Okay, quick quiz:
"Summer's here and the time is right for _____________."
a) Dancing in the street
b) Ice cream in your mouth
c) A waterslide ride into a pool
d) The Stanley Cup Playoffs
Bing! Time's up! If you selected d) you are correct. Wait ... the Stanley Cup Playoffs?! Ice hockey in August?
And so it is. August 1st is the opening day of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Back in mid-March, the coronavirus sent professional sports into hiding. Since then, sports have been slowly re-emerging. In fact, the German Bundesliga and English Premier League have already restarted and completed their regular seasons.
In North America, things were slower. Both the NBA and NHL selected a plan where teams would reduce travel and expose to the virus by 'bubbling', or being contained, in hub cities where the season could be finished tournament style. As we wrote about at the start of July, the NHL chose to make those two hub cities a pair of Canadian hockey centres. All Eastern Conferences teams will play in Toronto, while all Western Conference teams will be in Edmonton.
Now that the big day is here and the playoffs get underway at noon EST, here's a primer on how the competition will work.
Qualifiers and round robins
Usually, the playoffs feature 16 of the league's 31 teams—these teams qualify based on their regular season records. But because the regular season wasn't completed, a total of 24 teams have entered this year's playoffs. This system was chosen because the league felt it wasn't fair to eliminate some of the teams. And because of this new system, there will be two types of games being played.
- Round robins: The four best teams in each conference will play three games against each other. They are playing for their positions in the first round bracket of the playoffs.
- Qualifiers: The other eight teams in each conference will play a best-of-five game series. The winner of the series—the first to win three games—qualifies for the first round of the playoffs. The losers are out.
And we're off!
If you're keeping count, you'll notice that after the qualifiers and round robins are over we're left with 16 teams, or eight in each conference—the exact number the playoffs usually have! Which means that after August 9th, the playoffs will be back to normal. As normal as hockey in August, and without fans cheering at games, can be, of course!
Here are the teams involved. Good luck to all the teams!
Eastern Conference—all games in Toronto at Scotiabank Arena
- Boston Bruins
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Washington Capitals
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
- Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers
- New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers
- Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Western Conference—all games in Edmonton at Rogers Place
- St. Louis Blues
- Colorado Avalanche
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Dallas Stars
- Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks
- Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes
- Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild
- Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets