Last year, the St Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup for the first time in their 51 years history, after being the last place in January earlier that season. They played the Boston Bruins, who many thought were the favourites, but the Blues edged them in seven games.
This season, neither team has lost their stride, with the Bruins still leading things in the East, and the Blues continuing their dominance in the West.
Everything has changed for the NHL these last few months, but the Stanley Cup Playoff format is the biggest thing. Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens, who are in the bottom half of the standings, still have a shot at winning the cup, making these playoffs as chaotic as ever.
Here is how I think the 2020 Stanley Cup will look.
Dallas Stars vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Dallas Stars play a very defensive game, having the lowest goals against per game in the West. A solid defence could be the key to a deep playoff run, especially when you have one of the top goalie tandems in the league. The Dallas Stars are my pick to make it out of the Western Conference.
Last season the Dallas Stars were eliminated from the playoffs in the second round by the eventual Stanley Cup Champions; St Louis Blues. The series took not just seven games, but also double overtime in game seven. Dallas was a good team defensively but showed flaws in their offensive game.
The beginning of their season was a shaky one, losing eight of their nine games. But, in the next 16 games, the Stars would win 14 of them. However, another kink would occur when Head Coach Jim Montgomery was fired on December 10th for unprofessional conduct. Rick Bowness stepped in as Head Coach, and the Stars would continue to play well. This season their offense improved with the additions of rookie forward Denis Gurianov and veteran forwards Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski. A big step offensively from 20-year-old defensemen Miro Heiskanen also helped the Stars, scoring 35 points in 68 games. Not to mention, their one-two punch in between the pipes; Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. Bishop had a .920 save percentage in 44 games, and Khudobin with a .930 in 30 games played.
The Stars have all the key pieces that is needed for a deep playoff run.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs play a completely different style than the Dallas Stars. The Leafs bread and butter is their offense, scoring the third-most goals per game in the league. The Leafs are a team that can score themselves out of trouble. With the elite firepower upfront and a goalie that can bail them out when needed, the Leafs have a good shot to come out of the East.
Last year, the Leafs ran into their boogeyman, the Boston Bruins in the first round. For the second time in a row, the Maple Leafs were eliminated in seven games by the Bruins, who would go on to the Cup Final. It was clear that the club had work to do in the offseason, especially on the defensive end. Before the start of the 2019-20 season, the Maple Leafs parted ways with centre Nazem Kadri and acquired defensemen Tyson Barrie, and centre Alex Kerfoot.
Like the Stars, the Leafs had a slow beginning to the season. Going 9-10-4 to start the year, a coaching change was made. The Leafs fired head coach Mike Babcock, and Sheldon Keefe replaced him. The Leafs would begin to turn their season around until injuries started happening. The one that hurt the team the most was the loss of Morgan Rielly, who missed 23 games with a broken foot. As I said, the Maple Leafs biggest strength is their offense, with Auston Matthews scoring 47 goals, 80 points in 70 games, in addition to Mitch Marner and John Tavares each scoring over 60 points. You also can't forget William Nylander right behind them with 59; the Leafs can score goals.
The Leafs are going to be a hard team to contain in seven games, which gives them the potential to make it through the East.
The NHL Playoffs is a marathon, not a sprint. Your star players aren't able to have a bad game, let alone a bad series. Championship caliber teams always have that player, who plays out of their mind to book their ticket to the Cup Final. Look at past champions; Blues had Ryan O'Rielly, Capitals had Alex Ovechkin, Penguins had Sidney Crosby and the list continues. They aren't the only reason their teams won, but they are a big piece to the puzzle of winning the Stanley Cup.
Tyler Seguin has been "the guy" in Dallas since he was traded there in 2013. This season in 69 games, he scored 50 points, 17 of which being goals. He and Jaime Benn are bound to bounce back in the playoffs and lead the Stars offense. The Stars success will come from how well Seguin plays in the offensive end of the ice; being among the best defensive teams, their offense is a weakness. The Stars are a team that relies on low scoring games to get victories, so if Seguin and the rest of the offense start to turn it on, they will be a scaring team.
It's clear that the Maple Leafs have many lethal weapons in the offensive end, but the most important one is going to be Auston Matthews. Scoring 47 goals and 80 points in just 70 games this year, Matthews will continue to be dominant deep into the post-season. His offensive firepower is among the top of the league, but he can't do it alone. He won't be alone, with guys like Marner and Tavares, Matthews will have help, but he is key to the success of the team.
On paper, the Maple Leafs have a deeper forward group with players like Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman and Jason Spezza, not to mention Andreas Johnsson and Ilya Mikheyev who will be healthy. The Stars have a few depth forwards, but on the defensive end, the Stars have the advantage, with John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen leading the pack for the rest of the group.
You have an excellent defensive team going up against an excellent offensive team; the question is which one can outperform the other. The Maple Leafs have an unmatched top-six forward group with the likes of Matthews, Marner, Tavares and Nylander.
In contrast, the Stars have their solid blue-line and Vezina caliber goaltending, in Bishop and Khudobin. The Stars are going to need their best players, Tyler Seguin Jaime Benn and Alexander Radulov to step up. I'm not going to predict who I think the cup winner will be; both teams will have a hard time getting out of their conferences.
The Stars will have to battle through clubs like the Colorado Avalanche, and defending cup champions St.Louis, while the Maple Leafs will have to fend off divisional rivals like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins.
As I said, these Playoffs are like no other, every team has had a substantial amount of time off and will be well-rested. It's an exciting time for hockey fans as we are getting closer to the start of the post-season. Will my prediction hold up, or will both teams find themselves packing their bags early? Only time will tell.