Written by Alexis Barton
After an abrupt end to their 2019-20 season, the National Hockey League is back in action. Rather than competing in 31 different cities across the United States and Canada, the NHL has taken two bubble cities in Toronto and Edmonton to host the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In addition to a new setting, the format of this year’s playoffs also got a revamp.
The league selected the top 24 teams, twelve from each conference, to compete in a qualifying round leading into the traditional playoffs. Teams that finished in 5th-12th place would play in a best-of-five series to see who would move on to the first round. The NHL also introduced a round-robin series among the top four finishers in each conference. In the West, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, and Dallas competed for playoff seeding with their counterparts in the East including Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, and Philadelphia. After a week of competition, eight teams from the qualifiers proved that they could rise to the challenge in such a unique season.
The first round was home to some electric matchups, including the Dallas Stars taking on an incredibly deep Calgary Flames squad and the Philadelphia Flyers taking on the underdog no.12 seed Montreal Canadiens. Through the first four games of each series, nothing was decided, but it was rather apparent that some teams were going to dominate play. The Colorado Avalanche, home to league MVP nominee Nathan Mackinnon, showed the no.7 seed Arizona what it means to be a playoff team. In just 5 games, Colorado showed Arizona their way out of the bubble with a deciding 7-1 victory in game five. In the East, a rematch of the 2019 Conference Finals went underway as the Boston Bruins took on the Carolina Hurricanes. The Bruins proved that they were ready to continue their league-best 100-point season, taking the series quickly in five games.
As the first round drew to a close, four teams from each conference made their mark in a historic season and marched on to the second round. The Dallas Stars will take on the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights will look to bring back their 2018 success as they take on the Vancouver Canucks. In the East, the reigning Conference Champion Boston Bruins will take on the Philadelphia Flyers while the defensively sound New York Islanders will take on the hot offense of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Alexis’ Keys to the Game: In the East, look out for how Tampa bounces back from major injuries to captain Steven Stamkos and former Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman. Will they see a sweep like they did last year? In the West, it’s now or never for the Dallas Stars. They have had the talents to win for years, will they make it happen in 2020?