Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview

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The NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers kick off the Return to Play plan on August 1. This week, PHT will be previewing each series with a look at storylines and end with our predictions for the eight matchups. In this case, it’s Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs.

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets: TV schedule, start times, channels

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

Blue Jackets – Maple Leafs preview: Top storylines for Stanley Cup Qualifiers series

Will “underdog” theme work as well for Columbus as you’d expect?

John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets memorably swept a historically good Lightning team in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky gone, Torts’ group once again slips into the underdog role against the expensive, star-studded Maple Leafs.

While the Maple Leafs stumbled in ways the 2018-19 Lightning rarely did, the styles, on paper, would behoove Columbus once again.

How many times have we seen a defensive-minded underdog clamp down on a high-powered favorite, at least in the NHL? It’s a theme of the sport, and sometimes a polarizing one.

From a sheer pressure standpoint, one could picture a still-fairly-young Maple Leafs team “start to grip their sticks a little tight” if they struggle to break through against the Blue Jackets. The media won’t be kind to Toronto if they fall short during this best-of-five series against Columbus.

That said … there aren’t fans there to trot out Bronx Cheers. If there’s anything to the feeling that nervousness can build among fans, that might not be much of an issue.

Could that soothe some of the anxiousness? Or will that lack of nervous energy make it that much tougher to create offense versus a potentially smothering Blue Jackets system?

Blue Jackets Maple Leafs 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers preview John Tortorella
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Can the Maple Leafs play adequate, NHL playoff-level defense?

One other thing that short-circuits some “underdog” talk is just how much the Maple Leafs struggle in certain areas of the game. Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe acknowledged the elephant in the room a few weeks ago.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that we got to be a lot better defensively,” Keefe said in mid-July, via TSN. “There’s no area of our game defensively that we were satisfied with. We’re not kidding ourselves here. We know there’s a lot of areas we need to look at and frankly it’s every area. From all three zones, everything that we’re doing there, we’re either tweaking it and making changes structurally to how we were playing or we’re having more focused intensity and commitment to the habits and detail within it.”

This could very well be a battle of strength vs. strength (Maple Leafs’ offense vs. Blue Jackets’ defense) and weakness vs. weakness (the two teams’ other units). If that holds true, then it could be a wash.

Either way, it sure seems like Morgan Rielly will be a busy man for … as long as the Maple Leafs can go.

[2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule / NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Maybe Andersen needed a break …

When a team allows too many goals, you encounter a chicken-and-the-egg question. How much should you blame a goalie giving up soft goals versus a defense hanging that netminder out to dry?

During most of his time with the Maple Leafs, Frederik Andersen bailed out his teammates time and time again. In 2019-20, however, that chicken-and-the-egg situation’s been a bit more rotten for all involved.

Andersen managed a mediocre .901 save percentage over his last 31 games of 2019-20, and was only slightly better overall (.909 over 52 contests). Just about every modern goalie deals with hot and cold streaks, but the Maple Leafs need at least above-average netminding to make everything fit together.

Perhaps fatigue was an issue for Andersen, though?

Since 2016-17, Andersen sits tied with the most games played in the entire NHL (244, with Connor Hellebuyck). Considering how adventurous those Maple Leafs games can be,* one cannot blame Andersen if he was tuckered out.

* – Andersen leads all goalies with 7,798 shots faced since 2016-17. Only two other goalies (Hellebuyck and Sergei Bobrovsky) faced at least 7,000 shots in that same window.

Will the Blue Jackets’ goalies handle playoff-style pressure — and the Maple Leafs’ attack?

To the delight of all pun-loving hound dogs, Elvis Merzlikins delivered beyond our wildest expectations with a chart-topping .923 save percentage. Considering that he played in 33 games, Merzlikins might deserve a little more Calder Trophy attention.

After years of disappointing play, Joonas Korpisalo played OK in a heightened role, too.

