You know COVID-19 took a giant dump on the NHL season when you have playoffs under way while some teams are still finishing their season. This week the NHL announced the Stanley Cup playoffs would begin on May 15th with the Washington Capitals hosting the Boston Bruins. In the meantime, the Vancouver Canucks will finish their COVID-delayed regular season on May 19th against the Calgary Flames.
But at least the playoffs are finally here. Was it worth the wait? On May 20th, in the North Division, the 1st place Toronto Maple Leafs will face the 4th place Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are the clear underdog, with the Leafs having gone 7-2-1 in their season series. Both teams made additions at the deadline, but only one of them improved. It pains me to say it – root canal kind of pain – but this is the Leafs’ series to lose.
This will be the first time the teams have met in the playoffs since the late 1970s when the Habs were dominant, with Montreal sweeping series in 1978 and 1979. The tables have turned with the Leafs being the force this time around. Ever-humble Leafs fans are calling this a bye for their team, but if the Habs can get healthy they may make a series of it. We have waited 42 years for this!
In the other Canadian matchup, the 2nd place Edmonton Oilers are matched against the 3rd place Winnipeg Jets. The Oilers went 7-2-0 in their nine-game series, but they have never faced this version of the Jets (formerly the Atlanta Thrashers) in the playoffs. The Jets ended their season in somewhat of a freefall but were able to beat the Canucks in a 5-0 rout on Monday night to claim 3rd place in the division.
Edmonton’s season ended with a focus on individual stats as Connor McDavid was chasing 100 points in 56 games. The goal was surpassed, firmly establishing McDavid in the upper echelon of all-time NHL stars. He’s got other targets in mind for this Spring. They suffered a quick blow in the bubble last summer, but I’m expecting the Oilers to take this one to face the winner of the Montreal-Toronto series.
As of press deadline, the four playoff teams in the West Division had been decided but their seeds were still undetermined. Vegas, Colorado, Minnesota and St. Louis will duke it out to make it to the final four. The Blues are locked into 4th seed, but the rest is tight. I like the Avalanche to come out of the West.
In the Central Division, the top-seed Carolina Hurricanes will meet 4th place Nashville, while the other series will be a first – a Battle of the Sunshine State. The 2nd place Florida Panthers will face the 3rd place defending cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. I’m predicting a Panthers upset of the Lightning, and that they will meet the Hurricanes in the second round to save us from a “weather man” series.
In the East, in addition to the Boston (3rd) and Washington (2nd) matchup, the 1st place Pittsburgh Penguins will face the New York Islanders, who won the final playoff seed. My call is the Pens deadline additions will serve them well and they will move on to face Zdeno Chara and the Capitals in the second round.
By the time you’re reading this the entire schedule will be known to you but was still under development as of press deadline.
The Toronto Raptors were mathematically eliminated from the NBA playoffs on Monday, and their season finally came to a close last night. Now the management team will turn their attention to the off-season and building for the future. The first stop in that construction is Masai Ujiri. Contract extension talks with the President of Basketball Operations will reportedly begin this week with the season concluded.
Blue Jays Babble
The Jays are in third place in the American League East, a standing that means precious little so early in the season. Unfortunately, momentum is hard to come by with a pitching staff, already short a starter, suffering injuries.
Several Blue Jays have already turned out big performances. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was expected to come through at the bat, but his defensive game at first base has been a revelation. Randal Grichuk continues to improve with each season in Toronto, providing consistency at the plate in addition to his power game. Marcus Semien, added in the off-season on a one-year deal, has admirably filled in the lead-off spot while George Springer has been out with injuries, and Semien brought a hot bat to do it.
If the Jays can get healthy and if they can add a starter, this is a team that can do some damage. And if your Aunt Fanny had an Adam’s Apple she’d be your uncle.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreation softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. A Newfoundlander living in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or even a debate, just as long as it remains respectful. She posts her gametime thoughts on twitter, particularly about hockey and the Montreal Canadiens, as @lori10habs