2020 NHL play-in matchups
Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Fire Up the Zamboni: NHL 2020 Play-In Matchups



A Not so Early Look Into some of the “Play-In” Round Matchups and a Vegas Spin


Fire up the Zambonis!  NHL Hockey will be returning in mid-July at the earliest.  The NHL has unveiled its plan to press play after the NHL was placed on pause in early March.  In short, the top twelve teams in each respective conference have qualified for postseason play.  The top four teams in each conference have earned automatic qualification into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with seeds five through twelve participating in a five-game series to determine which sixteen teams will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Seeds one through four in each conference will participate in a series of round-robin games to determine the top four seeds once the playoffs officially begin.  What is unknown is the location of where the games will be played, and if the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be played out with a bracket-style format or round by round seeding.  The NHL has eluded to having those items worked out in the next three to four weeks.

Photo Credit: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

Perhaps the most unique storyline is the preparation time each team has for the “play-in” round.  Using a starting date of July 15th for example, each franchise will have fifty days to prepare for their opponent.  FIFTY DAYS!  This is where having an experienced coaching staff will benefit greatly. 

An extremely intriguing matchup in the Eastern Conference will be the New York Islanders versus the Florida Panthers.  Islanders coach Barry Trotz, and Panthers coach Joel Quenneville both have Stanley Cup pedigree and over three hundred playoff games combined in which they have been behind the bench. 

It should also be noted that the Islanders won all three head to head matchups with the Panthers, let’s see how Coach “Q” adjusts.  Calgary Flames versus the Winnipeg Jets features two coaches who are at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to experience.  Calgary Coach Geoff Ward has coached fifty-seven games at the NHL level, and Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice has coached nearly as many playoff games alone; with one thousand six hundred regular-season games under his belt.  Coach Ward will have to be creative to overcome his experience deficit.  


The last time the NHL featured a post-season series format of five games was in 1987. 


This is where having an elite netminder will possibly give a team a strong edge.  It is rumored that the Pittsburgh Penguins were strongly against a five-game series format for just that reason.  Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price is one of the best goalies on the planet. 

Photo Credit: RantSports

Other goalies that can give their team a strong edge are Henrick Lundqvist and Corey Crawford for the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks, respectfully.  Lundqvist and Crawford have both been on teams that have had long playoff runs with the latter hoisting Lord Stanley twice.  Crawford may not be as “elite” as some of his counterparts, but he has been a large part of many Playoff and Stanley Cup runs that the Blackhawks have been in. 

It is important to note that Lundqvist may not even be the starter when the “play-in” series begins, however, he does boast a 33-12-1 lifetime record against the Carolina HurricanesNew York Rangers Coach, Dan Quinn, has just one hundred fifty-two games of NHL experience – none of which have been in the playoffs. 

It will be interesting to see if he goes with the vet, Lundqvist, between the pipes or rookie Igor SchesterkinSchesterkin boasts a 10-2 record in his young career with a .0932 save percentage, which is noticeably better than the 10-12-3 record and .905 that Lundqvist has on the 2019-2020 campaign.


The best will need to be the best.


Photo Credit: SB Nation

The playoffs can be all about dirty goals and unknown players getting big goals.  However, in a five-game sprint, the elite players may do the most damage.  There will be no shortage of skills when the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks face off.  Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews versus Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will be the key matchup.  Who’s best is better?  Can the Columbus Blue Jackets do enough to slow down Auston Matthews and John Tavares?  While there will still be plenty of dirty goals to go around, look for at least two of the “play-in” series’ to be decided by a superstar putting their team on his back.

“Veeeeeggggaaaassssssss!”  I know we all can’t wait to hear arena announcer Bruce Cusick welcome our boys back to the Fortress.  No matter who Vegas faces in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I would expect the Golden Knights to be sizeable favorites.  There will be a strong difference in the fatigue and attrition that the teams participating in the “round-robin” games will face when comparing to the teams participating in the “play-in” series.  The “round-robin” games will have some grit and nastiness to them.  But the main goal of those games will be making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in full health. 


The “play-in” series is all about survival. 


The teams participating in the “play-in” series will be coming into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in full speed with having played up to three elimination games.  If the NHL announces that the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be the highest seed versus lowest seed, then I’d expect the “round-robin” games to have a similar intensity of the “play-in” games.  

Coach Pete DeBoer has been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice as a Head Coach, once with the New Jersey Devils in 2012 and the other time with the San Jose Sharks in 2016.  What do those Stanley Cup Finals runs have in common?  Both of those campaigns were DeBoer’s first years with those respective clubs.  Third time’s a charm, perhaps?



Chris Gawlik



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-Chris Gawlik – Franchise Sports Media


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