Theoretically, Tortorella’s smothering system could make life easier for these young goalies.

That said, these are two inexperienced netminders at playoff-level hockey. And, for all of their warts, the Maple Leafs can give defenses and goalies fits. Even the best of the best.

One would think that the Blue Jackets will need excellent goaltending to upset the Maple Leafs. It’s anyone’s guess if that part will work out for Columbus.

Who’s out, Who might return for Blue Jackets, Maple Leafs?

Blue Jackets: It’s unclear if Josh Anderson will be available for Columbus. Considering their need for some firepower, a reasonably healthy Anderson would be a nice boost. Brandon Dubinsky‘s long-term future seems murky, but he’s definitely unavailable for 2019-20.

Maple Leafs: Both Andreas Johnsson and Timothy Liljegren have been banged up, earning the “unfit to play” moniker. We’ll have to keep an eye on the health of both valuable supporting cast members.

More on 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, NHL Return to Play series:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Coyotes-Predators stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Tuesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Coyotes and Predators. Live look-in coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Coyotes-Predators Game 2 stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Darcy Kuemper made 40 saves for Arizona as the Coyotes won 4-3 in Game 1 against Nashville. The Coyotes jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period and held on through a late surge from the Predators, who played in front of Juuse Saros in net.

Saros allowed four goals on 37 shots after getting the start ahead of Pekka Rinne. Rinne had started 89 straight playoff games for the Predators dating back to 2010. Head coach John Hynes said he would make a goalie decision for Game 2 on Monday afternoon, and let the players know Monday night.

“There’s going to be some ups and downs in the game, so I think we can handle that,” said Hynes. “But I also like the fact of the way we responded throughout the game and continued to push and stay mentally tough. We were engaged on the bench, and we gave ourselves a chance to get back in the game. When we made a hard push in the third, we had some really good looks, and unfortunately they didn’t go in.”

Arizona played without their regular season leading scorer Nick Schmaltz, who was unable to play after taking a hit from VGK’s Ryan Reaves in an exhibition game on Thursday. Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet said he would speak with Schmaltz about his Game 2 availability.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Tuesday, August 4, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN (live look-in)
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Coyotes-Predators live look-in stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (ARZ leads series 1-0)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (live look-in stream)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

NHL Power Rankings: Most impactful performances so far in NHL qualifying round

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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we are taking a look at some of the most important and impressive performances so far in the qualifying round. Players and performances that are making an impact in determining who moves forward in the bubble and who goes home.

Two important notes here.

  • First, We are only looking at players that are playing in the QUALIFYING round portion of the playoffs. So no players from the Round Robin portion will be included. It is not that they are not important, it is simply the fact they are not at risk of being eliminated in this round and we want to focus on teams that are still fighting for their postseason lives right now.
  • Second, this is not a ranking of the best overall players. It is simply a ranking of players that could (and have) significantly impact the outcome of a series and play a major role in deciding which teams advance and which teams do not.

Who do we like so far?

To the rankings!

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. He is the most dominant player in the NHL and has already put on a clinic in the Oilers’ series against Chicago. His incredible Game 2 effort on Monday set the tone early for the Oilers and drove them to a much-needed win to keep them in their series. When he is going at his top level there is no one in the league that can match him.

2. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes. An emerging superstar in Carolina, Svechnikov is already turning into the Hurricanes’ go-to player on offense. He made history in their Game 2 win by recording the first postseason hat trick in Hurricanes/Whalers postseason history. He is still only 20 years. Sky is the limit here.

3. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. If the Canadiens are going to pull off the upset against the Pittsburgh Penguins it is going to have to be because of Price. Through two games he has done everything he can to keep his team in it. He helped them take Game 1 with a huge performance early on and was perhaps even better in a Game 2 loss. He just did not get any offensive support.

4. Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks. Kubalik has been exactly what the Blackhawks needed this season — Another impactful player to emerge in their lineup to serve as an important complementary piece to their remaining core. Even more important is the fact is still very cheap against the salary cap. He opened the postseason with a five-point effort in Game 1 against Edmonton. He is a rookie of the year finalist, a much deserved honor.

5. Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets. Goaltending was always going to make-or-break the Blue Jackets’ season, and the duo of Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins has done its part to give them a chance. Korpisalo added to the postseason anxiety Maple Leafs fans were probably already feeling in Game 1 when he pitched a shutout in Toronto.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

6. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. Very similar to Price in Montreal, if the Jets are going to make something happen in the playoffs they are going to need Hellebuyck to play like the Vezina Trophy finalist that he is this season. That is even more true if top forwards Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine continue to miss time.

7. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. Svechnikov’s dominance has kind of overshadowed what Aho has done for the Hurricanes, but this duo has become a two-headed monster for the Hurricanes. Svechnikov might end up being a bigger star, but Aho is the building block piece in Carolina.

8. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. He has been on the ice for all three of the Penguins’ 5-on-5 goals through the first two games, has scored two of them, and helped get the Penguins rolling in Game 2 with a first period goal to finally break through on Price.

9. Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild. Alex Stalock got the Game 1 shutout for the Wild, but Spurgeon was the best player on the ice for the Wild. He played his usual big minutes, was a rock defensively, and contributed to all three Wild goals, scoring two of them. Consistently one of the league’s most underrated and overlooked players.

10. Adam Lowry, Winnipeg Jets. Lowry is making an early bid for the 2020 John Druce Award for being the out of nowhere postseason star. After recording just 10 points in 49 regular season games, Lowry already has three points in the Jets’ first two postseason games and has played a significant role in filling in for the team’s injured stars. He was huge for them in what basically amounted to a must-win game in Game 2 against Calgary.

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Islanders-Panthers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Tuesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Islanders and Panthers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Islanders-Panthers Game 2 stream at 12 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Styles make fights, and it was the Islanders’ defensive style that took over and earned New York a Game 1 win. Trade deadline acquisition Jean-Gabriel Pageau opened the scoring in the first period and Anthony Beauvillier added a power-play goal early in the second to give the Isles a 2-0 lead. Head coach Barry Trotz opted to start Semyon Varlamov in net over Thomas Greiss. The decision looked to be a good one, as Varlamov stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced in his first postseason start since 2014 with the Avalanche.

The Islanders finished ninth in goals allowed per game in the regular season, and the story heading into this series was whether the high-flying Panthers offense would be able score at the pace they were used to. But it was New York’s defense that prevailed in Game 1.

The Isles held strong while playing with just five d-men after Johnny Boychuk left the game following an illegal check to the head from Mike Matheson. Boychuk did not take part in Monday’s skate. Trotz said that veteran Andy Greene and rookie Noah Dobson, both scratches on Saturday, will take warmups and one of them will play if Boychuk does not.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Tuesday, August 4, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Tirico, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Islanders-Panthers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI leads series 1-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN (Livestream)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

The Wraparound: Rangers ‘not doing enough’ as Hurricanes go for sweep

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• Take a look back at Monday’s action, which included an Andrei Svechnikov hat trick and the shorthanded Jets hanging on to even their series.

• One full week inside the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles and zero positive COVID-19 tests, reports the NHL.

• Ryan Reaves, Tyler Seguin, Robin Lehner, and Jason Dickinson all took a knee before the anthem on Tuesday.

Through two games, the Hurricanes have jumped on the Rangers early and forced them to chase. In Game 1, Jaccob Slavin needed just 61 seconds to open the scoring. Andrei Svechnikov started his run to the first postseason hat trick in franchise history 4:32 into Game 2. Carolina also scored twice in a span of 2:22 in the second period Monday, putting New York in “uncharted territory,” as defenseman Marc Staal put it.

