It’s almost August. It’s nearly 85 degrees in Edmonton. It’s close to the same in Toronto. A time of year in Canada usually reserved for hiking and watersports is being interrupted by the country’s national pastime. And this Looker couldn’t be more excited.
That’s right, the most exciting postseason in major sports, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, are set to begin this weekend. Thank you, coronavirus.
Always unpredictable, a nearly five-month hiatus should make this year’s tournament the most uncertain yet. With no fans in the stands and a pair of host cities in Western and Eastern Canada set to serve as hosts, here are our top-five favorites to walk away with Lord Stanley:
5. Dallas Stars
Gosh, 2020 started so well, didn’t it? The first southern Winter Classic saw the Stars rally from a two-goal first-period deficit at the Cotton Bowl with three third-period tallies to beat the Nashville Predators in the annual New Year’s Day outdoor game. Eight months later, Dallas is hoping to bookend that strong start to the year with an even stronger finish, utilizing one of the best defensive systems in the game to make a serious run at its first Cup in two decades.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning
No team might have been happier to see COVID-19 than the Lightning. Tampa Bay has been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference over the last half-decade, winning 247 regular-season games in that span. But the top-seeded Bolts were embarrassed by the Columbus Blue Jackets in a four-game first-round sweep last season and haven’t reached the Stanley Cup Final since winning the title in 2004. Tampa is healthy and motivated, and shouldn’t be taken lightly despite its recent shortcomings.
3. St. Louis Blues
It’s already been more than a year since the Blues ended four decades of despair with St. Louis’s first Stanley Cup in history. And they did it the hard way, on the road in Game 7. The overall makeup of this team hasn’t changed much since they skated the Cup around the ice at the Boston Garden. In fact, you could argue that the Blues are even better; blending a deep lineup with championship experience is the perfect recipe for success. But they still aren’t our favorite.
2. Boston Bruins
Goaltending is going to be vital when the NHL returns to action this weekend. Having a viable backup will be even more important, as a slow start could make for a quick exit for any contender. Boston has the best one-two goaltending punch in the league in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, serving as the Bruins’ 1A and 1B. The B’s won’t be immune to a slow start — after all, you need to score goals to win — but it’s unlikely goaltending will be the reason should the B’s not reach the Final for the second straight season.
1. Colorado Avalanche
Stop rolling your eyes. We didn’t make this pick for clickbait. The Avalanche have the best line in the Western Conference (maybe all of hockey) in Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen and a young core of stingy defensemen led by rookie Cale Makar, the favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. The only question mark lies between the pipes. Pavel Francouz has been great since taking over for the injured Phillip Grubauer, but lacks experience. The same could have been said about Jordan Binnington last year, couldn’t it? And we all know how that turned out.