NHL – Special Qualifiers begin on Saturday
The strange situation results from the coronavirus epidemic: The qualifiers begin without completion of the regular season in the Canadian Northern Group, with several teams previously being unable to play for weeks. It is also a problem that Canada continues to receive visitors from the United States for only two weeks of quarantine. The first two rounds of the qualifiers will be held within the group, so you will have to decide within a month at the latest how one of the top four teams in Canada and three American teams will meet. NHL leaders are awaiting a response from Canadian authorities about whether it is possible to travel between the two countries without quarantine, or whether it should, as last year, hold the third round in a bubble and the grand final if Canada advances. In Canada, matches are still played behind closed gates, while in the Southern Quarter, they are still ahead of an army of thousands of fans.
Qualifiers begin on Saturday with the hot Washington Capitals-Boston Bruins duel. In the regular season, the parties are 4-4 in terms of wins, but Alexander Ofskin and four other stars have returned to the capital after injuries and are not on top of their form yet. The highlight of the fight will be the 44-year-old Slovakian giant, Zdenio Chara, who pulled out 14 seasons in the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning Bruins before advancing to the capitals before the season.
In another duel in the Eastern Group, the Pittsburgh Penguins will meet – for the first time on Sunday – with the New Yorkers, who are defeated six times out of eight acts in the regular season. Sydney Crosby, one of the best players in the world, has produced 122 points (39 goals, 83 assists) against Islanders in 75 games of his career, and has never had such an excellent score against any other club.
In the middle group, the Carolina Hurricans will play a chance against the Nashville Predators, starting Monday as they beat six out of eight this year. On the one hand, the other duel is historical: for the first time in a playoff match in the National Hockey League, the Florida teams, the Panthers and defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning, will meet on Sunday. Even though the Panthers were better in the regular season (5-3), two big guns, Nikita Kuchirov, who had hip surgery, and Stephen Stamkus, who had suffered a foot injury, are now back at the competition. Florida – in its third season – was still in the 1996 Finals, but has not won a playoff duel since. Most recently, the Panthers have won their last three matches, the most recent with a 154-minute show, mainly due to fights.
In the Western Division, the first Colorado Avalanche in the regular season – the main prospect for the Stanley Cup – the 2019 champions will face the St. Louis Blues beginning Monday. Denver defeated their opponent five times out of eight in the regular season, with German Philip Groppower striking the goal and Nathan MacKinnon attacking, with the latter scoring 14 points. However, the Vegas Golden Knights will enjoy the home team advantage over the Minnesota Wild as of Sunday by dropping them five times in the regular season. Russian Kirill Kabrizov, the main contender for the Junior of the Year title, has won Vegas six times.
Due to the slide caused by the coronavirus epidemic in the north, the Canadian group will start the qualifiers only on Wednesday. It would be a surprise if Edmonton Oilers did not lead the Winnipeg Jets: out of nine out of nine, they have always defeated their rivals in the last six acts (by 7-21 goals) with Connor McDavid, who currently wins the points list and is currently 104 points.
Toronto Maple Leaves and their historic rival the Montreal Canadiens will be the last to start the playoffs, which start on Thursday. They have played ten times in the regular season, with Toronto winning seven after 2001, winning mainly through Austin Matthews, who topped the goalscoring list with 41 goals before the end of the battle. In league history, these two teams won the Stanley Cup (Canadians 24 times, won 13 times), but after 41 years they met again in the qualifiers.
The last time I made the home of the sport a champ was in 1993 – then Montreal – and since then only the Americans have triumphed. Now, depending on the behavior in place in the coronavirus epidemic, there will be a Canadian team among the four, and from there other competitors must be won for ultimate success. The top four teams will be re-arranged based on the results of the regular season, and accordingly, the first will meet the fourth, second and third in the semi-finals. This year, there is no traditional division between East and West. Each duel continues until the fourth success of a team.
Stanley Cup winner in the last ten competitions:
2020: Tampa Bay Lightning
2019: St. Louis Blues
2018: Washington Capitals
2017: Pittsburgh Penguins
2015: Chicago Blackhawks
2014: Los Angeles Kings
2012: Los Angeles
2011: Boston Bruins
The permanent ranking of the teams in the qualifiers:
Montreal Canadiens champion 24 times
Toronto Maple Leaves 13
Boston Bruins 6
Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins 5-5
Residents of the New York Islands 4
Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Avalanche 2-2
St. Louis Blues, Carolina Hurricans, Washington Capitals 1-1
Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights, Minnesota Wild, and Winnipeg Jets all didn’t win the championships.
Paired first round of qualifiers:
Colorado Avalanche (1.) – St. Lewis Blues (4.)
Vegas Golden Knights (2.) – Minnesota Wild (3.)
Carolina Hurricans (1.) – Nashville Predators (4.)
Florida Panthers (2.) – Tampa Bay Lightning (3.)
Toronto Maple Leaves (1.) – Montreal Canadiens (4.)
Edmonton Oilers (2.) – Winnipeg Jets (3.)
Pittsburgh Penguins (1.) – New York Islander (4.)
Washington Capitals (2.) – Boston Bruins (3.)