It’s been a wild week in the preliminary round of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. When play started this week, there were 6 Canadian teams vying for a spot in the quarterfinals of the play offs. By the time the qualifying round ended on Sunday, three of those teams (Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Toronto) were packing their bags and leaving the bubble and three (Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary were preparing for the next round. For the first time since the 2015-16 season, the Canucks are officially playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Only Alex Edler and Chris Tanev remain from the last team played in the Stanley Cup finals back in 2011. Tanev was a rookie that year. The Canucks will be playing the St. Louis Blues in the quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup. Can the Canucks have a second good week and be well on their way to the semi-finals of the Western conference. Here are 10 random thoughts from week 2 of the NHL playoffs
1. Let’s start things off by talking about Michael Ferland. There was such high hopes that the beleaguered winger would finally be over his concussion problems and be able to finally have an impact for the Canucks in this postseason. Unfortunately, Ferland lasted just one exhibition game, a scrimmage, and the first game of the qualifying round before he was forced to stop playing three shifts into the second game of the best-of-five series versus the Minnesota Wild. This is the third time this season that Ferland has attempted to come back from the concussion and each time he has lasted less than 2 games. He made a bad decision to fight during the first game back this time. I get that he plays with an edge to his game, but you have to be smarter than that. You can’t be fighting when you are coming back from a concussion. Mike Gillis convinced Manny Malhotra to retire after his devastating eye injury. Jim Benning needs to do the same with Ferland. For one thing, Ferland has a young family to think about. Also, the more concussions he sustains, the greater the chance he will suffer long-term consequences later in life, like CTE, which has claimed the life of several athletes, including Rick Rypien. Until the Canucks are eliminated or win the Stanley Cup we will not find out Ferland’s official status or long-term prognosis.
2. Moving on Jacob Markstrom had an inconsistent week this week in goal. After a shutout loss in game 1, Markstrom had a decent game for 55 minutes, but nearly blew it by allowing two late goals. Luckily the third Wild goal was scored with just 8 seconds left in the game. He was excellent in game 3 stopping all 29 shots he faced and being in perfect position every shot. game 4, he was terrible. Markstrom allowed at least three goals that he would want to have back. Three of the Wild goals beat him on the short side. Thankfully for Markstrom his team came back all three times and Chris Tanev ended the series 11 seconds into overtime. Early in his career, Markstrom was prone to letting in bad goals at the wrong time. Canucks goalie coach an Clark did some tremendous work helping Markstrom become an elite goalie in the NHL. Today, it is rare for Markstrom to have a bad game. Hopefully, he can put this bad game behind him and regain his form in the quarterfinals or it will be a short series for the Canucks.
3. It is a good thing that the Canucks finished the series off on Friday because it gives the injured players a few days to heal before the next round begins. Among the injured players is trade deadline acquisition Tyler Toffoli. He played the first game, but missed the remainder of the series games Minnesota with an apparent foot injury. Reportedly, Toffoli was seen walking around with a walking boot on. Antoine Roussel was hit in the face by deflected puck. He played the next game, but his eye was noticeably swollen. Brandon Sutter and Chris Tanev are both players who are prone to core injuries. The extra time off will do them wonders. Adam Gaudette played the first game of the series and missed the rest of the series with some sort of ailment. The Canucks will need to be as healthy as possible to make it past the next round.
4. One area the Canucks must improve is staying out of the penalty box, especially defenseman Tyler Myers. He was in the boss in the series first 10 periods. You can’t be giving the league’s top power plays that much time with a man advantage. The Blues have several players capable of striking with the man advantage, including Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron up front. On defense, Alex Pietrrangelo, Carl Gunnarson and Jay Bouwemeester all have cannons for point shots. Let sleeping bears lie. Don’t let these guys have any extra space.
5. The Canucks found out their next opponent will be the St. Louis Blues, after they lost their final round robin game to the Dallas Stars. The Canucks won two of the three games in the season series against the Blues and got 5 of a possible 6 points. The Canucks outscored the Blues 8-5 over the three games this season. Quinn Hughes scored his second career goal against the Blues back on November 5th. JT Miller had 3 goals vs. St. Louis and Bo Horvat scored twice during the season series. Jacob Markstrom only played the Blues once this season and stopped 25/27 shots in a 2-1 loss. Jordan Binnington faced the Canucks twice this season, losing once in a shootout and getting one regulation win. He stopped 67/72 shots combined in the two games he played, including 5/6 in the shootout October 17th. This will be a good series featuring the Calder trophy winner (Elias Pettersson) and the Calder trophy runner-up (Binnington) from 2019. The Canucks will have the added incentive of being the ones to knock the defending champs out of the playoffs.
6. There were some major injuries on other teams that deserve some recognition. Right off the bat at the start off the qualifier round, Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele suffered a serious Achilles injury when he went awkwardly into the boards and got tangled up with Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk. Scheifele left the game promptly and could not play the rest of the series. His jets were eliminated Thursday night. The Jets also lost winger Patrick Lane the same game to a wrist injury after he was slashed. Jets defenseman Mason Appleton hurt his shoulder in a collision and was knocked out for the remainder of the series. Another scary injury that occurred with under 2 minutes left in the second game of the Maple Leafs series against the Blue Jackets. Jake Muzzin stumbled and hit his head against the legs of Bluejackets center Paul-Luc Dubois. Muzzin had to be taken to a local hospital on a back board. Due to having to leave the bubble for treatment, Muzzin quarantined at the team hotel for several days. He also miss the remainder of the series due to his injury. Finally, Tyler Ennis of the Edmonton Oilers crashed hard into the end boards and appeared to twist his knee in game three of the Oilers series against the Blackhawks. He also missed the remainder of the series and could miss the beginning of next season. Hopefully all of those players recover in a timely .
7. The qualifying round of the playoffs featured several major upsets, the biggest of which was the Montreal Canadiens beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games. Habs goalie Carey Price was outstanding, showing his form from the 2014 Olympics. Montreal also got timely goals at the right time. The Oilers were another surprise early exit., Edmonton, one of the host hub cities was eliminated in five games by the #12 seed Chicago Blackhawks. A veteran squad, the Blackhawks leaned heavily on Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, both of whom historically have been great in the playoffs. They will be tough to eliminate. For Connor McDavid, this will be the fifth time in his career that the Oilers have missed the playoffs. The New York Rangers were also a bit of a surprise early exit. Unfortunately for them, Henrik Lundqvist is not the same goalie who almost led Team USA to the gold medal in the Olympics back in 2010. The Rangers took a chance on starting him for the first two games against the Carolina Hurricanes. Lundqvist as unable to keep enough pucks out of the net. If he decides to play next season, Lundqvist will almost certainly be a backup goalie. The Arizona Coyotes overcame their GM quitting on them right before the Stanley Cup Tournament. Despite the off-ice distraction, the Coyotes took care of business on the ice and defeated the Nashville Predators in 4 games. I don’t see them going much further in the playoffs. Perhaps the craziest development of the qualifying round is that BOTH hub city hosts were eliminated. The series between the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets featured both teams blowing three goal leads before prevailing in overtime (the Blue Jackets came back and won in game 3 and the Leafs returned the favor in game 4) and three shutout wins (two by the Blue Jackets and one by the Maple Leafs). Now the Blue Jackets get set to face the Lightning, who they swept in last year’s playoffs.
8. The first order of business heading into the second week of playoffs action will be to second draft lottery draw to determine who will be picking first overall entry draft being held shortly after the Stanley Cup has been rewarded. The worst case scenario for the NHL he would probably be seen Pittsburgh or Edmonton wins the right to draft consensus top pick Alexi LaFreniere. The French Canadian is expected have an immediate impact on whoever drafts him. He has already breasts in the world juniors. Typically, LeFreniere would be starting his career on a rebuilding team that was coming off a bad year. Because of the draft lottery rules, he’ll likely make the playoffs in his rookie year. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever see this scenario happen again. The NHL will almost certainly revise the draft rules, especially if Pittsburgh, Edmonton, or Toronto win the lottery Monday. Those are three strong teams that were all going to get well over 90 points if the season had been allowed to continue. Toronto, Florida, NY Rangers, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Nashville, and Pittsburgh will all have a 12.5% chance of winning the right to draft 1st overall in the upcoming NHL Entry draft. Good luck to those teams.
9. Finally, another kudos to the NHL for their huge success in putting this tournament together. So far, no one has tested positive for COVID-19 and we’ve seen some very entertaining hockey.
10. Canuck of the week: Quinn Hughes. The Calder trophy finalist had himself an excellent week and leads all defensemen with 6 points. Hughes has also held his own defensively with a +2 rating, 1 blocked shot and 1 takeaway. Hughes is going to be a future star in the league and become the first Canuck to win the Norris Trophy.