One of the possibilities facing the St. Louis Blues, if the NHL should resume its season, is jumping right into the playoffs. How might that look if it started tomorrow?
As we St. Louis Blues fans, and sports fans in general, embark on this uncharted journey, we here at Bleedin’ Blue will be releasing a series of articles called “What Ifs”. The purpose is merely to be entertaining and stir a little debate.
We all know that the main focus is on safety and health of fans and players alike, but these articles are meant to take out the larger issue at hand. Our only focus will be on the sport itself and the possibilities.
With all that in mind, let us explore the potential option to restart the season immediately with the playoffs. It is one of the options that has been discussed, though it would be fraught with problems.
One of the main problems with this simplistic approach would be the outcomes of teams that are right on the cusp of making the playoffs. Another concern is the imbalance of games played. Do you go with the Blues as the top team in the West based on actual record? Do you award the Colorado Avalanche the top spot based on regulation wins and assume they might have won their 71st game?
That’s for others to decide when the time comes. For this discussion, we will go the ultra-simple route and say the standings were frozen at the “end’ of the season and if you are where you are.
With that in mind, the Blues would finish as the top team in the Western Conference. The Boston Bruins would breeze through as the winners of the Eastern Conference and Presidents Trophy.
That’s all well and good for them. Since 1985-86, only eight teams have won both the Presidents Trophy and the Stanley Cup. An additional three teams made the Final and lost.
So, the Blues would be set up just fine by not having the best record in the league. Having the best record in the conference would suit them well too.
If we go with the simplistic approach of freezing the standings and going with things as they are, the Blues would face the Nasvhville Predators in the first round. That would give the Blues a chance for some revenge.
Blues vs. Predators
While your local radio hosts seem to salivate over the idea of a St. Louis vs. Nashville first round, I would pass if given the chance. It is not so much the actual roster of the Predators scares me, quite the opposite really, but the Blues have not done well at all against Nashville this season.
In fact, the Blues have yet to win a game against the Predators in 2019-20. Nashville swept the regular season series.
All the games were close. Three of the games were one goal differences, with the only one not being a 4-2 Nashville win on November 23.
The Blues main hope in this one is to allow superior talent to take over in crunch time. No offense to Predators fans since they do have some top-tier players, but from top to bottom the Blues are better right now.
The Predators still scare me though. I still have nightmares about that 4-2 series defeat in 2017 when the Blues were probably lucky to even win those two goals. So many missed chances and blown power plays.
Anyway, focusing on this series as it would be, I think the Blues would turn the tables on Nashville. St. Louis would be the more dominant team, with the Predators squeaking out a win here or there. It would be tighter than the final would lead you to believe. Blues win the series 4-2.
Vegas vs. Winnipeg
On the surface, this doesn’t seem like it should be much of a series. Vegas is the top team in the Pacific Division and the Winnipeg Jets have scrambled, going up and down this season.
However, the Jets were turning it on at the right time. Prior to the shutdown, they were 6-3-1 in their last 10 and had won four straight games.
Additionally, the Jets played very well against Vegas. The Jets beat the Golden Knights in both of the games they had played this season.
Winnipeg won the first game in November 4-3 in overtime. The Jets were even more dominant in a 4-0 win on March 6.
That said, the shutdown would hurt the Jets. Their momentum would be gone after such a long layoff and no games to play to keep their senses and skills sharp.
With that in mind, Vegas might suffer from the layoff as well. They are a highly skilled offensive team that might take some time getting back into rhythm.
This series would likely go the distance. However, home ice would be a factor with both crowds being loud and proud, so Vegas would squeak by in seven games.
Colorado vs. Dallas
On paper, this should not even be a series. The Colorado Avalanche, after a bit of a slow start, have been with the St. Louis Blues every step of the way since before the midway point of the season.
While Dallas has creeped their way up toward the Blues, they have just been hot and then they get cold. They have not had the consistency of the Avalanche.
The Avalanche score goals with the best offensive teams in the entire league. They’re also pretty good defensively, allowing the third fewest goals in the conference.
Meanwhile, Dallas has the second fewest goals scored in the Western Conference. Only Los Angeles has fewer.
Dallas has gotten by on defense and goaltending alone, which is strange since they have some players that can put the puck in the net. They have all simply underperformed.
With this series, you would have to throw that all out the window. The layoff would even things out for both teams and the Stars have owned the Avalanche this season.
Dallas won all four meetings with the Avs. The Stars were also outscoring Colorado by a two to one margin.
Interestingly, all the games were close except one. Dallas won a 4-1 game in November. The other scores were 2-1, 3-2 in a shootout and 3-2 in overtime.
The Stars will come in with plenty of confidence and perform pretty well. This series could easily come down to goaltending and if it does, Ben Bishop has the experience to get Dallas through.
However, I don’t see the Avalanche losing in this one. Dallas will make it close, but Colorado wins in seven.
