I’m going to pretend to be an optimist for a few minutes here. We’re all going to assume, for the sake of argument, that guidelines and protocols will be followed closely enough for this 24 team continuation to even happen.
Of the eight teams set to have a bye-week, the one I’ll be watching closest is Washington. This playoff situation is potentially very exciting for them for one simple reason: no Pens in Round 2. While the demons seemed to be exorcised in the 2018 playoffs, the Caps have historically been hounded by Pittsburgh. With this proposed bracket, there’s a chance (a slim one, if they actually end up playing the 12th seed Canadiens) that the Pens could get knocked out before the real “playoffs” start. More likely, however, is that they do beat Montreal. In that case, they would (again) most likely play Philadelphia. This is great, not only for the Caps, but for hockey overall. The Pennsylvania rivalry is one of the best in hockey, especially since the Flyers were doing so well this season. All of this is great. (The thought of Philly kicking the Pens out of contention, not going to lie, also sounds great.)
Now, we should probably take a look at who they could be facing.
There are some formidable players on the Carolina roster. They have a good mix of veterans and young blood, from Justin Williams to Andrei Svechnikov. The young guns were tearing it up. Aho was having a great season, averaging just under a point per game, while Teravainen and Svechnikov weren’t very far behind. The rest of the team is less impressive. The Caps and Canes split their four games evenly.
There are a couple of question marks when it comes to the Canes. Dougie Hamilton was out with a broken leg for a long time. He should be ready to come back if/when hockey comes back, which is great. But he also hasn’t played with the team in months, who knows how much ice time he’s had at all. He may come back, but I’m not sure he’ll be the same Hamilton he was before the break.
Another question comes from the three trades from the end of February: Trocheck, Skjei, and Vatanen. Skjei and Trocheck managed to notch one and two points, respectively, in 7 games each. Vatanen, on the other hand, didn’t play a single game with the team. The obvious issue is that these players are basically brand new to everyone. It would be really impressive if they all could slot into the Carolina machine seamlessly, I just don’t see that happening.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Unlike Carolina, the Rangers have a superstar in their midst. Panarin had 95 points in 69 games before the season was put on hold. Obviously he’s a game-changing type of player. What makes New York more intimidating is that they have 10 other 20+ goal scorers on the roster.
The Rangers have a few things going for them. For one, they didn’t have many transactions at the trade deadline, so the only player they need to “break in” is Julien Gauthier, who already has 12 games with the team.
They flew under the radar for so much of the season because, despite the fact that they were successful, they didn’t have too many extraordinary performances. Though they were seventh in the Metropolitan, they were only 10 points out of second in the division.
Personally, I would put my faith in the Rangers over the Hurricanes. In 5 games, my prediction is that New York wins in 4. In the regular season, Carolina did not win a single game against them. Anything can happen, but based on this season’s performances, it would shock me if the Canes managed to get it together in the months off.
Assuming the Rangers make it to face off against the Caps, I’m optimistic that Washington can clinch the win before game 7.
-Heidi Thomas (@DamselonDrums)
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