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Canadiens-Penguins stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Friday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Canadiens and Penguins. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canadiens-Penguins Game 4 stream at 4 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Jeff Petry scored from a sharp angle by banking it off Matt Murray’s helmet early in the third period, which proved to be the game-winner once again in this series for the Habs. Petry became the seventh defenseman in NHL history – and fourth in the modern era (since 1943-44) – to score two game-winning goals through his team’s first three contests in a postseason.

The Penguins have now lost eight of their last nine playoff games dating back to the 2018 Second Round.

Tristan Jarry will replace Matt Murray in goal for Game 4.

Although the Habs netminder allowed more than two goals for the first time this series, Carey Price had another solid performance in net, turning aside 30 of 33 shots faced. When the Habs tied the game in the second and then took the lead in the third, Price elevated his game to help preserve the win.

Through three games this series, Price has a .937 SV% and a 2.19 GAA.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Friday, August 7, 4 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Gord Miller, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canadiens-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (MTL leads 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins* if necessary

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

The Wraparound: Panthers keeping faith facing elimination

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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.

• The NHL Bubble Wrap has your nightly roundup of all the postseason action.

James Reimer‘s goaltending and Sebastian Aho’s highlight-reel goal helped the Hurricanes complete the sweep of the Rangers.

• Here are the updated round-robin standings and scenarios as of Wednesday.

Facing elimination, Joel Quenneville isn’t learning towards making a change in goal for Game 3 (12 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream). “Very likely,” he said after Tuesdays’ loss to the Islanders about going back to Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bob was their big summer acquisition, a $10 million a season investment. Their season is on the line Wednesday and they’re going to ride with him. Chris Driedger played well in only 12 regular season appearances, but he’s inexperienced. Quenneville has never been one to have much confidence in throwing young players into the fire.

Beyond the goals allowed, the goals for haven’t been helping. Florida has just two even strength goals in two games. There’s also the discipline problem as the Panthers have handed New York 12 power plays, allowing three extra man goals.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Florida isn’t looking past Game 3, knowing there’s plenty of work to be done.

“This is the best time of my life,” said captain Aleksander Barkov. “You get to play playoff games. Our whole team is here. We want to win. We want to play our best game. Obviously, our last two games are not our best. We can do a lot better. We’re going to do a lot better in the next game.

“If I’m disappointed in being here? No. This is a great chance for us. I’ve seen so many teams coming back from 3-0, 2-0, 3-1. It’s not over until …”

“The fat lady sings,” chimed in teammate Keith Yandle.

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 3: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream – (Series tied 1-1): A short memory is what Rick Tocchet is pounding home to his players. “We’ll move by this [loss to Nashville] in about two minutes,” he said after the Predators evened the series with a Game 2 win. Getting clean shots through on goal will be one of Arizona’s keys. They sent 26 Juuse Saros‘ way Tuesday, but Nashville blocked 21 shots.

Round-robin: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream: At the end of every round this postseason, teams will be re-seeded – so round robin standings are critical. If Boston loses, the Presidents’ Trophy winners would no longer have a shot at the first seed in the East. Tuukka Rask, who has been dealing with a fractured finger on his glove hand, is expected to start. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos did not take line rushes with the team on Tuesday and has been ruled out.

Round-robin: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream: How do you top a buzzer beater? Colorado is going to try. As they look to try and claim the West’s top seed, the Avs take on a Dallas team eager to forget about Monday’s third-period collapse to Vegas. Jared Bednar has no named starting goalie, but Pavel Francouz is expected to play.

Game 3: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (Series tied 1-1): Sidney Crosby has two goals in this series, scoring in each of the first two games. With his goal in Game 2, Crosby tied Gordie Howe for 18th all-time with 68 playoff goals. The only active player with more postseason goals is Crosby’s teammate, Patrick Marleau. The goal also gave Crosby 188 career playoff points, tying Joe Sakic and Doug Gilmour for eighth-most in history.

Game 3: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (Series tied 1-1): Many expected this to be a high-scoring series, and it hasn’t disappointed. Nineteen goals have been scored through two games, with the winning team scoring six goals in each game. The big names on both teams have impressed, including Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who both have six points after consecutive three-point performances. Patrick Kane has three points in the series (1G-2A).

