The regular season of the NHL is over and the hunt for the Stanley Cup is on when hockey returns this summer.
The league opted for a post-season format with 24 teams, which Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano supported in March when the coronavirus ceased to exist.
“You cannot eliminate teams that have a percentage of points or the like,” said Giordano. “I think you’re going 12 and 12. More teams are coming this year, maybe a few bye at the top and playing it out.”
The four best teams from the east and west conferences say goodbye to a handful of round robin games to determine the sowing. These are Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the east and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the west.
“It rewards the teams that had a good regular season and it will be almost a small preseason for the top four at each conference,” said Patrick Sharp, an analyst at NBC Sports, who won the trophy three times with a Chicago player. ” There is a leaderboard on the line and you want to position yourself as best you can, but it’s an opportunity for these guys to get rid of the rust and prepare for a tough opponent because whoever sees them in this first round will do it come from a pretty intense series. ”
The top seeds would compete against the winners of these eight opening round best-of-five series:
No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens
The penguin captain and three-time champion Sidney Crosby didn’t mind going straight into the playoffs given the limited timing. His reward is a matchup against elite goalkeeper Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens, who were 15 points less than Pittsburgh at the end of the season.
Season series: Penguins won two out of three.
What Sharp says: ” Price could be the key in this series. … Pittsburgh is a team that will hopefully get well. They had injured some key shutdown players who would miss major games on the track. ”
No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers
Carolina was one of two teams (along with Tampa Bay) to vote against this playoff format. The Hurricanes should no longer need emergency goalkeeper David Ayres as Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are healthy and Dougie Hamilton is ready to return to the defense.
Season series: Rangers have won all four.
What Sharp says: “ I like the way (the hurricanes) compete and they can end games with the best. Now they have healed their goalkeepers, Dougie is coming back. I like their chances. … you were an exciting team, the New York Rangers. (Winger Artemi) Panarin makes everyone better offensive. ”
No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers
This is a rematch of a 2016 series, but basically everything has changed for these teams since then. Barry Despite has left his mark on the islanders, and three-time cup winner Joel Quenneville is in his first season in soaring Florida.
Season series: Islanders won all three.
What Sharp says: ” There are two different styles of play. The Islanders and Barry Despite and (GM Lou Lamoriello) will be a very disciplined, defense-oriented team … This neutral zone will be congested. And for a team like the Panthers that showed this season that they would trade a few chances to get a few chances … it will be a tough matchup for them. ”
No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets
If Toronto wants to bring the trophy home for the first time since 1967, Auston Matthews and Co. have to deal with the annoying blue jackets that eliminated the lightning with the highest seeds in the first round of last year.
Season series: Split two games.
What Sharp says: “ You know what you see with the blue jackets. It’s going to be an in-your-face game, a hard-nosed matchup. And Toronto, you’re finally getting away from Boston, but now you have to face a team like Columbus who saw how well they played against Tampa Bay last year, so it won’t get any easier for Toronto. ”
No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks
Connor McDavid only gets his second taste of the playoffs in season five. No. 97, who had 97 points in the regular season, is allowed to compete against NHL top scorer Leon Draisaitl against an aging Blackhawks opponent.
Season series: Blackhawks won two out of three.
What Sharp says: “ I don’t know if it’s easier for you (McDavid) to slow down in a playoff series than in the regular season. … This is a tough match for everyone, especially for Chicago, a team that gives up more scoring chances than anyone else in the playoff group. ”
No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes
Nashville and Arizona each made a big step in the season. The Predators replaced coach Peter Laviolette with John Hynes and the Coyotes were traded for MVP Taylor Hall in 2018. Only one of them will be in the last 16.
Season series: Split two games.
What Sharp says: ” It seems like the coaching change made a little difference for the Preds. … Arizona is a team that has trouble scoring goals, but it can defend things under control. They have a great goal, they keep the puck off the net with a pretty good clip. These are teams that will be difficult to play in this short best-of-five series. ”
No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild
The Canucks get goalkeeper Jacob Markstrom back from a knee injury and he had the advantage of skating at home in Sweden during the break. Minnesota’s interim coach, Dean Evason, can show that he deserves a full-time job.
Season series: Wild won two out of three.
What Sharp says: “ They have some key pieces there in Vancouver that will get a taste of the big stage, the big playoff matchups. It will be great for their development. … (The Wild) have this one final crack to show what they have as a group. This could be the last chance for this core group to win a few playoff rounds in Minnesota. ”
No. 8 Calgary Flames against No. 9 Winnipeg Jets
The ever-changing flames face the continuity of the jets, and the winner of this series could make real noises in the west. Some big changes are likely to come for the loser.
Season series: Jets only won in extra time.
What Sharp says: “ It seemed like the flames were finding their groove. But they face a team in Winnipeg that played intense hockey shortly before the shutdown. They knew what they were dealing with. You dug in for the playoffs. ”