EA Sports’ NHL series holds a special place in my heart, mostly in that it’s the only game that I love and hate playing at the exact same time. One of the things the series boasts is it’s realistic sim engine, which has definitely improved over the years. So what better way to get ready for the playoffs than by using the game to try and predict the outcome of this year’s playoffs. Will it be accurate? Probably not. But, hey, it’s fun.
Of course, this is a lot harder than “create a playoff mode and sim it” because NHL 20 does not have a 24 team playoff mode complete with a round robin tournament for the top eight teams, and best-of-five series for the remaining 16 teams. Who would’ve guessed? So instead I had to individually sim and record the stats for the round robin tournaments, and the qualifying rounds to determine the teams and the seedings for the actual 16 team playoff mode. So, a bit more work to get this done.
I’ll be a bit more specific with the Leafs’ adventures, but I’ll also provide some notes for some of the interesting things to happen in other series.
Round Robins & Qualifiers
-Philadelphia and St. Louis go undefeated in their respective round robins, with the standings rounding out at Washington, Boston, and Tampa in the East, and Vegas, Colorado, and Dallas in the West.
-Some of the “non-playoff” teams provided us with some upsets, as the 11th seed Rangers and Coyotes, and 12th seed Blackhawks all won their series’, with the Blackhawks and Coyotes sweeping their series.
-In case you were wondering, McDavid and Draisaitl got held to a combined three assists in the process of getting swept. Imagine the narratives from the “veteran” Toews and Kane manhandling the “young” McDavid and Draisaitl. Oh god, it’s glorious.
-Aside from the Canucks, every other team with home ice advantage moved on to the next round.
-The will of Blue Jackets was clearly not a problem for the Leafs, as they swept them in dominant fashion, winning 4-1, 3-0, and 6-2 in the series winning game.
-Marner lead the way with 5 points, while Kerfoot, Mikheyev, Rielly, and Tavares all had two goals. Freddy held the Blue Jackets to only three goals, with a .957% save percentage.
-Also, I did the draft lottery for fun. Congratulations to the Florida Panthers, who now have Alexis Lafreniere.
-While the Blackhawks got swept, the two 11th seed teams in Arizona and the Rangers both upset their first round opponent to move on to the conference semifinals.
-The Lightning nearly made a comeback against the Penguins, as the Penguins took a 3-0 series lead only for the Lightning to push it to Game 7.
-The Leafs had a back and forth series with the Capitals, as they lost game one 4-0, won the next two games 2-1 and 6-2, lost game four 8-1, won game five 3-2, and lost game six 4-0, taking the series to game seven (because of course).
-After Mitch Marner gave the Leafs an early 1-0 lead, Ovechkin had back-to-back goals in the second and early in the third to give the Caps a 2-1 lead, pushing the Leafs to the brink. But Matthews got the tying goal midway through the third, and Marner scored a few minutes later to give the Leafs the game winning goal, as the Leafs exorcised their game seven demons and won 3-2.
-Marner continued his strong playoff run, leading the Leafs with 11 points, while Matthews led the team in goals with 6. Andersen took a bit of a hit as his save percentage dropped to .912%, but hey, it was good enough to win the series.
How’s that for having what it takes to win Ovi? Now the Leafs move on the face the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are currently riding a red hot Evgeni Malkin who leads the NHL with 15 points so far. Great.
-The semifinals started out pretty one sided, as all four series saw one team take a 2-0 series lead (Arizona, Dallas, Boston, Toronto), and three take a 3-1 series lead (surprise surprise, the Leafs were the one team that didn’t).
-Both 11th seed teams saw their runs come to an end, as the Rangers lost in five to the Bruins, and the Coyotes ended up blowing their 3-1 series lead to the Blues.
-The Stars also preserved their 3-1 lead, beating the Avalanche in six, and also holding the MacKinnon line to just three assists total over the six games (but Kadri led the team with 14 points in 14 games).
-The Leafs took a 2-0 series lead off the back of 5-0 and 3-2 wins in Pittsburgh, but coughed up that advantage at home with 7-1 and 3-1 losses. It looked like Pittsburgh had all the momentum with a 4-2 lead in the third period of Game 5, but the Leafs scored two quick goals to take it to OT, eventually winning 5-4 off of a Cody Ceci winner, because of course. The Penguins responded again, beating the Leafs 5-2 to take the series to seven games, because WHY NOT!
-The Leafs got off to a good start as Matthews got a goal late in the first, but Crosby responded early in the second to make the score 1-1 going into the third. The Leafs had an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the game, as Tavares scored early and Malkin took a penalty immediately after, but they choked it by letting Tanev score a shorty, making it 2-2 going into OT. It would go on for 11 minutes and nine seconds before Pierre Engvall emerged as the hero and gave the Leafs a 3-2 win in game seven.
-Matthews was the MVP of this series, garnering 5 goals and 8 points to tie Marner for the team lead with 15 points, while also leading the team with 11 goals. Andersen’s save percentage continues to plummet, as he is now rocking a .903% save percentage, but you know what they say, offense wins championships *nervous laughter*
And after two hard fought series, and learning how to win in game 7, we now get to truly exorcise our demons in the conference finals against who else but the Boston Bruins. Seriously, it had to happen at some point.
-The Bruins dominate the Leafs early on, holding them to five goals in the first four games to give the Bruins a 3-1 series lead, as the Leafs lost 5-1 and 3-1 in Boston, responded with a 2-1 win on home ice before losing 2-1 in Game 4. But the Leafs have been in this position against the Bruins before…
-Game 5 in Boston comes around, and once again, Matthews shows up to play, scoring a hat trick to help the Leafs to a 5-1 win. He came up clutch again in Game 6, as the Leafs were down 3-2 in the third and Matthews scored the game tying goal. Unfortunately, he couldn’t continue his magic, as who-really-cares on the Bruins scored in double overtime to give the Bruins a 4-3 win, and a 4-2 series win. At, least it wasn’t Game 7 in Boston?!?
-Meanwhile, the Blues dominated the Stars, taking a 3-0 series lead before finishing them off in five.
Stanley Cup Finals
-It was a Blues-Bruins rematch, which was honestly quite boring the first time, so I’ll just tell you the Bruins won in six games.
-But, it’ll please you all to know that Matthews held his tied lead in points in the playoffs until Game 5 of the Cup Finals, so if this was real life, I really wouldn’t want to hear another word about Matthews being underrated.
-Matthews 15 goals were tied with 2018 Alex Ovechkin and 2009 Sidney Crosby for the most playoff goals in a single playoff season since 1996, when Joe Sakic scored 18. This would be only the second instance of player scoring at least 15 goals without reaching the Cup Finals, but with the qualifying round, Matthews still played four rounds of hockey.
Let’s be honest, if the Leafs won three rounds of hockey and still lost to the Bruins, people would still talk about how this team isn’t playoff ready and needs more grit and compete.
But in Leafs Nation, a trip to the Conference Finals would be amazing, no matter how it ends. Let’s take a look at the overall point totals for the Leafs.
I’m sure nobody is surprised by the top five scorers for the team, as the big four forwards and Morgan Rielly all contributed a lot, with Hyman also chipping in tied with Rielly. People will probably lose their minds because Nylander only scored a goal, but he was still tied for 27th in playoff scoring, so I’ll take it. The biggest surprise is Pierre Engvall, who came up clutch with five goals and six assists, being the dark horse for the team this year. Andersen finished the playoffs with 13-10 record, a .908 save percentage, and two shutouts (he was also the only goalie to get a shutout in the final three rounds of the playoffs).
Tarasenko lead the league in scoring, but Boston won because of their depth, as five Bruins finished in the top 10 in scoring, with three more tied for 11th. There’s a bit of a theme going on with the second place players, as along with Matthews, former Leaf Phil Kessel continued his usual playoff antics and carried the Coyotes to a second round appearance, while his buddy in Pittsburgh Evgeni Malkin had a dominating playoff run as well.
And as mentioned before, Auston Matthews had one hell of a run, leading the league with 15 goals, possibly threatening for the most goals in a single season. The only more impressive performance goal wise was Ovechkin’s eight goals in 10 games, reminding everyone that he’s still the best goal scorer in the league.
Oh, hey there Bozak!
Finally, the goaltenders, where we can see another big reason why the Coyotes went as far as they did, and why the Bruins won the Cup on top of their deep offense.