NHL adopts 24-team playoff to crown 2020 Stanley Cup champion
On Tuesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the 2019-20 regular season is effectively over, and that there will be an unprecedented 24-team playoff to crown a champion for 2020.
The games will be played at two yet-to-be-determined hub sites devoid of fans. The top four seeds in each conference (Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West) will play separate round-robin tournaments to determine seeding, while the five through 12 seeds in each conference will have to win a best-of-five series in order to make the playoffs proper.
What follows are our brief previews of each of these "play-in" matchups.
Pittsburgh Penguins (fifth in East) vs. Montreal Canadiens (12th)
Pittsburgh would be thankful for this unexpected vacation if they get winger Jake Guentzel back from injury to go with mid-season pick-up Jason Zucker. The push for Stanley Cup No. 4 in the Sidney Crosby era begins against a Montreal squad that had a negative goal differential (-12) when the season was halted on March 12.
Carolina Hurricanes (sixth in East) vs. New York Rangers (11th)
Carolina, along with Tampa Bay, was one of two teams to vote against a 24-team playoff. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t want to catch a Blueshirts squad that went 13-7-1 after the All-Star break and saw the emergence of rookie goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
New York Islanders (seventh in East) vs. Florida Panthers (10th)
New York’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau, acquired at the deadline from the Senators for a trio of draft picks, gets a chance to shine in the national spotlight. Two of the most respected head coaches in the NHL, the Isles’ Barry Trotz and Florida’s Joel Quenneville, will have weeks to prepare for one another.
Toronto Maple Leafs (eighth in East) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (ninth)
Auston Mathews (47 goals, one shy of the league lead) led a highly-potent Toronto offense (second in goals, 237) this season. But can they solve Columbus goalie Elvis Merzlikins? He won eight in a row in January, tallying five shutouts in the process.
Edmonton Oilers (fifth in West) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (12th)
This series will not lack for star power as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl lead Edmonton into battle against Chicago’s Patrick Kane, a three-time Stanley Cup winner.
Nashville Predators (sixth in West) vs. Arizona Coyotes (11th)
Fans of good goaltending will want to tune in to this five-game set as Nashville’s Pekka Rinne goes toe-to-toe with Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper.
Vancouver Canucks (seventh in West) vs. Minnesota Wild (10th)
An up-and-coming Vancouver squad, starring 2019 Calder Trophy winner Elias Pettersson on offense and 2020 Calder Trophy candidate Quinn Hughes on defense, faces a Minnesota squad that’s had one foot in and one foot out of the playoff hunt all year but dealt away one of their best players in Jason Zucker at the deadline.
Calgary Flames (eighth in West) vs. Winnipeg Jets (ninth)
Despite sporting some familiar faces on offense like Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary was a modest 20th in goals (204) this season. Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, a Vezina Trophy candidate, could douse the Flames in short order.