NHL 20 Stanley Cup Playoffs simulation: Flames win first Cup since 1989 as Bruins fall short again
While the NHL season in on hold, we got our playoff hockey fix via NHL 20
We should be right in the thick of enjoying the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs right now but, as you know, COVID-19 has put almost the entirety of the sports world on hold for the time being. The NHL is among the many leagues that have halted operations to help flatten the curve and stop the spread of the pandemic, so instead of getting playoff hockey, we're quite bored in quarantine.
In an effort to fight that boredom and get some semblance of playoff hockey, we decided to run a simulation of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on NHL 20 and see what kind of results and storylines would come out of a virtual alternate universe where the postseason is happening.
For the sake of this exercise, since the regular season has yet to be played to a conclusion, we seeded the playoffs based on points percentage in the regular season. Sorry, Blue Jackets and Winnipeg Jets fans, that means your team, though technically in a playoff position at the pause, is on the outside looking in here.
Here's how this virtual playoff picture shakes out:
- Boston Bruins (Atlantic 1) vs. New York Islanders (Wild Card 2)
- Tampa Bay Lightning (Atlantic 2) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (Atlantic 3)
- Washington Capitals (Metro 1) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (Wild Card 1)
- Philadelphia Flyers (Metro 2) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (Metro 3)
- St. Louis Blues (Central 1) vs. Calgary Flames (Wild Card 2)
- Colorado Avalanche (Central 2) vs. Dallas Stars (Central 3)
- Vegas Golden Knights (Pacific 1) vs. Nashville Predators (Wild Card 1)
- Edmonton Oilers (Pacific 2) vs. Vancouver Canucks (Pacific 3)
The simulation was run with the latest online rosters provided by EA Sports and without any user interference. (All games were run CPU vs. CPU.) Here's how things played out:
Some quick takeaways before we get into the full breakdown:
- Leafs knocked out in the first round… again: Even EA knows how this is supposed to work. Toronto is out after round one, despite the fact that they were able to avoid a first-round matchup against Boston this time around. Might there need be some drastic shake-ups coming down after this latest postseason disappointment from the Leafs?
- Avs, Golden Knights out with a whimper in Round 1: Two of the biggest Western Conference threats barely put up a fight in round one. Vegas and Colorado were among the West's top dogs this regular season but they combined for just one playoff win in the sim
- Edmonton goes on a run to WCF with McDavid: It's been a frustrating few years for Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers but they're finally back in the playoff picture and they're making it count. Even without overly impressive displays from McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers basically walked to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2006
- Battle of Alberta in WCF: The Battle of Alberta found some incredible new life during this regular season and most fans were hoping to see Oilers vs. Flames in the first round of the playoffs — though point percentage seeding put an end to that. However, the sim led to an even better option: The two rivals meeting with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on the line. That's easy to get excited about even when it's only in a virtual world
- Bruins, Flyers rally back from 3-1 deficits in Round 1 to make it all the way to ECF: The Bruins and Flyers were arguably the two best Eastern Conference teams in the latter half of the regular season but both came dangerously close to being eliminated in the first round. However, they rallied back for dramatic series wins before meeting in the East final
Okay, time to see how this all went down.
Bruins defeat Islanders, 4-3
The league's top team found themselves in trouble early in first round, falling into a 3-1 hole against the Islanders. But the Bruins then rattled off three straight victories with their back against the wall, beating the Isles in seven games to advance. The Bruins managed to survive despite an absolutely brutal opening round from this year's potential Vezina winner, Tuukka Rask (.882 SV%). Trade deadline acquisition Nick Ritchie, of all people, led Boston with six goals and nine points.
Sigh, another first round exit for the Maple Leafs. Tampa won all three games in Toronto to hand the Leafs another quick exit while making slight amends for the Bolts' own first-round debacle last year.
For the second straight postseason, it's the Hurricanes coming up with a first-round upset as a wild card against the Caps. Washington got strong performances from veteran Russian wingers Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk (10 points apiece) but Braden Holtby's brutal series (.894 SV%) ended up costing his team. Martin Necas finished the first round, leading all skaters in points (2-9-11).
Flyers defeat Penguins, 4-3
One of the league's best rivalries lived up to the hype in the first round. The Penguins held a 3-1 series lead over the Flyers but Philadelphia got hot — as they've done so many times this year — and ripped off three straight wins to punch their ticket to the second round. Sidney Crosby had just one goal in the series.
Flames defeat Blues, 4-2
It's an early exit for the defending champs and a first-round redemption for the Flames, who were handed an early exit at the hands of the Avalanche last year. Vladimir Tarasenko was productive in his return to the lineup, scoring three goals and adding two assists, but St. Louis didn't quite find the magic they had last year and lost two costly decisions in OT.
Stars defeat Avalanche, 4-0
Colorado's high-powered offense fell completely flat against the Stars' lockdown defense and the great goaltending of Ben Bishop (.966 SV%), scoring just four total goals in four games. Not a single player in Colorado's lineup had more than one point in the series, and Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, Andre Burakovsky, and Nazem Kadri were all held without a goal. Meanwhile, Tyler Seguin led Dallas with four goals in four games.
