NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs Top Five Power Rankings
With the Conference Final beckoning and the final four teams not officially in, lit is time for the top five power rankings. Both Stanley Cup finalists are no longer inside the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, so there will be a new champion in 2020. Still, there are some familiar teams vying for the title that has knocked on the door in recent times. The business end of this twenty-four team tournament is fast approaching, so here are the listings, five through one.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts ran circles around one of the tournament favorites, the Boston Bruins. In Games 3 and 4, they outscored them 10-2 as they would ultimately reach a fourth Eastern Final in six years following a double-overtime victory in Game 5. NBCSN showed a graphic Monday night that it is their sixth appearance since joining in the early nineties. This side has atoned so far from last season.
Andrei Vasilevskiy outshined Jaroslav Halak this past week. Victor Hedman has acquitted himself well. The defenseman put the curtain down with his series-ending goal Monday night in Toronto. Pat Maroon, formerly of Saint Louis really has had a positive influence on Tampa Bay. He brings experience to the table. Still, I think Round 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for them will be where the journey ends, which leads me to number four.
4. New York Islanders
The Islanders’ style is gritty, not in reference to the Philadelphia Flyers mascot. They are great once they put their noses in front, but I noticed NHL Network’s Mike Kelly had a video tweet back on August 25th. It pointed out how they can score nice goals as Mathew Barzal is known to do. To me, I like their pragmatic style, and I think they will get the East crown by frustrating Tampa Bay. New York will get outstanding goaltending, be it Semyon Varlamov or Thomas Greiss.
They had quite the winning streak prior to the pause, so there is nothing fluky about what has taken place with Stanley Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz. I do think they merit more respect, but still, need to reach another level if they want to skate the Cup. They will be underdogs in the championship round unless they were to play Dallas, whom I feel they match up well against the remaining teams out West.
3. Colorado Avalanche
You cannot talk about Colorado without discussing the outstanding play of one Nathan MacKinnon, who has had himself quite the campaign in Edmonton. In Game 5, the team stayed alive, at one time outshooting the Dallas Stars 21-4 in direct contrast to how Game 4 started when they were stuck on one on the shot counter for most of the opening frame.
The injury bug has not been kind to them, otherwise the series might have a different tone. Thirty-year-old Michael Hutchinson became the third goaltender for the Avs to be used in this NHL series. He did not face many shots until the game became one-sided on the scoreboard. Perhaps for the first time in the series, the Avalanche seem to have hit the right gear, but I think it is too late.
2. Dallas Stars
Dallas looks like the Western Conference version of the Islanders. They can score but are fundamentally sound on defense. They will block shots as they did 22 times in Game 4 which put them on the precipice of the Western Conference Final against the second seed in the West. Of the four second-round series, Dallas-Colorado has provided the most goals by far.
One of the big stories in the NHL is Ben Bishop coming back from injury and taking the place of Anton Khudobin. The move by Stars head coach Rick Bowness backfired in Game 5 against Colorado as he gave up four in period one, potentially a series-altering move after going up 3-1 in the series. To not start Khudobin and mess with the chemistry feels like a mistake. Dallas had the heartbreak last year of almost advancing past the second round, so failure to finish off the series would be tough to take, especially when things have gone well particularly since the end of Game 4 of Round 1 versus Calgary. That all said, they will gladly take the position of still being up 3-2, but they will need to apply more pressure on Michael Hutchinson Wednesday at 8 Eastern Time.
1. Vegas Golden Knights
I see no reason to change my mind that Vegas is the most complete team left in the tournament. They are getting plenty of scoring combined with the play of both Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury in the net. Despite a controversial tweet that had to do with Lehner and Fleury, neither have slowed down. The Golden Knights are about to dispatch the Vancouver Canucks without much resistance for a second conference final appearance in franchise history.
Their organization has a great foundation in the infant stages of their existence. They can win in dominant fashion, out-score teams. They look like a team that is not holding back in search of their first Stanley Cup. It will require a very extraordinary effort to take them down. They have veteran players in defensemen like Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt. They also carry great depth from their forwards including the likes of Reilly Smith, Ryan Reaves, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Alex Tuch, and Mark Stone. Vegas looks formidable right now, pretty scary for the remaining teams.
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Works cited: NHL app, Twitter, NBC Sports networks and app, KRLD 105.3 FM, Wikipedia