THURSDAY‘S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 3: Wild vs. Canucks, 2:30 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Round-robin: Flyers vs. Capitals, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Round-robin: Blues vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Game 3: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Jets vs. Flames, 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

Following lengthy layoff, Penguins Hornqvist ready to battle

PITTSBURGH — Patience isn’t a virtue that comes easy to Patric Hornqvist. It typically doesn’t come at all.

The veteran Pittsburgh Penguins forward is perpetually antsy, a ball of energy who is eager to get onto the next thing, whatever it is. On the ice he typically bolts to the front of the opposing net and turns himself into a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 190-pound anchor spoiling for a shoving match or a goal and sometimes both.

On the bench he’s restless, his mouth moving relentlessly while waiting for his next shift. His media sessions are brisk and blunt and usually end not when the questions are done being asked but when the 33-year-old Swede decides he’s had enough.

So yeah, being part of the group of nine players who were required to self-isolate as a precaution during the early portion of training camp wasn’t easy.

”I was used to it from the week of quarantine I had when I first came over (from Sweden),” Hornqvist said. ”A lot of workouts and conditioning and try and stay in the best shape I can and be ready for the opportunity I have in front of me.”

One in which the Penguins will need Hornqvist to do Hornqvist-like things if they want to make a legitimate bid for a third Stanley Cup in five years. He scored the clinching goal in Game 6 of the 2017 Cup final against Nashville and has become part of the team’s leadership group alongside captain Sidney Crosby and Russian star Evgeni Malkin.

Pittsburgh relies on Hornqvist’s play to help snap them out of the doldrums. He’s scored 21 postseason goals during his five playoff appearances with the Penguins and has the ability to shift momentum with one shift, equal parts frantic and focused.

Hornqvist’s decision to stay in Sweden during the opening portion of training camp is a testament to his work ethic. The protocols in Sweden – which hasn’t been hit as hard by the COVID-19 pandemic as the U.S. – allowed Hornqvist to meet regularly with his trainer. When given the choice to come back to Pittsburgh early or stay in Sweden with his family while getting an equitable amount of work in, he chose to stay home. Saying goodbye to his wife and daughter wasn’t easy.

”It’s a tough situation but we’re all in the same boat,” Hornqvist said. ‘It’s an opportunity for all of us to do something.”

Hornqvist skated alongside Patrick Marleau and Jared McCann on Wednesday and is anxious to gauge their chemistry during a scheduled intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday, Hornqvist’s first game-like action since March 10.

”It’s been a long time here for me to not playing a game,” Hornqvist said. ”I know it’s going to be tough and going to be intense … that’s pretty much the best part.”

It always is for Hornqvist, who praised head coach Mike Sullivan’s attention to detail during a camp unlike any other.

”Right now we have two full weeks with a real team to practice, you can go through small things for a longer time,” Hornqvist said. ”That’s going to be key when we start playing. If you are dialed in.”

While Hornqvist is good to go on Thursday, Crosby is probably not. Though Crosby skated on Wednesday morning, when his teammates came out for practice, he retired to the dressing room and missed his third straight workout due to an undisclosed health reason. Still, his ability to skate provides some optimism. The Penguins will open the playoffs against Montreal in Toronto on Aug. 1.

Hockey Hall of Fame: Who will make up the 2020 class?

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The Hockey Hall of Fame vote will be different this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 18-person Selection Committee will debate virtually, with the 2020 class announced on Wednesday afternoon. All voting is done via secret ballot, so we never know who fell just short and who made it in a landslide.

The committee can elect a maximum of four male players, two female players, and either two builders or one builder and one referee or linesman. All candidates need to receive at least 14 votes (75%) to get in.

Last year’s class consisted of Hayley Wickenheiser, Guy Carbonneau, Sergei Zubov, Vaclav Nedomansky, Jim Rutherford, and Jerry York.

The question of whether the 2020 induction ceremony, currently scheduled for Nov. 16 in Toronto, will take place remains an unknown at the moment.

So who will get the call this year? Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, and Shane Doan are among those players in their first year of eligibility. One is a lock; another is a possibility; and the third will probably end up in the “falling short” category every time we debate the Hall of Fame.

