More than four months after ultimately jettisoning the last three weeks of the regular season, the NHL wants fans to tune in again.
August is usually the quietest month in hockey; the midsummer frenzy from the draft and free agency has abated, and the month offers a last opportunity to retreat to cottages and golf courses before training camp beckons in September.
But COVID-19 has created unusual times, and so the NHL has spent months planning and preparing to stage the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs beginning Saturday – even as the week leading up to it has seen MLB suspend the Miami Marlins season and the NFL is dealing with a growing list of players opting out of the 2020 season.
[ Red Wings’ next season: Circle these dates on the calendar (maybe) ]
When the NHL paused the season March 12, every team but the Wings was still jockeying for position in the standings. That eventually led to a 24-team playoff format instead of the usual 16.
The playoffs will be in two cities – the Eastern Conference teams will play at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, and the Western teams at Rogers Place in Edmonton. Edmonton will host the Stanley Cup finals.
The top four teams in each conference will play a three-game round-robin tournament to determine seeding (with regular-season overtime rules in effect). That leaves eight teams in each conference to play a best-of-five qualifying round (with playoff overtime rules).
More on Wings:
Who will they protect in Seattle Kraken expansion draft? Our list
Back when NHLers thought the Wings had outstanding players
One of the losers from that round – that is, a team the NHL deemed worthy of being in the playoffs – will win the right to draft first overall. When a placeholder team won the Alexis Lafrenière sweepstakes on June 26, it necessitated a second lottery that will give all eight teams eliminated in the qualifying round an equal 12.5% chance to nab that spot. Meanwhile the Wings, the team that was guaranteed to finish with the worst record in the league, are picking fourth.
Here is a opening round primer.
The Boston Bruins (44-14-12), Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6), Washington Capitals (41-20-8) and Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7) will play one another to determine who will be seeded first through fourth in the Eastern Conference. The St. Louis Blues (42-19-10), Colorado Avalanche (42-20-8), Vegas Golden Knights (39-24-8) and Dallas Stars (37-24-8) will battle for first through fourth in the Western Conference.
No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6) vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9)
Buzz: The Pens won the season series, 2-1. The Canadiens’ .500 winning percentage is the lowest of the 24-team field, and if that wasn’t enough, remember they were the one team that was swept by the Wings (in four games). Carey Price will have to be at his best, and he wasn’t during the regular season, posting a 27-25-6 record with a 2.79 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. On the other side, Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and Kris Letang are eyeing their fourth Stanley Cup championship.
Prediction: Penguins’ playoff experience pays off.
No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5) vs. No. 11 New York Rangers (37-28-5)
Buzz: The Rangers took the season series, 4-0, outscoring the Hurricanes 17-9, but the long layoff means the Canes should be bolstered by the return of top defenseman Dougie Hamilton. The Rangers have to decide who starts in net – veteran Henrik Lundqvist, who has a .922 save percentage in 128 career playoff games, or youngster Igor Shesterkin, who had the better regular season but has no playoff experience.
Prediction: Rangers continue to own Hurricanes.
No. 7 New York Islanders (35-23-10 ) vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers (35-26-8)
Buzz: The Isles won the season series, 3-0. They don’t score much (2.78 goals per game) but they also don’t give up much (2.79). The Panthers made a splash last summer in signing goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who improved on an unimpressive playoff history when he lead the Blue Jackets to their first series victory in 20…