 votes)
722 votes total Vote Now

Western Conference

Like the East, the Western Conference playoff picture was also shaping up to be a sprint to the finish line. When the season was paused back in March, there were six teams within six points of each other in the battle for the wild card spots. An expanded playoffs means all six of those teams are in the playoffs, including a seventh who was barely staying alive when the shutdown occurred.

No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks

Like Carolina in the East, Edmonton was heading towards a playoff berth with relative ease but will now face a short series against a veteran laden Blackhawks team to stay alive. Can the Oilers’ offense do enough to overwhelm the experienced Blackhawks in a short series? That’s what we are about to find out.

Edmonton boats two of the top scorers in the game, but their defensive numbers leave much to be desired. You know the moment won’t be too big for this Blackhawks team who boast plenty of weapons themselves. For a 5 v. 12 matchup, this series feels truly up in the air.

Series Prediction: Oilers in 5


Who is your pick to advance?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    Edmonton Oilers
    (467 votes)
  • 23%
    Chicago Blackhawks
    (147 votes)
614 votes total Vote Now

No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes

Just glancing at these two rosters gives you the impression that the Predators should be heavy favorites over this young Coyotes squad. The big question mark heading into this series is just what kind of goaltending the Predators will get. Pekka Rinne has been outperformed by his backup Juuse Saros all season and the leash could be incredibly short for the former Vezina winner.

On the other side, Darcy Kuemper has kept the Coyotes afloat as one of the best goalies in hockey, and this five game format lends itself to a hot goalie stealing enough wins to help a team advance. The veteran Predators look to be a better bet to advance, but if the goaltending fails, so could they.

Series Prediction: Predators in 4


Who is your pick to advance?

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    Nashville Predators
    (403 votes)
  • 31%
    Arizona Coyotes
    (184 votes)
587 votes total Vote Now

No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild

This matchup features the young guns of Vancouver getting their first taste of playoff hockey against the heavily experienced (although aging) core of the Wild. Before the shutdown, both sides were on the playoff bubble the Canucks were looking like a much better side coming down the stretch.

These are two teams with two very different styles so it should be worth watching to see how they play up against one another. It’s hard to ignore the speed and offense the Canucks are loaded with, but this will be the first playoff experience for many of their young guys. Perhaps the Wild can rely on their experience to make one final Cup push with the core group.

Series Prediction: Canucks in 5


Who is your pick to advance?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    Vancouver Canucks
    (413 votes)
  • 29%
    Minnesota Wild
    (174 votes)
587 votes total Vote Now

No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets

They may have finished only a spot apart in the regular season standings, but this may turn out to be one of the biggest mismatches of the qualifying round. If not for Connor Hellebuyck putting together a Vezina type season, the Jets could very well be further down the seeding if not out of the playoffs totally.

This was not the season the Flames imagined all the way back in October, but this matchup plays right into their hands. They have a deep offensive attack that should put the Jets leaky defense on its heels from the very get go. If the Jets can find a way to score the Flames, this could be a tight series, but other than, relying strictly on Hellebuyck might be asking too much.

Series Prediction: Flames in 4


Who is your pick to advance?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Calgary Flames
    (281 votes)
  • 51%
    Winnipeg Jets
    (301 votes)
582 votes total Vote Now

Bonus: Round Robin Seeding

The four Western Conference teams will play one another to determine seeding following the same format and rules the Eastern Conference will follow.

Seeding Prediction: St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars


Who do you pick to be the No. 1 seed in the West?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    St. Louis Blues
    (128 votes)
  • 55%
    Colorado Avalanche
    (334 votes)
  • 20%
    Vegas Golden Knights
    (122 votes)
  • 3%
    Dallas Stars
    (22 votes)
606 votes total Vote Now

I’m sure everyone has their own thoughts and predictions on the upcoming qualifying round so make sure to vote above and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and discuss among other readers.

Everything gets underway on Saturday at noon and there will be games on all day long throughout the qualifying round. On top of the qualifiers, we also have a dozen round robin contests that will begin on Sunday.

It’s been a long wait, but Hockey. Is. Back.