With the NHL’s restart quickly approaching, one thing many people are doing at this time are predictions of the Qualifying Series and the Round Robin tournaments. In the Eastern Conference Round Robin, the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, and Tampa Bay Lightning, will play three games each to figure out the order of the top four seed in the Eastern Conference’s side of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. All four teams have high expectations and big questions heading into the series, and with each team looking like heavy favorites in their respective way, each fanbase has a reason to assume this year could be their year. Here’s how we think things could shake out.
Record Prediction: 0 – 3
The Flyers are an interesting team as their mix of youth and veteran leadership should make them poised for an exceptional Eastern Conference Round Robin tourney, but while Carter Hart has been a fantastic story and his talent at such a young age should excite Flyers fans, a question has to be raised as to whether he can hold his own and not crack under pressure in the biggest stage in the NHL. The youth in goal mixed with the Flyers competing with three other powerhouses in the East lead to the prediction of their poor record. The defense core is fantastic, and their offense is nothing to scoff at either. With this, it would not be surprising to see the Flyers perform well since it is only a short tournament where each team only played three games, but one team has to perform poorly, and it seems like the Flyers fit that mold. While this does not reflect on how they could potentially do in the playoffs, there is the potential they could see the other teams in the round-robin soar past them, pitting them against a potential higher-seeded match-up in the first round.
Record Prediction: 1 – 2
The Bruins were at the top of the NHL before the break and were looking like they could make a return to the Stanley Cup Finals and avenge their loss. This season’s team consists of practically the same players aside from a few trades such as acquiring Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie at the Trade Deadline. A major question facing the Bruins can be if their older roster can handle making another run at the Stanley Cup. Fortunately for them, the months off have allowed their older core to get some much-needed rest. This rest is dependent on whether they made sure to stay in relatively good shape during the quarantine, but considering the culture of success surrounding the Bruins, this seems like a certainty. The reason for their record being somewhat lackluster is due to their older roster. A team like the Bruins may take some time to get going, but once these four games are up they should be in first gear ready to compete. With some of the best goaltending in the league, arguably the best line in hockey, and a scary defense core to match, the Bruins should be performing well once the playoffs start.
Record Prediction: 2 – 1
Washington, like the Bruins, consists of an older roster that may make them prone to a slower start. Washington’s major question rests in goal. With Ilya Samsonov suffering an injury while training, Holtby is in the driver’s seat for the Capitals’ playoff run, however long it may be; however, unlike a normal situation when they would have Samsonov there if Holtby struggles in the playoffs, that is now the job of Vitek Vanecek or Pheonix Copley. Aside from the goaltending, the team looks quite capable of winning their second Stanley Cup in three years. With an offensive core consisting of Alexander Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, Jakub Vrana, and much more depth, it would be foolish to assume this team can’t go far. Norris Trophy finalist John Carlson has the skill and will power to lead a defensive core to a deep playoff run as well.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Record Prediction: 3 – 0
The Tampa Bay Lightning should come into the Eastern Conference Round Robin as hungry as ever. After a slow start to the season, and a historic collapse in last year’s playoffs, this is the time when Tampa Bay can prove all the doubters wrong and get off to a good start in their efforts to remove the undesired chokers label. One of the only questions regarding the Lightning is whether or not they will have the mental strength to go far in the playoffs. For seasons now, they have been at the top of the Eastern Conference but have yet to reach the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup. They have one of the best balances of youth and veteran leadership in the league, with lots of the youth within the team having experienced playoff hockey. Victor Hedman has had an exceptional season, even being nominated for the Norris Trophy. They have a Vezina Trophy finalist in Andrei Vasilevskiy, as well as a dynamic forward core. The Lightning are poised for a run at the cup.
The Eastern Conference Round Robin will present a refreshing return to hockey. While many viewers will be tuning into the play-in rounds which act as a precursor to the traditional four rounds of the playoffs, the Round Robin tourney will show off the favorites in the East and build potential feuds and hatred for a potential match-up later in the playoffs.