As of September 28, 2020: Blake Coleman and the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup by defeating the Dallas Stars in Game 6, 2-0 (Coleman scored the second one), and winning the series, 4-2. Congratulations to the Pickle Maverick for helping his team win their second championship. Please visit Raw Charge to see how the Lightning fans are celebrating. What follows below is the original text for this open thread.
In spite of the unusual circumstances in the world of hockey and the world beyond, the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs has had no shortage of excitement, events, and entertainment. The first round continued to feature days of all-day hockey and went briskly. It did cause some concern from a New Jersey Devils perspective as Vancouver won their first round series against St. Louis and Philadelphia failed to flop to Montreal. As the first round was short, the second round unexpectedly went the distance in three of the four series. Four teams went up 3-1 in their respective series and three of them needed a Game 7. It was a real possibility that any of those three would not only suffer an epic choke job, but the Vancouver first rounder could have moved down from 20th to 28th overall at best and the Second Rate Rivals could still move on and win something of value. Thankfully for the Devils, all three of those teams that had 3-1 series lead won. The Devils’ first rounders are locked in at 7th, 18th, and 20th overall. Philadelphia won as many Cups as the Devils did this year. The remainder of the playoffs can just be enjoyed.
Since there are no more stakes in any result for the Devils fan in this postseason, I thought it would make sense to have a new open post. There are some rooting interests depending on how you feel about the ex-Devils still in the playoffs.
The Eastern Conference Finals
The Tampa Bay Lightning were the only team that went up 3-1 in their second round series and took care of business in Game 5. The Lightning prevailed over Boston and enjoyed some additional rest and relaxation as the other series went on. It has been a good run for the Bolts so far. They sought revenge for Columbus upsetting them last year and achieved that in the first round. It was difficult, it was trying at times, but they did it. Tampa Bay has the talent on paper to be a threat to any defense and goaltender - and that has been without Steven Stamkos. They still have Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. While other goalies have received a lot of recent publicity, Vasilevskiy is still the league leading goaltender in playoff save percentage at 93.1%. If all else fails, he will keep the Lightning in games.
The Ex-Devils Involved: Blake Coleman is a member of the Lightning. While his production has been decent - 3 goals, 4 assists in 13 games - head coach Jon Cooper has clearly taken to him. Coleman has been averaging over 18 minutes per game, with plenty of even strength minutes and taking a role on the second PK unit with Alex Killorn. His 5-on-5 on-ice rate stats at Natural Stat Trick are excellent, as are many of the other Lightning skaters. He is an easy player to like based on how he plays the game and he earned a lot of fans in his time in New Jersey. He is just a series away from drinking from a mason jar of pickle juice in a Stanley Cup Final. That is pretty cool for an overage draft pick that had next to no hype coming out of college and suffered a severe injury in his first pro season.
The New York Islanders have picked up the reputation of being boring. I question if those people who think this have seen any of their games in this postseason. Yes, head coach Barry Trotz has them playing a structured game. But it takes two to tango and the Flyers looked like trash in most of their second round series. Carter Hart and some awful puck luck for the Isles - especially in OT - are the key reasons why the series went to seven games at all. Fittingly, the Flyers were exposed and bodied in Game 7. Lou Lamoriello has definitely taken the “Go for it now and we’ll worry about the future later” approach to roster construction. This is a team that could look real ugly in a few seasons and pay for its acquisitions and contract sins even further. It is also the most successful Islanders team since 1993. Josh Bailey, Mat Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle, Derick Brassared, Justin-Gabriel Pageau, and Anders Lee have contributed big time on offense. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock have looked like as solid of any pairing in the league. They have two capable goalies in Seymon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss. This team has taken no nonsense from anyone and could absolutely give Tampa Bay a run for its money. All of the future pain may be worth it if the Isles reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 1984.
The Ex-Devils Involved: Lou Lamoriello is someone I trust and someone who would still have a lot of respect by many Devils fans. The series win puts him tied with Bill Torrey for the second most series wins by an executive in NHL history. As if there was any doubt to whether Lou was an effective GM. There is also former captain Andy Greene to possibly root for. The 37-year old may be near the end of his career. He has been in this position once before in 2012 in New Jersey. We know what happened. Greene has another shot to get the summit of the mountain. He scored two goals out of seven shots in 15 appearances. His ice time has been limited to below 18 minutes per game, he is still a regular on the Isles’ penalty kill and has performed quite well. While the run of play has been unfavorable when Greene has been on the ice in 5-on-5 situations, his limited ice time mitigates that impact plus his on-ice expected goals rate is still positive so he is not causing that much damage. I do not know what Greene’s future holds as a player, but it is hard to not want to see him succeed a little more and get perhaps his final shot at earning hockey immortality.
The Western Conference Finals
The Las Vegas Golden Knights were stomping through Vancouver in the first four games of their series. Then Vancouver made a goaltending change as Jacob Markstrom was unavailable. Thatcher Demko entered the crease and played absolutely out of his mind. Whether he was playing like 2010 Playoffs Jaroslav Halak or Scott Wedgewood in those four games with New Jersey a few years back is up to you. The point remained: the Golden Knights just could not solve him. Only Shea Theodore scored one (1) goal in Games 5 and 6 against the Canucks. The Canucks found ways to break through the Golden Knight skaters and Robin Lehner a little bit to prevail in those games. A hot goaltender in the playoffs is a monumental challenge. And for most of Game 7, it appeared the game plan for Vancouver was to lean on Demko and hope an opportunity presents itself against Las Vegas to score a goal. The Golden Knights were dominating the game in everything but scoring. This was a problem as Vancouver winning the series would move their first round pick from 20th overall to 28th overall at best - which would be bad for the Devils. But in the third period, Theodore launched a puck through traffic and it somehow found its way in. The Golden Knights finally scored a second goal in three games against Demko. Vancouver tried to up the tempo and the pressure, but the game is not like flipping a switch. Playing second-rate hockey for 45-50 minutes often leads to more of it. The Golden Knights sealed the game with two empty net goals and avoided being stunned by Demko into a series loss. The pick stays at 20th overall and the Golden Knights move on to play a team that does not have a ridiculously hot goalie in the wings.
