On March 12th, 2020 the NHL followed in the path of professional sports across North America and shut their doors. Over 4 months later, the NHL is back to complete their season! With the playoffs starting on Saturday, August 1, here are some of the stories to be following.
The Play-in Round
This year the playoff situation is like none other: 24 teams are still eligible to win the Stanley Cup! In each conference the top 12 teams, seeded by point percentage, are in the playoffs. The top 4 teams in each conference get a bye while the other 8 teams will play in the Play-in round in a best of 5 series. This Play-in round has never been done before in the NHL and will certainly provide a different perspective on the NHL playoffs. The top 4 teams in each conference will play a seeding round robin tournament so that they’re not coming in cold.
If you’re one of the teams seeded 5 through 12, the path to the Stanley Cup just got harder. A typical year would mean that you need to win 16 games, in a maximum of 28 games, to win the Stanley Cup. This year, it balloons to 18 games in a 33 game schedule. Sure, that might seem like a small increase, but when you’re coming back in cold, every game counts. For what it’s worth, last year’s St. Louis Blues were the first team outside of the top 4 seeds in the conference to win the Stanley Cup since 2014’s Los Angeles Kings.
Much like the NBA, the NHL is taking a bubble approach to the playoffs. The Western Conference are all living in Edmonton while the Eastern Conference are in Toronto. Thus far, since entering this phase of return to play, the NHL has had zero positive test results for COVID-19. Thus far the bubble has worked, giving hope that the players and staff can remain safe and the season can finish.
But being in the bubble is more than just being safe. It’s being placed in a closed environment with your teammates. And competitors. Never before have you had to play against someone one night and then risk running into them in the line for avocado toast the next morning. Right now, Bubble Life is new and exciting, but after 2 months, 5 rounds and dozens of games, tensions are likely to rise. What will that lead to? Stay tuned to find out!
Have you ever not done something for almost 5 months and then needed to performing your best? That is what is expected of NHL players as they get one game of exhibition before playing for their playoff lives in a best of 5 series. Some of the most noteworthy matchups are:
Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames
This Western Canadian matchup features two teams with significant issues. Connor Hellebuyck has held the Jets in contention this year. They have given up the 5th most shots, but have given up the 20th fewest goals against. That performance will need to continue if the Jets plan to win this series. Opposing them, the Flames have scored the 20th fewest goals in the league this year. For a team that already has good goaltending, the Jets should be able to hold off the Flames lack of offense. However, in a 5 game series, either team could get hot offensively.
NY Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes were one of the teams that were against this playoff format. As the #6 seed, they’ll be facing the #11 NY Rangers, a team unlikely to make the playoffs originally. If the Hurricanes want to prove that they deserve to be in the playoffs, they’ll need to beat a Rangers team that have already gone 0-4 against this year, with the Rangers winning by a combined 17-9. It’ll be worth watching to see if the Hurricanes can overcome the obstacle and show that their concerns were unwarranted.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Tied in the standings, these teams are destined for a close series. Last year, the Blue Jackets upset the top seeded Tampa Bay Lightning, sweeping them in the first round of the playoffs. On the flip-side, the Maple Leafs couldn’t get out of the first round yet again.
Now get ready because it all kicks off Saturday with 5 games, starting at Noon ET. Enjoy the games!