Let’s take a look at who might make up the 2020 class.

THE LOCK

Jarome Iginla — The one lock. Iginla spent 1,219 of his 1,554 NHL games as a member of the Flames. After breaking into the league in 1996, “Iggy” went on to score 625 goals, record 1,300 points, win two Rocket Richard Trophies, the King Clancy, the Art Ross, and the Ted Lindsay Award. He reached the 50-goal mark twice and hit 40 goals four times. Before he became a six-time All-Star, he won two Memorial Cups with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. On the international scene, he represented Canada at various levels, winning two World Junior Championships, one World Championship, one World Cup of Hockey, and two Olympic gold medals. It was his pass that led to Sidney Crosby’s golden goal during the 2010 tournament in Vancouver.

THE PROBABLY-SHOULDS

Daniel Alfredsson – This is Alfie’s fourth year of eligibility. A veteran of 18 NHL seasons, he has an impressive resume and strong international credentials to make the cut. He scored 444 goals and recorded 1,157 points during his NHL career, and has a trophy cabinet that features Olympic gold and silver medals, the 1996 Calder Trophy, six NHL All-Star appearances, the King Clancy, and inclusion in the IIHF Hall of Fame.

Marian Hossa – He’s a first-ballot HOFer to me, but given how under-appreciated he was during his 19-season NHL career it would be fitting if he’s overlooked in a year absent a large number of locks. For his resume, Hossa has a Memorial Cup title and three Stanley Cup rings to his name. He represented Slovakia at the World Championships eight times, Olympic Games four times, and played in two World Cup of Hockey tournaments — once for his home country and the other for Team Europe. In 1,309 NHL games, Hossa scored 525 goals and recorded 1,134 points. The production continued into the postseason with 149 points in 205 playoff games.

His trophy case lacks a number of individual honors, however. He was runner-up for the Calder Trophy in 1999, the only time in his career he was a finalist for an NHL award. His two-way game was sorely underrated and that was reflected in Selke Trophy voting where he finished 10th or better only three times.

Alexander Mogilny – He was the first Soviet player to defect west and when he arrived he quickly made his mark. His 76-goal season in 1992-93 tied him for the NHL’s goal scoring lead with Teemu Selanne. He would finish with 127 points that season. A year later the Sabres named him the first European captain in league history. When it was all said and done, the six-time All-Star scored 473 goals and recorded 1,032 points. He’s a member of the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club after winning the Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and World Championship gold. He also helped the Soviet Union to gold at the World Junior Championship.

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THE POSSIBLES

Rod Brind’Amour — The Hurricanes head coach has seen his support grow since first becoming eligible. The induction of Carbonneau last year could help Brind’Amour make it to Toronto. A two-way stalwart, he scored 452 goals and recorded 1,184 points in 1,484 NHL games. Along with the 2006 Stanley Cup, he also has two Selke Trophies to his name. You can argue his resume is better than Carbonneau’s. Finally, from the News and Observer’s Luke DeCock: “There are 36 players in NHL history who had 15 seasons with 49 or more points. Thirty-five of them are in the Hall of Fame. Want to guess who’s not?”

Curtis Joseph – 454 wins, 51 shutouts, an Olympic gold medal, three-time NHL All-Star. A three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, CuJo had himself a fine career, but did not win a Stanley Cup or any individual hardware. Is he Hall of Fame worthy or perfectly fit for the Hall of Very Good ? Only seven goalies have been inducted into the Hall since 1990 via the player category.

Boris Mikhailov – The long time Soviet captain had a decorated career playing for CSKA Moscow and representing his country. Domestically, Mikhailov scored 429 goals for CSKA and recorded 653 points, leading them to 11 Soviet League titles. On the international scene, the long time captain captured two Olympic golds and eight gold at the World Championships.  The support for international stars has grown with the inductions of Sergei Makarov (2016), Alexander Yakushev (2018), and Vaclav Nedomansky (2019). If not Mikhail this year, perhaps Vladimir Petrov? Sven Tumba? Alexander Maltsev?

[MORE: Our picks for the 2020 Hockey HOF class]

Jeremy Roenick – 513 goals, 1,216 points, nine-time All-Star, silver medals at the Canada Cup and Olympic Games. Roenick’s elite level status only lasted for a few seasons in the early 1990s. After three-straight 100-point and 45-plus goal seasons, his production settled into the “very good” range in the mid-90s. Roenick did not win any individual hardware during his career, so even in classes where there appears to be an opening, the door might remain closed for him.

Doug Wilson – 237 goals, 827 points, 1982 Norris Trophy winner, eight-time All-Star, Canada Cup gold. His name has sprung up in Hall of Fame discussions over the last few years even after having been on the ballot for over two decades. He played during an era dominated by Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque, but examine his career and it was a pretty solid one. He finished his up top 20 in points by a defenseman and top 10 in points per game. A fun piece of trivia via Sean McIndoe of The Athletic that bolsters his case: “Here’s the complete list of players who both won a Norris Trophy (peak) and finished in the top 25 all-time in defenseman scoring (longevity), but haven’t been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame: Doug Wilson, and that’s it.”

THE REST

Tom Barrasso – 369 wins, 38 shutouts, youngest goalie to win the Calder Trophy and youngest winner of the Vezina, 1985 Jennings Trophy, two-time Stanley Cup winner, 2002 Olympic silver medal.

Shane Doan — 1,540 games with the Jets/Coyotes franchise, 402 goals, 972 points, two World Championship gold medals, one World Cup of Hockey gold medal, two-time Memorial Cup winner, two-time NHL All-Star, King Clancy Trophy winner.

Patrik Elias – 408 goals, 1,025 points, Olympic bronze, two World Championships bronze medals, two-time Stanley Cup winner, nine 20-plus goal seasons.

Theo Fleury – 455 goals, 1,088 points, seven-time All-Star, gold at the World Junior Championship, Canada Cup and Olympics, silver at the World Championship and World Cup of Hockey, 1989 Stanley Cup winner. Here’s something in his favor, via TSN’S Steve Dryden: “Only 15 players in NHL history have averaged at least one point per game in both the regular season (min. 1,000 games) and playoffs (min. 75 games). Fourteen are in the HHOF.” That list includes Wayne Gretzky, Joe Sakic, Phil Esposito, Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe, and Mark Messier.

Sergei Gonchar – 220 goals, 811 points, five-time All-Star, 2009 Stanley Cup title (two more as a coach), silver and bronze medals from the Olympics and World Championships, eight 50-plus point seasons, five straight seasons with at least 18 goals.

Steve Larmer – 441 goals, 1,012 points, 1983 Calder Trophy, two-time All-Star, 1991 Canada Cup gold, 1994 Stanley Cup title, owns third-longest consecutive games streak in NHL history.

Vincent Lecavalier – 421 goals, 949 points, 2004 World Cup of Hockey gold and MVP, 2004 Stanley Cup, 2007 Rocket Richard Trophy, 2008 King Clancy Trophy, four-time NHL All-Star. It’s not quite the trophy case of 2018 inductee Martin St. Louis, so that could probably leave Lecavalier stuck in the Hall of Very Good.

Jere Lehtinen – 243 goals, 514 points, three-time Selke Trophy winner (as a winger), one Stanley Cup, World Championship gold and three silvers, one Olympic silver, three Olympic bronze medals, one World Cup of Hockey silver, IIHF Hall of Fame inductee.

Kent Nilsson – 262 goals, 686 points, two-time NHL All-Star, 1987 Stanley Cup title, 1978 WHA rookie of the year, two-time WHA champion, IIHF Hall of Famer, Canada Cup and World Championship silver medals with Sweden.

Chris Osgood – 401 wins, 50 shutouts, three-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time Jennings Trophy winner.  A good goalie on some great Red Wings teams for a long time. How much has that hurt his candidacy?

Keith Tkachuk – 538 goals, 1,065 points, 1996 World Cup of Hockey champion, Olympic silver medal. He’s 33rd on the NHL’s all-time goals list. Only four players ahead of him are not in the Hall of Fame; but Alex Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr, and Jarome Iginla will end up there. Maybe Patrick Marleau, too. Like Roenick, Tkachuk’s numbers are good, but he’s in a range where there are a handful of players with similar stats. While Joe Mullen’s inclusion may help Tkachuk or Roenick at some point in time, right now, he’s just on the outside.