Edmonton vs. Calgary
This series could honestly challenge for series of the entire playoffs. Both teams are evenly matched, with high-powered offenses, leaky defenses and streaky goaltenders. Of course, you can’t go wrong with any game featuring the Battle of Alberta.
That might not be a recipe for winning a Stanley Cup, but it sure is a recipe for entertaining hockey for fans. This one could have goals galore or it could be hockey’s version of a sure-fire football shootout that ends up being a 10-7 final.
Edmonton should be the better team. They have the better stars, better offense and are higher in the standings entering this potential scenario.
Calgary, however, has had the edge in the regular season series. The Flames won three straight, 5-1, 4-3 and 4-3 in a shootout before Edmonton got cranky and rattled off eight goals in an 8-3 drubbing of Calgary in early February.
This is another series that could and should easily go seven games. Call me crazy, but I think Calgary might steal this series.
Edmonton lost both games that were played in their rink, so home ice is somewhat out the window. Edmonton can win this series, but I think they lack the experience to see it through this time around.
Boston vs. Columbus
This might be the easiest series to predict. Boston has been the best team in the NHL, at least record wise, almost from the beginning of the season.
Columbus has had their moments, but they’re currently hanging on by a thread. To be honest, the only way they likely make the playoffs is if the NHL just declared the standings frozen. If the regular season goes on or they have play-in games, Columbus probably does not make it.
Funny enough, after saying all that, Columbus has played quite well against Boston. The teams had some games against one another coming up prior to the stoppage, but the Blue Jackets won both games against Boston played thus far by scores of 2-1 in overtime and 3-0.
Both of those games were in January, prior to the recent slide of Columbus. However, it can’t be said that the Blue Jackets were red hot at the time. Still, they were good enough.
Washington vs. Carolina
This is another series that, on paper, should not be a series. Washington has the better roster and, if not better then at least healthier goaltenders.
However, Carolina proved that did not matter much last season. They shocked the Capitals in the first round, knocking of the then-defending Stanley Cup champions in seven games, coming back from a 3-2 series deficit.
The teams split their four games right down the middle. Each team won two and each team went 1-1 at home.
The Capitals took the first two, winning 3-2 in overtime and 6-4. The Hurricanes grabbed the next two, winning 4-3 and 2-0.
All this in mind, I think Carolina may prove troublesome, but the Capitals will remember the playoffs last season. This time around, the Capitals come out on top 4-2 in the series.
Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh
This is another series that could challenge for series of the playoffs, or at least the first round. Ever since Pittsburgh got good in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, this has been one of the fiercest rivalries on the east coast, if not the entire NHL.
Philadelphia came out of nowhere to grab the second spot in the Metropolitan Division. They were one of the hottest teams in the NHL, going 9-1-0 in their last 10 before the league came to a halt.
As is usually the case in a rivalry, however, Pittsburgh has kept this series close. The Penguins had the advantage, 2-1, winning 7-1 and 4-3 in overtime. Philly’s win was a 3-0 decision sandwiched between those other two games, but all three contests were played before the Flyers went supernova on the rest of the league.
Carter Hart turned things around, turning sub-par early season numbers into more than respectable goalie stats. He went into the hiatus with a .914 save percentage and 2.42 goals per game allowed. Those are not awe inspiring numbers, but they’ve been more than good enough. Brian Elliott has had a nice resurgence of late too, though his overall numbers don’t look that great.
This one is tough. It’s like trying to predict St. Louis vs. Chicago. Every game is going to be a slugfest, even if not a physical one.
A lot of the outcome will depend on how much of the heat is taken off the Flyers by the break. If they can’t hit their stride right out of the gate, Pittsburgh would likely take the series. If Philly can be half as hot as they were, they were on enough of a roll to keep that going through the playoffs. Afterall, they might have surged all the way to the top spot in the division had the regular season kept going.
Pittsburgh is still Pittsburgh, but I think the Flyers hold onto enough of that magic to win a playoff round, at least. This would be another long series, but the Flyers edge it 4-3.
Tampa Bay vs. Toronto
These two teams have almost been destined to play one another from the start. While there have been changes here or there, it has been Tampa and Toronto battling for second place behind Boston for a long time.
What will make this series interesting is who comes out of the break better. Tampa might actually like the fact the league went on hiatus since they were 3-6-1 before things ended.
On the flip side, Toronto was sort of finding a groove, having gone 5-4-1 in their last 10. However, they were also struggling to hold off the Florida Panthers for the final guaranteed divisional spot.
If it came down to who would play better defense, the likely winner would be Tampa. They only allowed 195 goals compared to Toronto’s 227.
This one is a toss up anyway. I could see it going either way, but for some reason, I just don’t trust Toronto. Tampa has built themselves more for the playoffs this time around, so they win this series 4-2 and the media circus in Toronto gets an early start.