As we continue holding out for some level of hope for the NHL season to resume, some outlets are continuing the tradition of making their annual Stanley Cup predictions. This year Tampa Bay and Vegas were the two teams most picked to play in the Cup finals by Sports Illustrated.
Five SI experts chose the Golden Knights to participate in the Final if the season were to continue play. Unfortunately, four out of the five picked the Golden Knights to lose in the Stanley Cup Final.
Matt Larkin: Lightning over Golden Knights in six
Sam McCaig: Lightning over Golden Knights in five
Edward Fraser: Lightning over Golden Knights in six
Ryan Kennedy: Lightning over Golden Knights in six
Each prediction had Vegas losing to Tampa in six games or less. Ouch, not even one deciding game. The lone SI expert that awarded Lord Stanley’s cup to the Golden Knights left Tampa out of the Final completely. Here’s his explanation of why he chose VGK as the 2020 NHL champions.
Dan Falkenheim: Golden Knights over Bruins in six
Since Jan. 15, no team has a higher share of expected goals (58.5%). Robin Lehner’s arrival ensured Vegas would enter the playoffs with the NHL’s best netminding situation. And all the sudden, with Max Pacioretty turning back the clock, the Golden Knights looked like the West’s top team before the pause.
Much less drama for the Bruins, some 2,700 miles away. Save for a mediocre 4-5-6 stretch running from early December into the New Year, Boston has been the league’s most consistent team throughout the season. Tuukka Rask’s emergence as the Vezina frontrunner helped the Bruins carve out an eight-point lead in the Atlantic Division and serves as a reminder that he can carry a team as far as he wants to. Both Boston and Vegas are built to withstand the rigors of postseason hockey—each has reached the finals within the last three years—but the Golden Knights are the team that comes out on top in a matchup between recent Stanley Cup losers. -Dan Falkenheim, SI.com
It’s an intriguing matchup, to say the least. The last two Stanley Cup runner-ups battling to end their finals losing streaks. Both teams are recognized for elite-level skill and fantastic goaltending. Plus after the pause, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone will be fresh and fully healthy for Vegas and Boston’s older veterans will get some much needed extra rest for their pursuit.
Although SI went heavy on Tampa, they’re not the team I selected to win the cup. Nor to come out of the East. Here are our predictions for this year’s Stanley Cup finals.
Jason: Golden Knights over Capitals in seven
That’s right, a repeat of the 2018 heartbreaking series for Vegas fans, being forced to watch Alex Ovechkin and his teammates hoist the cup on the T-Mobile Arena ice. This time around things will be different. Sure, it’s a handful of the same players but it’s two new head coaches and likely to be played in empty arenas.
Washington surprisingly cruised to the Final, catching each opponent off a long series. First, the Capitals beat the Hurricanes in five and waited for the Penguins who beat the Flyers in a grueling seven-game series. After an exhausting, physical first round, Pittsburgh couldn’t keep up with Washington. Again, the Capitals were resting up waiting for their opponent in the Eastern Conference final. Boston gave it all they had beating Tampa in seven, giving Washington a second straight series advantage. The Capitals upset the reigning Eastern Conference champs in six games to move on to the finals.
Vegas had a similar journey. After beating the Jets in five, the Golden Knights eliminated Connor McDavid and the Oilers in six to advance to their second Western Conference final in franchise history. The Colorado Avalanche hosted the Golden Knights for the conference championship, however the series would end in Vegas with the Golden Knights punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup finals in six games.
The Capitals had outscored their opponents significantly through the first three rounds. Goaltender Brayden Holtby wasn’t his best but it didn’t matter because of the amount of goals Washington’s offense provided. That would catch up to them against Vegas. Coach Pete DeBoer decided to start Robin Lehner in net and it proved to be the right move. The Capitals couldn’t maintain their offensive numbers throughout the series and the Golden Knights were having success against Holtby. In the end, the Golden Knights stars stepped up and Lehner was able to make key stops at the right time. Although empty and quiet, the Golden Knights got their parade down the Las Vegas Boulevard viewed by millions on local TV.
Ken: Lightning over Golden Knights in seven
The Golden Knights are built for a condensed playoff season. The neutral site could potentially hurt the Golden Knights, but prior to the DeBoer led winning streak Vegas was just ok in Vegas. Limited trave helps, back-to-backs help, and dealing with weird occurrences has been when this team does best.
The first series is going to be tricky no matter who it is and might end up taking a bit longer to get through than maybe it would have had the season not paused. However, the other two in the West should stack up pretty nicely for the Golden Knights. The second round guarantees a Pacific Division team and the Western Conference Final team will be coming off a tough second round themselves.
In the end, if Tampa plays like Tampa can play, the Golden Knights just don’t have enough defense to keep up. Sure, Vegas has played well against the Lightning in the past, and they’ll win a few games, but probably just enough to make the deciding loss even more heartbreaking.
Two trips to the Final our of three seasons is pretty darn good. But two losses out of three sure would suck. At least we wouldn’t have to watch the Cup get raised in our own city by another team again though.
Those are our picks for the postseason, what do you think? Are we being too kind or not kind enough? Let us know who you think will win this season’s Stanley Cup. As you can tell we’re still pretty optimistic.