Predators defeat Golden Knights, 4-1
This one's a bit of a stunner. After climbing out of the Central division basement and just sneaking into the playoff picture, the Predators made quick work of Vegas to hand the Knights their second consecutive first-round exit. After a rough regular season, Pekka Rinne was outstanding in the first round, posting a .950 SV%
Oilers defeat Canucks, 4-1
Edmonton is back in the postseason success column! Despite the quick series, the Oilers only outscored the Canucks 10-8. Connor McDavid put up three goals and five points in five games while Mikko Koskinen had a great series in net for the Oilers, posting a .944 SV% despite being pulled in Edmonton's only loss.
Bruins defeat Lightning, 4-1
After dropping the first game of the series on home ice, the Bruins bounced back to take four straight against Tampa Bay. That gave the Bruins seven wins in eight games. Nick Ritchie once again tore it up for Boston, adding three goals and seven points in round two and tying him for the most points of any skater (16) through two rounds.
Oilers defeat Predators, 4-0
The Preds were quickly brought back to reality in round two, suffering a quick sweep at the hands of the Oilers. McDavid had two goals and two assists while Koskinen continued to play extremely strong (.938 SV%).
Flames defeat Stars, 4-1
Dallas' defense finally buckled against Calgary and the Flames (who averaged 3.73 goals per game through two rounds) took advantage to deliver a gentleman's sweep. Through two rounds, Johnny Gaudreau led the Flames with five points and five assists in 11 games.
Flyers defeat Hurricanes, 4-2
In the only series in this round to go longer than five games, the Flyers continued to demonstrate that their firepower is tough to match. Sebastian Aho and Carolina tried to keep up but Philly didn't let off the gas. They led the playoffs in scoring (4.00 GPG) through two rounds.
Bruins defeat Flyers, 4-1
The Flyers' lone win came in a 6-2 drubbing of the Bruins in Game 2, but outside of that their explosive offense was deafeningly quiet against Rask and the Bruins. Rask shut out Philly in three of the four Bruins wins, including a 1-0 victory in the clinching Game 5 that booked the Bruins' second straight SCF appearance. After a relatively quiet first two rounds, Boston's top line exploded in the ECF; Patrice Bergeron had eight points while Brad Marchand added seven. David Pastrnak, the league's leading goal-scorer during the regular season, only had two goals coming into the series but got hot and scored four times against Philly.
Flames defeat Oilers, 4-2
Gaudreau continued his stellar playoffs and recorded four goals and four assists in The Battle of Alberta: WCF Edition. Edmonton was able to ride hot goaltending through the first couple of rounds but Koskinen finally came back down to earth and the Oilers' offense sputtered without much production from McDavid (four points) or Draisaitl (five points) in the series.
Stanley Cup Final
Game 1 – Bruins 3, Flames 1: Calgary out-shot the Bruins, 36-28, but Rask held firm and nearly recorded his third straight shutout. The Flames got on the board with 2.8 seconds remaining in the third period but by then the game was already in the bag. The Bruins got goals from Torey Krug, Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk. (BOS leads series 1-0)
Game 2 – Flames 5, Bruins 4 (OT): This was an evenly matched thriller that saw both teams put 40 shots on net apiece. The Flames carried a 4-3 lead into the final minute of regulation but Pastrnak one-timed his second goal of the night to come up with a dramatic game-tying moment that forced OT.
But it was Andrew Mangiapane who ended the night as the true hero, scoring the game-winner off a face-off in OT. (Series tied 1-1)
Game 3 – Flames 4, Bruins 2: After falling into an early 2-0 hole in the first period, the Bruins managed to climb back and tie the game with a pair of goals in the second frame. But Derek Ryan came up big with a goal late in the third period to put Calgary back ahead before Gaudreau iced it with an empty-netter. It's the first time the Bruins have lost back-to-back games since the first round. (CGY leads series 2-1)
Game 4 – Bruins 4, Flames 2: Boston was dominating early in this one after jumping out to a 2-0 lead, but a bizarre own goal from Zdeno Chara seemed to shift the momentum and Calgary was able to tie things up just before second intermission, putting the Bruins in danger of a devastating loss that would see them fall down 3-1 in the series. However, Bergeron reclaimed the lead with a greasy rebound goal with under 10 minutes left in the third and Marchand sealed it with an empty netter. (Series tied 2-2)
Game 5 – Flames 4, Bruins 2: The Bruins held an edge in shots and time of possession, but Calgary broke a 2-2 deadlock with a goal from Matthew Tkachuk just 18 seconds into the third period. The Flames held onto that lead for the rest of the way and added an empty-netter to push the Bruins to the brink with the series heading back to Alberta. (CGY leads series 3-2)
Game 6 – Flames 3, Bruins 1: With the Stanley Cup in the building, the Flames jumped out to an early 1-0 lead and kept their foot on the gas, outshooting the Bruins 40-26 in the game. Boston was left frustrated until about halfway through the third period, when Bergeron picked up yet another clutch playoff goal to tie the game. But just a few minutes later, Mark Jankowski snuck a soft goal past Rask to reclaim Calgary's lead — one that they wouldn't give back. Tkachuk added an empty-netter to crush the Bruins' comeback hopes and clinch the series.
Flames defeat Bruins, 4-2: Calgary captures its second Stanley Cup in franchise history, the first since 1989. Gaudreau was named Conn Smythe as MVP of the playoffs with 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists) in 23 games — only Bergeron had more (12-12-24). As for the Bruins, it's a second straight season in which they've come up just short, losing the Stanley Cup Final to a team that's arguably less impressive on paper.
But, as we all know, the Stanley Cup isn't played on paper. Then again, it's not usually played through video games either.