The Rangers’ season could be over by tonight after Game 3 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream). The odds aren’t in their favor. According to the NHL, teams that win each of the first two games in a best-of-five series are 55-1 all-time.

“We need everybody in that room to be just a little bit smarter, a little bit more patient, work a little bit harder, win more wall battles,” said Rangers head coach David Quinn. “All those things add up. We did it probably for 20 minutes and then just when we got down 3-1, you could feel it on the bench. That’s not a feeling we’ve had very often since the turn of the calendar.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It’s hard to say if New York’s fate would be different had Igor Shesterkin been healthy enough to play the first two games. But goaltending aside, the Rangers have only scored once at even strength and have been losing the possession game badly (44%), per Natural Stat Trick.

“Between now and [Tuesday] night at eight o’clock, we have to learn that we can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Quinn. “Our lack of patience is killing us right now. Was it better than it was [in Game 1]? Yeah, it was. But we didn’t come here to get incrementally better. We came here to win hockey games. We’re not doing enough.”

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 2: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (NYI lead series 1-0): Styles make fights, and it was the Islanders’ defensive style that took over and earned New York a Game 1 win. Trade deadline acquisition Jean-Gabriel Pageau opened the scoring in the 1st period and Anthony Beauvillier added a power-play goal early in the second to give New York a 2-0 lead. Johnny Boychuk did not skate on Monday after taking a high hit from Mike Matheson. Andy Greene and Noah Dobson are options should Boychuk be unavailable.

Game 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream – (ARZ leads series 1-0): Will we see Pekka Rinne in net for Nashville? Perhaps. Head coach John Hynes wouldn’t disclose who will start Game 2. Meanwhile, the Coyotes know it’s a race to three wins, and there’s still plenty of work left. “To be honest, you’ve got to forget about that game,” said Rick Tocchet. “I know you can feel good about yourself, but sometimes when you feel too good about yourself, you get too comfortable.”

Game 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (CBJ leads series 1-0)Joonas Korpisalo got the nod over Elvis Merzlikins and shut out the Maple Leafs in Toronto in his postseason debut. He stopped 28 shots to record the first postseason shutout in Blue Jackets history. The low-scoring, defensive style played to the Blue Jackets’ strengths – only two teams allowed fewer goals per game in the regular season than Columbus. A tight game in the third period is also familiar to the Blue Jackets, as they were tied with Minnesota for most regular season wins when entering the third period tied (12).

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

Game 3: Flames vs. Jets, 6:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream – (Series tied 1-1): After a gutsy Game 2 win, the Jets still aren’t saying anything on the statuses of Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine. Head coach Paul Maurice would only say “we’ll see how they come to the rink [Tuesday].” Calgary would like to see more success with the power play after an 0-for-6 performance Monday. They do need to be more disciplined as they’ve been shorthanded 13 times, the most in the postseason through three days.

Game 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET, USA Network; livestream – (MIN leads series 1-0): The final Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers saw the Wild handle the Canucks to the tune of a 3-0 victory. The Wild’s scoring leader had 14 goals over his final 18 games of the regular season and opened up their playoff tilt with a goal less than 3 minutes into the game, his first postseason goal as a member of the Wild.

WEDNESDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 3: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET (live look-in, NBCSN)
Round-robin: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Round-robin: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET (live look-in, NBCSN)
Game 3: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Round-robin standings (ties broken by regular-season points percentage)

EAST
Lightning – 2 pts. (.657)
Flyers – 2 pts. (.645)
Capitals – 1 pts. (.652)
Bruins – 0 pts. (.714)

WEST
Avalanche – 2 pts. (.657)
Golden Knights – 2 pts. (.606)
Blues – 0 pts (.662)
Stars – 0 pts. (.594)

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Eastern Conference top seed round-robin preview
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Rangers vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Panthers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Western Conference top seed round-robin preview
Jets vs. Flames
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Predators vs. Coyotes
Wild vs. Canucks