The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Begin this Weekend
Hockey fans may be excused this weekend if they think that Christmas has come early.
After shutting down the National Hockey League on March 12th because of the coronavirus pandemic, players will hit the ice again this weekend as the NHL’s return to play plan hits Phase 4 and the Stanley Cup playoffs begin inside two Hub cities – Toronto (Eastern Conference) and Edmonton (Western Conference).
Unlike the traditional playoff format, the league is holding what amounts to be a 24-team tournament, with twelve teams from each conference participating. The top four teams from each conference have already advanced to their respective quarterfinals, while seeds five through 12 in each facing off in a special play-in best of five series to see who will join them.
Among the eight clubs that have already earned a berth in the Conference Quarterfinals are the Vegas Golden Knights, the Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers and the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.
Five former Wheat Kings currently occupy roster spots on those clubs. The Blues are led by former Brandon captain Brayden Schenn, Ivan Provorov patrols the blueline for the Flyers, Matt Calvert is an inspirational leader with the Avalanche while Ryan Reaves and Mark Stone play key roles with the Golden Knights.
These eight clubs will now play a round robin tournament against one another to determine the final playoff seeding. These games are scheduled to get underway on Sunday with the Blues facing off against Colorado and Philadelphia taking on the Boston Bruins.
Meanwhile the Conference Qualifying rounds will begin best of five series on Saturday, with the winners of each advancing to meet the others in the Conference Quarterfinals. Seeding will be determined by regular season points percentage.
The Eastern Conference series will feature Ryan Pulock and the New York Islanders up against the Florida Panthers, the Rangers taking on the Carolina Hurricanes, Pittsburgh vs. Montreal and the Toronto Maple Leafs facing off against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In the Western Conference meanwhile, John Quenneville and the Chicago Blackhawks will meet Edmonton, the Arizona Coyotes will face Nashville, Michael Ferland and the Vancouver Canucks go up against the Minnesota Wild and it will be the Winnipeg Jets meeting the Calgary Flames, who will play the series without former Brandon defenceman Travis Hamonic. Hamonic was one of a number of NHL players that have elected not to participate in this year’s post-season.
In addition to the former Wheat Kings taking to the ice in this summer’s playoffs, several others with Brandon connections will be front and center at their respective “bubbles”.
The Minnesota Wild are coached by local product Dean Evason – a former member of the Kamloops Blazers.
Meanwhile former Wheat King captain Ryan Craig currently serves as an assistant coach with the Golden Knights and Bob Woods is one of Evason’s assistants with the Wild.
As well, three former Wheat Kings are NHL general managers, led by Kelly McCrimmon in Vegas. He’s joined by Brad Treliving of the Flames and Winnipeg’s Kevin Cheveldayoff.
Action begins Saturday with the following matchups:
Montreal vs. Pittsburgh
New York Rangers vs. Carolina
Florida vs. New York Islanders
Chicago vs. Edmonton
Winnipeg vs. Calgary
Sunday’s schedule is as follows:
Minnesota vs. Vancouver
Arizona vs. Nashville
Columbus vs. Toronto
St. Louis vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Boston
This will be the first Stanley Cup playoffs to be played solely in Canada since 1925, as well as the first time the Cup will be awarded on Canadian soil since 2011 when the Bruins defeated the Canucks in Vancouver.
Six of Canada’s 7 teams find themselves in a position to win the Cup as play resumes. Only the Ottawa Senators will be forced to watch from the sidelines this summer.
The Boston Bruins made the playoffs as the Presidents’ Trophy winners with the most points during the regular season. The Penguins increased their post season appearance streak to fourteen seasons and for the first time since 1996, all California based teams – Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose – have missed post season play.
Needless to say, summer hockey has never looked so good.