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WOMEN’S CATEGORY

Jennifer Botterill – Since the Hall regularly started inducting women a decade ago, there’s still plenty of catching up to do. Given the number of worthy candidates, there’s no reason at least one of two women should be going in every year. Botterill has had a strong case for some time. A three-time Olympic gold medalist, she also helped Canada win five World Championship golds while averaging over a point per game in her international career (62 goals, 164 points, 162 games). Before starring on the international, Botterill was a two-time winner of the Patty Kazmeier Award, which recognizes the top women’s college player.

Karyn Bye-Dietz – She was part of the gold medal winning U.S. team at the 1998 Olympics and took home silver at the 2002 Games and six World Championships. During the ’98 Games, Bye-Dietz led the Americans with five goals and eight points and finished her international career with 84 points in 51 games. In 2011 she was only the fifth woman to be inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame, and in 2014 was named to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

Maria Rooth – A 2015 IIHF Hall of Famer, the forward represented Finland at the Olympic four times, taking home silver and bronze. She played 265 times for Sweden and finished with 105 goals. Before her international career, Rooth played at Minnesota Duluth where she ended her collegiate career with three NCAA titles, was the second-leading scorer in school history (119 goals, 232 points) and a three-time All-American. She’s also the only woman to have her number retired in the history of the program.

Kim St. Pierre – There are a lot of gold medals in St. Pierre’s trophy case. Inside you’ll find three from the Olympics, five from the World Championships, and one from the Four Nations Cup. The netminder played 83 times for Canada, helping them win 64 times with 29 shutouts. She earned best goalie honors at the 2002 Olympics, as well World Championships in 2001 and 2004. She also won the Clarkson Cup twice with Montreal Stars of the CWHL and was named the league’s top goaltender two seasons in a row.

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BUILDER CATEGORY

Red Berenson – After an NHL career that lasted 987 games and saw him win a Stanley Cup with the Canadiens, score six goals in a game once, and represent Canada in the famed 1972 Summit Series, Berenson went into coaching. After six seasons as a coach with the Blues and Sabres, he left for the college game and was behind the bench for the University of Michigan until 2017. In those 33 years, he helped the program to a pair of national championships, 11 Frozen Four appearances and 11 conference titles. He won CCHA coach of the year twice, was the 2008 Spencer Penrose Award winner for top D-I coach, and going back to his NHL coaching days, was the 1981 winner of the Jack Adams Award.

Ken Hitchcock – His coaching resume lists 849 wins (third all-time), one Stanley Cup title, and numerous players thankful for his influence and teams who were improved with him behind their bench. He’s also owner of a HOF-worthy sweatshirt.

Mike Keenan – Whether it was his quick hook with goalies or clashing with his players, there was never a dull moment when “Iron Mike” was coaching your team. But he also did win 672 NHL games and the 1985 Jack Adams Award. His teams won four conference titles and he helped lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994, ending their 54-year drought. He also won in Russia, guiding Metallurg Magnitogorsk to the 2014 Gagarin Cup title, making him the first North American coach to win the KHL championship and the first coach to win both the Gagarin Cup and the Stanley Cup. Keenan’s championships also include the 1983 AHL Calder Cup and two Canada Cups, including the legendary 1987 tournament.

Bryan Murray – He compiled 620 wins as a head coach for five teams over 17 NHL season and made the Stanley Cup Playoffs 12 times in 13 full seasons behind a bench. He won the Jack Adams Award in 1984 and was named NHL Executive of the Year after building the 1995-96 Panthers team that reached the Cup Final.

Marguerite Norris – Following her dad’s death in 1952 she became the NHL’s first female executive and later was the first woman to have her name on the Stanley Cup after the Red Wings’ won in 1954. In Jen Conway’s case for Norris in 2017, she wrote, “The Red Wings became a more profitable team under her care, and she tried to convince the other owners that televised games were the future. She also advocated for arenas to be more female-friendly and for the farm team system then in place be revamped to be more equitable and fair to all the teams.”

