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On Thin Ice: The NHL Playoffs in a Pandemic

With the new playoff format for the condensed 2020 season, the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are already down to their close with only four teams left. The Dallas Stars are playing the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Tampa Bay Lightning face off against the New York Islanders in what will be a surprisingly important playoff run for building momentum into the next season. 

Recap

The Stars came out of pool play ranked third in the West Division, pitting them against a sixth-ranked Calgary, the lowest the Flames have been ranked going into the last rounds of the playoffs in several seasons. After a decisive four to one streak against the Alberta team, the Stars would go on to play the young Colorado Avalanche. Dallas started strong, winning the first two games right off the bat, but Colorado came back to win one game, making the record two to one. Dallas won the next game, giving them a two-game boost, which the Avs quickly tied up at three to three and forcing a Game Seven last minute. While the Stars ultimately came out on top, they were left bruised by the Avs, needing to rest up for the next series against Vegas. 

Vegas started first in their division, playing the last seeded Chicago Blackhawks. They only lost the third game, with the other victories coming in an expected fashion. With their boost going into the next round, the Knights would face off against the Vancouver Canucks who just put down the defending Stanley Cup champions in a series to six. Though having a dominating opening game, winning five zip, the Knights would have to put the pedal to the metal as the Canucks brought the series to seven. As another young team, the Canucks had a lot to prove, and even though they ended up losing the series, they gave Vegas a beating, while also coming back from trailing three to one. Vegas recouped and got back on the horse to square off with Dallas in the next round.

Moving East, the Tampa Bay Lightning went into the playoffs second in the division. They opened with the seventh-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets, winning four to one. This series was fairly balanced on behalf of the Bolts. They did not blow out the Jacket at any point, and it looked like their regular-season scores. This is from the team who holds the record for the most dominant regular season ever. Next was their old-time playoff nemesis, the Boston Bruins, who lost the Cup last year against the Blues in a tragic loss, and with a team whose greats are aging out, they are gunning for a Cup in the next few seasons. It was not for them this year, though. After losing the first game, Tampa Bay easily swept the Bruins and prepared for an expected opponent, the New York Islanders.

The Islanders held their opening series with the Washington Capitals, a more experienced team with a lot of athletes having a record-breaking year for the last few seasons. The Isles are the only underdogs to still be in this. They started ranked sixth and played the third-seeded Caps in the first round. While some fans think the Isles have a much less put together team with really only one star, a couple of players may crack the award nominations at the end of the season. They won similarly to the Bolts with a four to one win with consistent scores, barring Game Five, where they won four-nil, and this was much-needed momentum going into the following series. Next up was the Philadelphia Flyers who had an incredible pool play performance, and came into their own this season. In this battle between two young teams, the Islanders took an early three to one lead, but thanks to a stellar performance by the Flyers up and coming goalie, Philly brought it back to even, forcing a Game Seven. The Islanders ended up sweeping the final game, scoring two early in the first, and then one in the second and third, holding a shutout as the Flyers went home scoreless. 

The first game in the Western Conference Final was a nail biter, with the only goal scored the entire game coming from Dallas’ Klingberg in the first. Dallas lost the second game by three, with no goals scored in all three periods, coming in second to Vegas. The Stars won on Sep. 4 by one in overtime and won against the Golden Knights on Sep. 12, putting them back in the lead and they play again on Sep. 14. Over to the east, the Bolts crushed the Islanders in the first game, winning eight to two and then winning again by one. 

[bf_image id="5vtnjn3bkf4fpcjnjhvk4qft"] Awards

The NHL Awards have not all been announced yet, and the three most important trophies are still up for grabs. The Calder Watch is something to keep an eye on. While Chicago’s Kubalik is probably out of the conversation by this point, Vancouver’s Hughes and Colorado’s Makar had stunning playoff performances, with neither team being able to get where they are without those two men. The Hart and the Ted Lindsay all have the same three nominations: Nathan McKinnon from the Avs, Artemi Panarin from the Rangers and Leon Draisaitl from the Oilers. While McKinnon was the only one to get to the playoffs and is the front runner for both awards, Draisaitl has been consistently under-recognized for the last few seasons and his nomination has been a long time coming. 

So watch some games, pick a favorite, and root for them for the rest of the season. Happy Hockey!

You can find the full game schedule for both conferences here

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An English major who loves sports and has a strong desire to move to New Zealand
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