The NHL’s regular season is over and the chase for the Stanley Cup is on if hockey returns this summer.
The league settled on a 24-team postseason format with the top four teams in the Eastern and Western conferences get byes into the final 16 except for a handful of round-robin games to determine seeding. That’s Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West.
“It rewards those teams that had a good regular season, and it’s going to serve as almost a little bit of a preseason for those top four in each conference,” said NBC Sports analyst Patrick Sharp, who won the Cup three times as a player with Chicago. “There’s standings on the line and you want to position yourself the best you can, but it’s an opportunity for those guys to kind of get the rust off and get ready for a tough opponent because whoever they face in that first round is going to be coming off a pretty intense series.”
The top seeds would face the winners of these eight opening-round, best-of-five series:
Eastern Conference: No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens, No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers, No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers, and No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets.
Western Conference: No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks, No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes, No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild, and No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets.
Nashville and Arizona split in the regular season and each made a major in-season move. The Predators replaced coach Peter Laviolette with John Hynes and the Coyotes traded for 2018 MVP Taylor Hall.
“It seems like the coaching change did make a little bit of difference for the Preds,” Sharp said.
“Arizona is a team that has trouble scoring goals, but they can clamp things down defensively. They have great goaltending, they keep the puck out of the net at a pretty good clip. Those are teams that are going to be tough to play in these short, best-of-five series.”