It only took three Game 7’s to get to this point, but the NHL’s postseason has finally reached the Conference Finals, and four teams are set to vie for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
The second round had it all. A back-and-forth series between the third-seeded Stars and fourth-seeded Avalanche, which saw more than 50 goals scored over the series’ seven games and an eventual advancement for the higher-seeded squad. A final push from a Canadian team in hopes of the country’s first Stanley Cup in what feels like forever, all for it to end at the hands of the top-seeded Vegas Golden Knights.
A relative upset as the second-seeded Lightning took down the reigning Eastern Conference champion Bruins, who finished as the conference’s top team from the regular season. And, finally, a near-miraculous comeback from the top-seeded Flyers, which still ended in a Cinderella story in Game 7 for the sixth-seeded Islanders.
Now, the stage is set for some real postseason magic, as if the last two paragraphs weren’t enough for hockey fans to enjoy. Four teams will take over the league’s bubble in Edmonton, all with a chance at immortality hanging in the balance.
Looking for any information about the two Conference Finals and their respective schedules? Check out our full guide and breakdown to keep yourself up-to-date:
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars
If hockey was just a sport focused on a team’s offensive prowess, the Dallas Stars would have their upcoming series against the Vegas Golden Knights in the bag.
Over the course of seven games, a combined 57 goals were tallied between the Stars and Colorado Avalanche. 28 of those goals were scored by the Stars. Averaging four goals per game in any series seems like a winning formula, but not when your defense is giving up 29 in the same time span.
On the flip side, the top-seeded Golden Knights put together a near-perfect series if every one of them had to go to seven games. They put up three shutouts over the course of the seven games, and netted at least three goals in each of their four victories.
They kept up a solid trend from the series prior, where they took down the Blackhawks in just five games, scoring 15 times in those battles.
The presence of forward Max Pacioretty (five goals and two assists in his 11 postseason appearances in 2020) has paid dividends for Vegas, while goalie Robin Lehner (.918 save percentage and eight wins in 12 starts) has been a steady hand in net to give the squad a sense of consistency.
The Stars will need continued production from playoff constant Joe Pavelski and forward Denis Gurianov (both with eight goals in 16 postseason games in 2020), along with key defenders Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg (16 and 10 assists, respectively) to keep their offensive pace going.
At the same time, goalies Anton Khudobin (.909 save percentage in 14 postseason games) and Ben Bishop (.844 save percentage in three postseason games) will need to step up their play if they have any hopes of stifling the Golden Knights defensively.
It’s never fun to keep picking the top seed in any either conference, but it’s tough to pick against such a sound, well-rounded team like the Golden Knights, especially given their postseason experience in recent years.
Prediction: Golden Knights win in six games
Game 1: Sunday, September 6 at 8 p.m. ET
Game 2: Tuesday, September 8 at 8 p.m. ET
Game 3: Thursday, September 10 at 8 p.m. ET
Game 4: Saturday, September 12 at 8 p.m. ET
Game 5 (if necessary): Monday, September 14 at 8 p.m. ET
Game 6 (if necessary): Wednesday, September 16 at 8 p.m. ET
Game 7 (if necessary): Friday, September 18 at 9 p.m. ET
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 6 New York Islanders
Somehow, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s win over the view could be viewed as an upset, despite the way the seeding worked out after the Eastern Conference’s Round Robin at the beginning of bubble play.
Even with the second seed in the conference, the Lightning appeared to be underdogs, especially given Steven Stamkos’ absence from the lineup throughout their grueling opening series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Then, those expectations were lowered even more as Nikita Kucherov got hurt in the midst of their series against the Bruins.
Despite it all, they looked like the clearly-better team in that series against the Blue Jackets, and especially against the Bruins. They put up three goals per game in Games 2-5, even dropping a seven piece on the Bruins in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead. And, they fought through adversity to win a tightly-contested, double-overtime game in Game 5 to close the series out.
Match that up against the New York Islanders path to the Conference Finals, and it seems like a cakewalk. The Islanders took a 3-1 series lead, and the Cinderella run looked as if it would be continuing into the next round after all. Game 5 comes along, and the Flyers take it 4-3 overtime. Game 6 up next? Another Flyers victory, this time in a 5-4 overtime win.
Undeterred, however, the Islanders put up a clinic in Game 7, as four different skaters tallied goals to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993.
Thomas Greiss, the 34-year-old Islanders goalie who saved the day in Game 7, stopped all 16 of the shots the Flyers put on net, and showed out in a major fashion in a 3-2 win six days prior.
Meanwhile, the Lightning’s goaltending looked superb against the Bruins, with Andrei Vasilevskiy standing on his head and moving to 10 postseason wins in 2020 in the process. With a .931 save percentage in his 13 starts in net, he’ll be a key piece in the Lightning’s puzzle if they want to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
The return of Kucherov to the Lightning’s lineup in this series will be another major factor for the Islanders to consider, but the confirmed lack of Stamkos for the entirety of the series removes a major question mark at the same time.
Can leading scores like Anthony Beauvillier (eight postseason goals) and the combination of Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anders Lee (seven postseason goals each) take advantage of the absence to keep the magical run moving forward?
Rust could turn out to be a major factor after the hiatus following their win against the Bruins, but after a game or two of time on the ice, the Lightning should come out firing and come out on top in the long run to end the Islanders’ Stanley Cup Final dreams in saddening fashion.
Prediction: Lightning win in seven games
Game 1: Monday, September 7 at 8 p.m. ET
Game 2: Wednesday, September 9 at 8 p.m. ET
Game 3: Friday, September 11 at 8 p.m. ET
Game 4: Sunday, September 13 at 3 p.m. ET
Game 5 (if necessary): Tuesday, September 15 at 8 p.m. ET
Game 6 (if necessary): Thursday, September 17 at 8 p.m. ET
Game 7 (if necessary): Saturday, September 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET