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NHL first-round takeaways: The Lightning have been winning ugly

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August 19th, 2020

The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs continues this week, with four teams looking to advance on Wednesday.

The restart to the 2019-2020 NHL season from within the bubble cities of Edmonton and Toronto has provided fans and bettors renewed excitement in the chase for the Stanley Cup, especially with the unique format.

Here are a few impressions from this first round of the NHL playoffs.

It’s been ugly, but Bolts have found a way

It seemed like the nightmare matchup — the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Blue Jackets swept the Lightning in the first round of the 2019 playoffs as a massive underdog.

Adding more intrigue to this rematch was the fact Columbus dispatched the Toronto Maple Leafs and their high-octane offense in the qualifying round of this postseason.

Credit to the Lightning for battling in this series. The Blue Jackets play ugly hockey. They don’t score much, but don’t allow many goals. Earlier in the season, Columbus had a 17-32 Over/Under record, which meant plenty of low-scoring games.

The Lightning have been able to manufacture enough offense to take a 3-1 series lead heading into Wednesday’s afternoon contest. They’ve done it the hard way, with all three of their wins by a goal, including the five-overtime series opener.

That grinding style doesn’t fit the Lightning’s modus operandi of a fast, skilled team. But Tampa has been able to grind its way to a series lead.

Blues finally waking from early slumber

If you asked the Vancouver Canucks at the beginning of their series with the St. Louis Blues if they’d be pleased going into Game 5, with the series tied two games apiece, the answer would likely be a resounding "Yes."

The Canucks are making their first playoff appearance since 2015, and this is a significant experience for their young core of players.

To head into Game 5 Wednesday in what is now a best-of-three scenario, against the defending champs, appears to be a positive development for Vancouver.

Dig deeper.

The Canucks had a chance to put the Blues on the ropes Sunday, with the possibility to complete a sweep the following day.

In less than 24 hours, however, the Canucks went from a potential 3-0 lead in the series to a 2-2 tie. Vancouver lost Game 3 in overtime and got demolished in Game 4.

The Blues have come alive. They have started to wear down the Canucks with a fast, physical, pounding style of play.

They have also received better goaltending of late, since they turned to Jake Allen in Game 3, after Jordan Binnington struggled at the beginning of the series.

This is trouble as these teams enter a pivotal Game 5 — not just for the Canucks, but perhaps for the entire Western Conference.

The Over has taken a hit in Flyers-Habs series

If you like low-scoring hockey, with goalies hogging the spotlight, we present to you the Philadelphia Flyers-Montreal Canadiens series.

Carey Price and Carter Hart have been spectacular in net.

Four games into this series, and there have been three shutouts. These teams have combined to score 11 goals in four games. The Over/Under for Game 5 has been set at five at BetAmerica. Outside of an offensive breakout for Montreal in Game 2, goals have been a rarity.

Back to Earth after play-in round upsets

The Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks turned heads in the qualifying round.

Entering the NHL restart as the No. 12 seeds in the play-in round, the Habs and Blackhawks each upset the No. 5 seeds — Pittsburgh and Edmonton — to advance to the first round of the playoffs.

The Blackhawks have since been served a reality check. They were defeated in five games by the Vegas Golden Knights. Meanwhile, the Habs are facing elimination against the Flyers in Game 5 Wednesday.

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