NHL qualifying round: preview, machtups and predictionsLeon Draisaitl against the Vancouver Canucks. (dpa/picture alliance/empics)
The Blackhawks bring considerable postseason experience to this series, but it won't be enough against the hungry young Oilers. With McDavid, 23, and Draisaitl, 24, heading the offensive attack, Edmonton's fleet-footed young guns should make short work of the Hawks. Edmonton sat 11 points clear of Chicago at the time the NHL suspended its schedule. Draisaitl won the regular-season scoring race with 110 points, 13 ahead of the second-place McDavid.
Anything can happen in a short series following a long period of inactivity. Nevertheless, the Canadiens remain a rebuilding club lacking sufficient talent to upset the powerful Penguins. With Crosby and Malkin leading the way, the Pens should make short work of the Habs.
This could be a close, entertaining contest between the two Canadian franchises. The Flames' blue-line core is healthier, but they'll need more from their scoring stars than they got during the regular season. Calgary is slated to be without Travis Hamonic after he opted out of the return plan due to "family considerations." The Jets' defense remains an area of concern, although Hellebuyck could make the difference. The netminder was 31-21-5 with a 9.22 save percentage and a 2.57 goals-against average in 2019-20 and is the main reason the Jets found themselves in a playoff spot back in March.
The Leafs were experiencing a roller-coaster season before the pandemic struck. From off-ice controversy, to finally naming a captain, to a coaching change, to playing well below expectations, Toronto's 2019-20 was never dull. The Leafs have the edge in firepower, but the Jackets have the advantage in goaltending and defensive depth. They also have the experience of upsetting heavily favored Tampa Bay in last year's playoffs, while the Leafs haven't won a playoff round since 2004.
This will be an interesting matchup. The Wild have the advantage in experience and leadership, but the Canucks are a hungry bunch with rising young talent. Vancouver is led by its young core of Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser. Hughes and Pettersson both said recently they felt physically refreshed after the long break forced on the league by the coronavirus. Having a healthy Markstrom back in the lineup could tilt this series in their favor.