The Ex-Devils Involved: Peter DeBoer, like most head coaches, is not well regarded since his post-Devils tenure. Coaches tend to get fired and for legitimate reasons, so it was not like DeBoer left on his own terms. A lot of criticism, fair and unfair, is still levied at his feet when you mention his name at all. That stated, he was the boss behind the bench in New Jersey in their last successful playoff year in 2012, he was the boss behind the bench in San Jose’s last playoff runs including the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Finals series in 2016, and now he can do it for a third time with Las Vegas. Fortunately for DeBoer, the short-lived Golden Knights still have plenty of players who went all the way to the fourth round just two years ago. There is experience. There is talent. There is Lehner stopping a lot of pucks and skaters like Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, William Karlsson, and Theodore among others who have been outright dominant at times. 2020 could be their year and DeBoer may get some respect for that. The Golden Knights also employ former Devil defenseman Jon Merrill. However, he has played in just one (1) game and not even for fourteen minutes in 5-on-5 hockey in that one game. Still, if they lift the trophy, then his name should be on the Cup, so there would be that.
The Dallas Stars struggled to score near the beginning of this Return to Play format. Until they did not for a couple of key games against Calgary, with a massive 7-goal run to turn an early 0-3 deficit into a 7-3 series-clinching win. Something about that game plus Pavel Francouz and Philippe Grubauer not playing that well has jolted the Dallas offense. Of course, if there is one team that can hang in an offensive game, it is Colorado. The series effectively came down to who could score the most and try to slow down the opposition to get or stay ahead. Dallas looked to suffer the, well, Avalanche of attack and lost Games 5 and 6. In a wild back-and-forth Game 7 where goals were just traded, Joel Kiviranta became the unlikely, unexpected, and unbelievable hero of the night for Dallas. He scored his first playoff goal to tie up the game 2-2 in the second period, he scored his second playoff goal ten seconds after Vladislav Namestnikov made it 4-3 to tie it up 4-4 in the third period, and he scored his third playoff goal in overtime for a Dallas win. He one-timed a feed from Andrej Sekera in front for the biggest hat trick goal he may ever score. Talk about a career defining moment - and it is just the beginning of Kiviranta’s NHL tenure too. Colorado was a popular favorite to go all the way. But Dallas denied the choke at the end and now have new life against Las Vegas. They will need a lot more defensively and in net from Anton Khudobin and Ben Bishop; or they need to somehow continue their rampant offense against a very good Las Vegas team. All roads have went through defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who has 21 points in 16 games. Could it happen? Maybe. It is the playoffs, after all.
The Ex-Devils Involved: None. Sure, Lindy Ruff used to coach the Dallas Stars. But he is now with New Jersey, so he is not an ex-Devil. It is not like he gets anything out of their run so far anyway. If you feel like Lou, Greene, Coleman, Merrill, or DeBoer should not win anything for whatever reason, then this is your team.
09/15 Update: The Western Conference Finals was decided in five games. Anton Khudobin was on fire all series long. The Golden Knights dominated the run of play but opted for longer shots as opposed to anything in the midrange. Dallas countered like a snow plow and took advantage of Las Vegas’ failings - right up to Denis Gurianov scoring a power play goal to win Game 5 in overtime, the punishment for Zach Whitecloud clearing a puck over the glass. The Stars are playing in their third Stanley Cup final as a team in Dallas. Peter DeBoer, Jon Merrill, and the Golden Knights are eliminated.
09/18 Update: The Eastern Conference Finals was decided in six games. Both Game 5 and Game 6 were win-or-go-home situations for the Isles. Both Game 5 and Game 6 ended a low scoring regulation with Tampa Bay enjoying the remainder of a four-minute power play. Both Game 5 and Game 6 had plenty of close calls, although it was clear that Tampa Bay was in more control of the run of play. While Eberle gave the Isles life by scoring in double OT in Game 5, Cirelli was all alone in front of the crease to bang in a one-timer in OT in Game 6. Blake Coleman and the Lightning will now play in their third Stanley Cup final. Andy Greene, Lou Lamoriello, and the Islanders are eliminated.
We are less than a month away from NHL events involving the New Jersey Devils. Their stakes in the postseason are complete now, for better or worse. You can freely enjoy the playoffs, with or without the listed rooting interests.
You can also discuss the NHL Award winners since they will be announced throughout the Conference Finals. Only P.K. Subban was a finalist for the King Clancy; that is it for Devils players this year. (Update: Subban did not win the Clancy. Matt Dumba did.)
Site rules apply as usual. This is an open post for the playoffs, so feel free to discuss all of the playoffs. Who you want to see go to the Stanley Cup. What you expect to see. Your reactions to what actually happens. All of that shall go in the comments.
As ever, everyone please play nice with each other or you will not play at all. Keep all comments clean, stream-less, and respectful. We can all freely enjoy the remainder of the postseason without needing someone to win or fail for rivalry or draft pick purposes. So go enjoy it. Go Playoffs.