2020 NHL Playoffs: Ranking Bruins' potential first-round opponents

2020 NHL Playoffs: Ranking Bruins' potential first-round opponents

While the Bruins play a round robin against the other three best teams in the East to determine seeding, the Nos. 5-12 teams will be playing to see who makes it to the actual first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

The teams and matchups are: 

  • Penguins (5) vs. Canadiens (12)
  • Hurricanes (6) vs. Rangers (11)
  • Islanders (7) vs. Panthers (10)
  • Maple Leafs (8) vs. Blue Jackets (9)

Given that we don't know whether the Bruins will be the No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed, it's possible they could play any of these teams in the first round. 

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Are any of them actually scary for the Bruins? Yes, even though none of them should be favored to actually beat Boston. Here's how I'd rank them, in descending order of difficulty: 

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (5)

3.20 G/G (10th), 2.84 GA/G (12th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-2-0

I'm not crying for the Penguins having to be here. They could have avoided this by not losing eight of their last 11 games.

Anyway, this is a tried-and-true group that added Jason Zucker and Patrick Marleau (among others; Connor Sheary was also brought back) at the trade deadline. Pittsburgh was clearly going for it this year, only to be run out of a top spot by the surging Flyers.

The Bruins blowing it in the round robin and getting Pittsburgh in the first round would be a worst-case scenario, even though my money would still be on Boston. 

2. New York Islanders (7)

2.78 G/G (22nd), 2.79 GA/G (9th)

2019 record vs. Bruins: 1-1-1

I'm going Islanders ahead of the Hurricanes because I have more faith in them reaching the field of eight based on their play-in matchup.

Scoring has been an issue for the Islanders all season, but after adding JG Pageau at the trade deadline, they're very strong down the middle (Matthew Barzal, Brock Nelson), which we've seen has been crucial for teams making playoff runs. 

3. Carolina Hurricanes (6)

3.19 G/G (11th), 2.84 GA/G (11th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 0-1-0

Yes, this team looked like a bunch of children in the Eastern Conference Final last year because they... weren't good enough to play in the Eastern Conference Final.

But the Hurricanes, who were fourth in the East in goal differential (better than the Penguins and Capitals), have momentum on their side. They were big players at the trade deadline, adding Vincent Trocheck up front and Sami Vatanen and Brady Skei on the back end, plus — and don't laugh here — Dougie Hamilton was pushing for the Norris before he got hurt this season.

He'll be healthy, making the Hurricanes a decent contender as long as they can get past a Rangers team that swept them in the regular season. 

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (8)

3.39 G/G (3rd), 3.17 GA/G (26th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-2-0

Same old story. They can score a bunch and can't defend a lick. Mike Babcock's gone now, which they feel is a good thing, but this isn't the NFL.

You can't just have a great offense and nothing else. Even with the fits they've given the Bruins, I'll always have a hard time taking them seriously. 

5. New York Rangers (11)

3.33 G/G (5th), 3.14 GA/G (23rd)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 0-2-1

Offensive dynamo (and recent Bruins postseason nemesis) Artemi Panarin racked up 95 points in 69 games in the regular season. Mika Zibanejad was scoring like an absolute mad man (11 goals in six games!) prior to the shutdown.

Factor in that the Rangers opted to re-sign Chris Kreider rather than trade him at the deadline and you've got an offensively formidable group, but boy does that blue line stink.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)

2.57 G/G (28th), 2.61 GA/G (3rd)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-0-0

Was it really Bobrovsky that had everyone all horny last year, or was it Torts and that defense? There sure is a case to be made for the latter, because Columbus was third in the league in goals against despite having people whose names I always have to look up (Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins) in net.

That second-round matchup was a toughie last year, but that team had Panarin. This one does not and it sucks offensively.

7. Florida Panthers (10)

3.30 G/G (6th), 3.25 GA/G (28th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-1-1

They have star power up front and played the Bruins close in the regular season (two of three meetings went to OT). Yet when they were on the bubble at the trade deadline, they shipped one-time 30-goal scorer Vincent Trocheck (who has either been hurt or underwhelming the last three seasons) to Carolina.

Sergei Bobrovsky has been a nightmare of a signing, posting a .900 save percentage after signing a seven-year deal with a $10 million AAV. He's 31!   

8. Montreal Canadiens (12)

2.93 G/G (19th), 3.10 GA/G (19th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-3-0

The uniform scares you, sure, but nothing else should. They sold at the deadline, lost 10 of their final 14 games and boast one of the most unspectacular rosters you'll ever see in a "playoff" game.

Also, the Bruins' margin of victory in their four matchups was 11 goals. The Habs have no business playing in this, which is why they probably won't be there long.   
 

Let's not shed tears for the Bruins getting 'screwed' by NHL playoff format

Let's not shed tears for the Bruins getting 'screwed' by NHL playoff format

It seems like everyone around Boston had the same two thoughts when Gary Bettman announced a return-to-play plan that stated the top four teams in each division would play a round robin to determine their seeding:

1. The Bruins are getting screwed here ...

2. ... but whatever. Just give me sports.

Hard agree on the second one. I watched Phil Mickelson babysit Tom Brady's incompetent ass on the golf course all day Sunday. I'll take anything.

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I can't really get too worked up about No. 1, though. Yes, the Bruins had a lead of six points for the Presidents' Trophy with 12 games to play, so while this is of course a disadvantage, I can't feel that badly for them.

For starters, they can still get the No. 1 seed by finishing with at least a tie for the best record during the round robin against Tompa Bay, Washington and Philly.

