Eastern Edge: Previewing the first round matchups of the 2020 NHL Playoffs

Brennan Des

2020-08-11

In this week's Eastern Edge, we preview the Eastern Conference playoff matchups. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or shoot me a message on Twitter @BrennanDeSouza! Check out all the Dobber writers' playoff predictions here and feel free to tell us how foolish our picks are!

 

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens

Just as we all predicted, the Montreal Canadiens eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins after four games of play-in action. Okay, seriously, if you picked Montreal to beat Pittsburgh, you're a lot braver (and/or luckier) than the rest of us.

While the Habs certainly deserve credit for ousting the star-studded Penguins, I think that Pittsburgh's poor performance had a greater influence on the result of this series than Montreal's strong play. The Penguins weren't able to match the level of hunger and intensity that the Canadiens brought to this series. I can easily highlight players on Montreal's roster that elevated their play during this matchup, but it's much more difficult to think of standout players from Pittsburgh. To give you a few specific examples, Carey Price, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, Artturi Lehkonen, Jeff Petry and Brett Kulak all played extremely well for the Habs. The thing is, Montreal's roster includes so many players that can be difference makers – in addition to the ones I already mentioned. Guys like Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia and Max Domi have all had strong stretches of play during recent seasons, but they weren't huge factors during the play-in round. With that in mind, I'm curious to see if a new set of Canadiens will step up during this first round against the Flyers.

Coach Claude Julien shuffled his lines during the Pittsburgh series, breaking up his reliable top line of Tatar-Danault-Gallagher to create one line with Danault, Lehkonen and Paul Byron, and another with Tatar, Gallagher and Suzuki. I have to say, the Byron-Lehkonen-Danault line looked excellent against the Penguins. Each player is strong defensively, allowing the line to shut down the opponent's attack, control possession and dominate play. The sample size is obviously small, but I re