Expert Picks for Conference Finals of 2020 NHL Playoffs

The 2020 NHL Playoffs has seen several upsets along the way, but also has seen several top teams book its place in their respective Conference Finals beginning on Sunday.

Only one No. 1 seed remains in the postseason with the Vegas Golden Knights facing off with the Dallas Stars out West. Both teams needed Game 7 wins to advance in the competition, eliminating Vancouver and Colorado respectively. 

In the East, the No. 1 seed Philadelphia Flyers suffered a 4-0 Game 7 loss to the New York Islanders, whom clinched its first ECF Finals berth since 1993. Barry Trotz's team will face off with the second seeded Tampa Bay Lightning, whom brushed aside the Boston Bruins with ease.

Our NHL expert Larry Henry Jr. is 7-5 overall over the last two rounds and continues his NHL coverage with a closer look at each playoff series. Larry breaks down the key players to watch for each team and how they reached this point. 

Here's a closer look at LHJ's breakdown for the Conference Finals:

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders

It will be a mixture of playing styles on display in the Eastern Conference Final with the Tampa Bay Lightning facing off with the New York Islanders. 

Jon Cooper's team eased past the Boston Bruins in the second round, winning 4-games-to-1. Even without star center Steven Stamkos, the Lightning have seen several players step up so far these playoffs. Brayden Point leads the team with six goals, including two game-winning overtime goals while Nikita Kucherov is the only other Lightning player this postseason to have double-digit points. Stamkos is available to play for the Bolts this series after missing the round robin and second round and would give a major boost offensively. Defensively the team is led by Victor Hedman while star goaltender Andriy Vasilevskiy is 10-3 these playoffs with a 1.91 GAA.

New York needed a Game 7 to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers, but ultimately was the better team in the series. Not only do the Islanders pester you defensively, but also make it difficult for teams while on offense. Five different players have recorded double-digits this postseason with Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Brock Nelson all having seven or more to date. Matthew Barzal is one of the fastest skaters in the league while physical veterans like Cal Clutterbuck and Lee have been impactful on the forecheck. Andy Greene and Nick Leddy are two veteran defenders while Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov have formed a strong 1-2 partnership.

I give New York tons of credit for what they've achieved so far, but Tampa Bay has too much firepower and a better No. 1 goalie.

Pick: Lightning 

Western Conference

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Dallas Stars 

Two confident teams clash in the Western Conference Finals with Dallas looking to knock off the No. 1 seeded Golden Knights. 

Rick Boeness' team eliminated the Colorado Avalanche in Friday's Game 7, ending what was a high-scoring series between two top sides. Miro Heiskanen has grown into an impressive young talent this season and leads the Stars with 21 points so far. Denis Gurianov has also raised eyes with his eight goals while veterans Jamie Benn and Joe Pavelski have continued to be impactful. Tyler Seguin has underachieved in some ways, but has another chance to deliver against a top team in Vegas. Anton Khoudobin is 8-5 these playoffs and has taken the No. 1 job away from Ben Bishop. Khoudobin will need to be ready for everything Vegas throws at him.

Vegas needed Game 7 to defeat a young and thriving Vancouver Canucks team, but punched its ticket into the final four. The Golden Knights have a deep roster with young defenseman Shea Theodore also having a superb playoffs to date. Theodore leads the team with 16 points in 15 games and has helped limit top attacking opponents so far. Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, and the in-form Alex Tuch lead the offense with 18 goals between team, but other players have the ability to get it done in front of goal. Robin Lehner is the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as of now, but should receive a tougher time in goal against Dallas than Vancouver. 

Dallas will be physical with Vegas, but ultimately I like the team with the better goaltender.

Pick: Golden Knights 

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