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Rogers Place in Edmonton will host NHL games without spectators in attendance.
Like many major sports leagues, the National Hockey League (NHL) paused play in March — a month before the typical April start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs — due to dangers presented by the novel coronavirus.
Because the league was so close to the end of the regular season when the pause was announced, its return to play format will jump right into a modified, expanded playoffs kicking off on Saturday, August 1. Instead of the typical 16-team bracket, the tournament has been expanded to feature 24 teams — including several on the cusp of making the playoffs when the season was paused.
Following the example of the NWSL, MLS, WNBA, and NBA, the NHL has opted to host teams in a two-city bubble in its return to play format. Eastern Conference teams will live and play in Toronto, while the Western Conference will find a home in Edmonton. The Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals will both be played in Edmonton, which means that eventually, a selection of Eastern Conference teams will have to switch cities. Teams have been allowed to bring a total of 50 personnel into the bubble including a roster of 31 players.
The top four teams in each conference — the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and Philadelphia Flyers in the East, and the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars in the West — get an automatic bye into the first round of the playoffs. These teams will play a three-game round-robin for seeding. The remaining 16 teams will play a best-of-five qualifying round to determine who moves on. Subsequent rounds will be the typical best-of-seven format.
NHL games will be shown nationally on NBC, NBCSN, and USA Network with many being shown on the specialty cable channel, NHL Network, as well. Games will also be shown locally on regional sports networks, so check your local listings.
If you don’t have cable, your best bet to watch as many of the games as possible is to subscribe to a streaming service with live TV access. All the major streaming players, including Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, FuboTV, and AT&T TV, carry NBC, NBCSN, and USA. In addition, the latter three services all offer packages that add NHL Network as well.
At $40 a month, Sling TV’s Blue plan with the Sports Extra add-on is going to be the most affordable way to watch the playoffs on every major channel — just be sure to check that NBC is part of the package in your area as it’s not available in certain smaller markets.
NHL.TV, the league’s own streaming service, is also carrying many of the games — but only for the initial qualifying round, and not all of them either, so be sure to check the schedule. For a one-time payment of $4.99, you’ll gain access to 21 games, but beware that NHL.TV is subject to local blackouts. If you live in the area your team plays, you won’t be able to watch through this service. It’s a great deal if you watch an out-of-market team, but you’ll have to find a way to watch via live TV for later playoff rounds.
Because games are being hosted in only two arenas, we’ll see tournament-style hockey with up to three games being played per day per arena — that means a total of up to six televised games per day during the initial qualifying round. The league has released a handy schedule of all the qualifying round and round-robin games including the national and local networks on which you can watch them.
The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs kick off this Saturday, August 1, at 12 p.m. ET when the New York Rangers take on the Carolina Hurricanes.
One of the silver linings to the extended pause was that injured players got plenty of time to heal up and rehab before play resumed. In as grueling a tournament as the Stanley Cup Playoffs where athletes often grit their teeth through sprains, tears, and other various — sometimes severe — bumps and bruises, being able to start with a full roster of healthy players is a true novelty.
It also means that several key players who would have normally missed the playoffs due to injury are back to contribute to their team. This long list includes the Cup-defending St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jake Guentzel, Columbus Blue Jackets number one defenseman Seth Jones, and New York Islanders shutdown defenseman Adam Pelech.
Though the Tampa Bay Lightning hoped their top-line center and captain Steven Stamkos would be among this list, the injury-prone veteran got hurt again during a voluntary skate prior to training camp and is still questionable, though the team is hopeful he’ll be ready.
Last season, the St. Louis Blues stunned the hockey world by going from second-to-last place in the league to Stanley Cup Champions for the first time in franchise history, all in the span of half a season. While there is certainly pressure on the Blues to repeat, there may be even more eyes on Stamkos’ Lightning.
In 2019, the Lightning won the league’s Presidents’ Trophy — awarded for the most points earned by the end of the regular season — by a landslide and were easily favored to win the Cup. Yet, they found themselves swept out of the first round by the underdog Blue Jackets. They’ll be looking to prove that last year’s embarrassment was just a fluke.
Eyes are also on the Boston Bruins, this year’s recipient of the Presidents’ Trophy, albeit one awarded for a shortened season. They’ve been a dominant force this year and are expected to be Cup contenders.
But fully rested teams, healthy rosters, an expanded format, and the sheer weirdness of bubble life all have the potential to really blow these playoffs wide open. Any team can play spoiler and hoist the Cup.
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World news – FI – How to watch the NHL when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on August 1