Here's the other reason: The Bruins are not allowed to complain about playoff logistics ever again after last year.

Do we not remember all that was handed to them last postseason? They avoided the best team in the second round thanks to the Blue Jackets giving the Lightning one drop of adversity. Then they got to face a team that didn't know its own goaltending situation in the Eastern Conference Final before getting the freaking Blues in the Cup Final.

That they lost was of course an upset/choke/whatever you want to call it, but that they got there? That seemed like a mere formality with the breaks they got.

So while I'm pulling for the Bruins to atone for last postseason, we shouldn't exactly be shedding tears. The road was never going to be as easy as they just had it. It was going to be harder this time no matter what. No matter how they fare in the round robin, they're going to face stiffer competition than they did a year ago, because even with this wacky layoff, no one can possibly expect top teams to fall off immediately the way they did last postseason.

Remember, three of the four first-round matchups in the West last year were upsets, meaning the No. 1, 3 and 4 point-getters in the West were also bounced in the first round. By the time the Bruins got past the Leafs in the first round, they had home ice and lesser opponents the rest of the way.

But back to this year and the now. The Bruins are 3-3-4 combined this season against Tompa, Washington and Philly, netting out to an even 10 points in 10 games. That's the worst record any of these four teams has against the other three. The Lightning are 4-2-2 (1.25 points a game), the Flyers are 5-3-1 (1.22 points a game) and the Capitals are 6-4-0 (1.2 points a game).

So the round robin for seeding will be an extra test that I don't think anyone wanted for the Bruins, but one we'll tolerate because we want hockey back.

And really, it's probably not like anyone thinks they're going to get the No. 4 seed and lose in the following round. It's really just an additional variable that's feared because the Stanley Cup Playoffs are already the ultimate anything-can-happen tournament.

But I'll take it. Hockey's trying to come back. We'll all take that. 

Will Tom Brady's departure make these Patriots weapons better or worse in 2020?

Will Tom Brady's departure make these Patriots weapons better or worse in 2020?

Disappointing rookies and mostly underwhelming veterans marred the Patriots' offense last season.

So did having a pissy quarterback, injuries to the offensive line and no tight ends — but now the line is healed, the QB is gone and at least there are bodies at tight end. 

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So let's see where the arrow should realistically be pointing for the returning #weaponz. Will these individuals be better or worse in 2020? 

SONY MICHEL: BETTER

2019 stats: 247 carries, 912 yards (3.7 yards/carry), 7 TD

With major injuries at offensive line and fullback, Michel took a step backward in his second season. James Develin has since retired, but the offensive line is returning, including the surprise move of retaining Joe Thuney. 

DAMIEN HARRIS: BETTER

2019 stats: 2 games played, 4 carries, 12 yards

Boy, you'd have to think he'll be better, right? The 2019 third-round pick looked good in preseason, then played in only two games all season. His lack of usage was a season-long mystery, meaning either last year was some weird red-shirt year or the Patriots just think he stinks.

We'll find out, as five carries is all it will take for him to surpass his total from last season. 

JAMES WHITE: SAME

2019 stats: 67 carries, 263 yards (3.9 yards/carry), TD; 72 receptions, 645 yards, 5 TD

This is a coin toss. He'll be an awesome asset for Stidham, but Brady relied on him pretty heavily the last couple of years, so I can't see him being much better.

A repeat of his production in the receiving game would be fine, especially if Michel does more as a lead back. 

REX BURKHEAD: WORSE

2019 stats: 66 carries, 302 yards (4.6 yards/carry), 3 TD; 27 receptions, 279 yards 

The touchdowns weren't there, but last year was the best season yards-wise of Burkhead's Patriots career. He's a hard player to project because you don't know (a) Whether he'll be healthy or (b) Why the Patriots like him so much. 

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JULIAN EDELMAN: WORSE

2019 stats: 100 receptions, 1,117 yards, 6 TD

Tom Brady loved Julian Edelman. We don't know how a 33-year-old Edelman will click with Jarrett Stidham, but it's fair to assume he won't be fifth in the league in catches like he was last season. 

N'KEAL HARRY: BETTER

2019 stats: 7 games played, 7 receptions, 105 yards, 2 TD

Harry remains an unknown after missing the first half of the season and being a healthy scratch for a game once he came off IR. Missing part of training camp can really set a rookie back, so the question now is whether he gets any semblance of a regular camp in Year 2 given all that's going on with COVID-19. 

MOHAMED SANU: BETTER

2019 stats with NE: 8 games played, 26 receptions, 207 yards, TD

Sanu has been a pretty good receiver throughout his career. He was not that with the Patriots, even when you factor in that he was playing with a bad ankle. The hands weren't there, the blocking famously wasn't there on that jet sweep to N'Keal Harry against the Bills and overall his performance was not worth the steep price paid (the 55th overall pick, which the Falcons then traded for Hayden Hurst) for his services.  

All that is to say this: Sanu can't possibly be as bad as that, right? He's gotten surgery for that high ankle sprain and will be both healthy and better-adjusted to New England's offense. Unless the 30-year-old is just cooked, 600 yards should be a realistic mark. 

JAKOBI MEYERS: BETTER

2019 stats: 26 receptions, 359 yards

I'll be honest: I watched every Patriots game last season and do not remember him having 359 receiving yards. Anyway, we all saw that he and Stidham had a good rapport in the preseason, but that's the preseason. I think Meyers will be better because he's got a quarterback that trusts him.

If he can't improve given those circumstances, that could just about do it for the undrafted receiver.