NHL Returns for the Post-Season

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The return of the NHL is almost upon us as the season resumes with effectively an extended play-offs on August 1, after the regular season was suspended.

Action during second period of exhibition game.

With the sides having played something between 68 and 71 games in what is ordinarily an 82-game campaign, the NHL decided to restart with the play-offs after determining the final positions on a points-percentage basis.

The top four teams in each conference will go straight into the play-offs proper, with those four sides playing each other in a round-robin format to determine those first four seedings.

Play-offs for the Play-offs

The other eight teams from each conference will play each other in a best-of-five qualifying series to determine the remainder of the final play-off places, with fifth playing 12th, sixth facing 11th, seventh taking on tenth and eighth going up against ninth.

All matches will be played in a bio-secure bubble behind closed doors with the Eastern Conference games taking place in Toronto, while Edmonton hosts the Western Conference matches, with the top seed taking on the lowest-ranked qualifier in the play-offs proper, while the number two seed faces the second-lowest ranked qualifier and so on.

Although the format is not a guarantee of how a full regular season may have ended up with a potential 28 points left up for grabs, it certainly looks a fair set-up and has given an extra four sides the chance to reach the play-offs they may not have been afforded had the regular season been played out in full.

Strength in the East?

On the face of it, the Eastern Conference appears to have the stronger hand in terms of Stanley Cup glory with five of the bottom seven teams, and seven of the last nine, in an NHL table compiled of the 24 qualifying clubs coming from the West.

That is also reflected in the odds for outright success with Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning the 13/2 joint favourites, the former having finished the season with the highest points percentage and looking to be the team to beat.

It is worth noting that the Bruins did not finish the regular season with a winning record against the Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers – the other top-four teams – though and may not secure the top seeding that their performances earlier this year may have merited.

Given the fact there will be no fans in the arena and all the games will be played at one singular venue, there will be no home advantage anyway and what impact it has on the players is anyone’s guess at this stage.

Penguins have got the T-Shirt

In the qualifying series’ in the East, Pittsburgh Penguins take on Monteal Canadiens, Carolina Hurricanes face New York Rangers, New York Islanders go head-to-head with Florida Panthers while Toronto Maple Leafs go up against Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Penguins have of course been there and done it, having won the trophy in 2016 and 2017, and will be a danger to any side they face through the play-offs, while the Rangers, at 6/5, look to have the best chance of upsetting the rankings in the qualifying series when they go up against the Hurricanes at 5/7.

Blues Under-Estimated to Repeat

St Louis Blues are of course the defending Stanley Cup champions and go into the post-season as the number one ranked side in the West.

The pause gave the Blues the chance to get Vladimir Tarasenko back to full fitness which is a massive bonus, and could make their 11/1 outright odds look foolish.

Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights are both shorter than the Blues at 17/2, with Dallas Stars the other side making up the top four in the West.

Do Points Mean Prizes

Edmonton Oilers will be doing battle with Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators take on Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks play Minnesota Wild while an all-Canadian affair between Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets make up the qualifying series.

The Oilers had the top two players in both points and assists during the regular season in Leon Draisatl and Connor McDavid and will be looking to take that form into the play-offs, while the Coyotes could be the surprise underdog at 23/20 in qualifying when they take on the Predators.

*All odds correct at time of writing

Rob has around 20 years journalism experience and has written and commentated on the likes of football, cricket and rugby. He also has an impressive background in racquet sports and regularly provides content on the likes of tennis and badminton.
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