Kevin Gallagher – Sports Writer
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are in full swing with the Conference Finals currently taking place. This postseason has been a weird one due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. Like the NBA, the NHL also used a bubble format. The NHL had one bubble for the Western conference in Edmonton and one bubble for the Eastern Conference in Toronto.
The playoffs began with a qualifying round for the eight lower seed teams and a round robin for the top four teams in each conference. The qualifying rounds saw multiple upsets, with the 12th seed Montreal Canadiens beat the 5th seed Pittsburgh Penguins in four games, the 12th seed Blackhawks beat the 5th seed Edmonton Oilers, and the 11th seed Arizona Coyotes beating the 6th seed Nashville Predators. These upsets could be attributed to the playoff format being altered from a seven-game to a five-game series.
The first round of the playoffs had the winners of the qualifying rounds and the round robin teams. The Vancouver Canucks were the only qualifying round team to make it to the second round beating the St. Louis Blues in six games. Vancouver would later be knocked out of the second round after losing a hard fought seven-game series to the Golden Knights.
The Conference finals are currently underway with the New York Islanders playing the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference, and the Dallas Stars and Golden Knights playing in the Western Conference. Tampa currently has a 3-1 lead over the Islanders and the Stars have a 3-1 lead over the Golden Knights.
I expect to see the Islanders put up a fight against the Lightning, but I ultimately think the Lightning will advance to the Stanley Cup final in six games. If the Lightning win the series, this will be the first time they have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final since 2015 when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. Expect to see Dallas finish off Vegas in either game five or six as Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin has done a spectacular job leading the goaltending in Dallas after starter Ben Bishop was ruled unfit to play. Dallas has not been to the Stanley Cup final since losing to the New Jersey Devils in 2000.
This Stanley Cup final will be fun to watch as all four teams in the conference final have not won a Stanley cup since the 1990s or the early 2000s.