Bruins, Blues and Lightning fans: you should be very angry right now. Why? Well, despite Vegas opening its betting lines in favor of all three of your favorite teams in advance of the NHL's re-start in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles, Lord Stanley's Cup has become much more elusive for them, more so than when the season paused back in March.
Let's start by stating the obvious: by no means are these teams now, nor were they before, guaranteed to win the Stanley Cup. After all, the Stanley Cup is, without question, the hardest trophy to win throughout the four major U.S. sports (not to mention the heaviest to lift). That's what has always made it that much more satisfying to bring home. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a long, grueling fight; to be honest, they're almost like Rocky going fifteen rounds with Ivan Drago -- THAT type of grueling intensity.
The adjusted postseason format that the NHL has adopted as part of its August 2020 re-start is certainly not doing the teams who were considered top contenders back in March any real favors, either. As we'll see this coming Saturday, just to begin the playoffs, each of the top 4 seeds in both conferences will play each other in a round robin to determine their new seeding. This means that teams like the Bruins and Blues, who led their respective conferences in points at the time the season paused, are no longer guaranteed top seeding. Seeds 5 through 12 in each conference, meanwhile, will engage in best-of-5 qualifying series to determine who the final four playoff teams will be.
The Lightning, a season after getting laughed out of the playoffs in round one, are looking to redeem themselves in Toronto. Despite the COVID-19 outbreak in their facilities back in June, the break from hockey has allowed Steven Stamkos to get healthy for the most part. He did get banged up again in Tampa's recent training camp, but he should be good to go for the upcoming round robin. Despite how good they are, the Lightning are flat out not a contender without Stamkos, so his presence will be needed. The Blues are looking to repeat a season after going on a magical second half run. That’s all I will say about them (I'm still salty).
For the Bruins, though, this added difficulty is very concerning. After all, this is most likely the last chance for the core of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask to set their collective legacies in stone. The Bruins have been to three Stanley Cup Finals over the past decade and have just one Cup to show for it. Especially after the crushing loss they experienced at home last year, this playoff run has to mean even more to them than before. Bergeron and Krejci are now on the wrong side of 30 and, while Chara is an athletic freak for his age, he's still old. Rask's prime is not likely to last much longer; the 2020 Vezina finalist is already weighing his options for the future. If Tuukka dreams of finally getting out of Tim Thomas' shadow, especially in the eyes of Bruins fans, this is his best chance.
While teams like the Leafs, Avalanche, Blue Jackets and Flyers are all looking to compete and make a run in this upcoming re-start, none of these teams' rosters are as complete from top to bottom as the Bruins. So, in case I'm not being clear, the pressure should be on the Bruins to exercise their past playoff demons and bring home the Cup. They're the most talented group out of the 24 teams about to resume play. Despite that, however, nothing is guaranteed -- especially in this unique environment where several teams are getting a fresh start. The Bruins came out looking possessed this season, clearly looking to avenge their inexcusable loss in June of 2019. If the 2020 B's look to enshrine their names among the immortal teams of Bruins past, they need to capitalize on the chance this break has given them and need to come out of the gate blazing. No more coming up short.
You can listen to more of my hockey takes on the Snipe N' Celly Podcast, which I record alongside my line mates Mark and Ashleigh. New episodes drop each Friday and we'll be covering the NHL re-start from now until a champion is crowned in October!