Viktor Tikhonov – The head coach of the dominant “Red Machine” passed away in 2014 and is long overdue for induction for his influence on the game. Tikhonov, a 1998 IIHF Hall of Famer as a builder, led the Soviets to the 1981 Canada Cup, eight golds at the World Championships, two at the Olympics and another coaching the Unified Team at the 1992 Games. He also coached CSKA Moscow and led them to 12 straight league titles.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Power Rankings: Qualifying Round storylines

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There’s been an excitement in the air since the NHL announced its Return to Play plans last week. Of course, there’s a big if to be added at the beginning of it all. As long as planning and testing goes well, the puck should drop later this summer to determine the 2020 Stanley Cup champion.

There’s still lots of work to do.

But it’s a good first step and allows us to talk hockey for the first time in a few months. The Qualifying Round will kick things off with eight series with lengths that are currently undetermined.

In this week’s Power Rankings we take a look at the top storylines a round with some interesting matchups.

1. Non-playoff teams given second life

Thanks to the RTP format, the Canadiens and Blackhawks, two teams more than six points out of a wild card spot were given a second life. Could they have made a run in the final month of the regular season? Sure, so could the other teams that were out of a playoff spot at the time of the March 12 pause. 

“That was a huge issue in putting the format together, trying to figure out numbers, who deserves to be in, who deserves maybe a handicap and whatnot, but ultimately there’s just no way,” said Oilers forward and Return to Play Committee member Connor McDavid. “I mean, we’ve beaten this thing to death, there’s just no way to handicap those teams. This maybe isn’t the most fair way but I think the integrity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is still going to be intact.”

But now? Everything is reset and a hot goaltender plus a possible short series could mean an upset.

Say what you will about teams like Montreal and Chicago getting in — if they somehow become champions, they will definitely have earned it.

“Let’s say a team like Montreal beats Pittsburgh and does go on to win the Stanley Cup,” McDavid added, “I think they’re a very deserving team. If they’re going to win five rounds and go through some really good teams, then maybe they do deserve it. There’s never going to be a perfect scenario.”

2. Who is most vulnerable in a potential short series?

As we noted, while the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be best-of-seven, it’s yet to be determined whether the Qualifying Round, First Round, and Second Round will be best-of-five or the usual best-of-seven.

With the amount of time off and the possibility that only three wins could be needed to advance, which higher seeds might be most at-risk?

The Blue Jackets, after a season of filling their trainers’ room every week, should be close to full-health. They’ve been playing with a chip on their shoulders all season and have succeeded after losing Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. The Maple Leafs will enter the series with the pressure of winning given their star-studded lineup and dangerous offense. As if John Tortorella needs anything more to add to the “underdog” mantra.

Every playoff team dreads facing the “hot goalie.” All it takes is one 2010 Jaroslav Halak and Cup dreams can come to an end. Is it a stretch to see Carey Price providing issues for the Penguins or Corey Crawford shutting down McDavid and Leon Draisaitl or Igor Shesterkin further cementing his place as New York’s No. 1 by ending the Hurricanes’ season?

At least each team’s pro scouting department will have more than enough time to pick apart the opposition.

[MORE: NHL announces return-to-play plans]

3. The goalie battles

We touched on this Friday with the Rangers. Will Henrik Lundqvist get one last ride in New York or will David Quinn go with the impressive rookie, Shesterkin? Will Mike Sullivan allow training camp to determine if he goes with Tristan Jarry or Matt Murray? Is Mikko Koskinen the definitive choice in Edmonton over Mike Smith? Can Antti Raanta challenge Darcy Kuemper for the Coyotes’ No. 1 job?

Any goalie decision is an important, and the wrong one could swing a series, especially in a possible best-of-five.

A goaltender’s success or struggles before the pause may be erased given the amount of time off. History against a specific team (Henrik Lundqvist dominance over Carolina, for example) or experience can play in a coach’s decision on who to start. That will make training camp performance vital for those who don’t necessarily have the No. 1 job locked down.

4. Stars getting healthy

Seth Jones, Dougie Hamilton, Conor Garland, Jacob Markstrom and Jake Guentzel are a few names in the Qualifying Round who should be back on the ice when play resumes. With nearly four months between games, this round will allow teams to be healthier than usual. It will also put a further importance on training camp leading up to puck drop.

Hamilton, for example, hasn’t played since mid-January, and Jones’ ankle took him out of the lineup in February. Camp will be valuable time not only for those them to get back into hockey mode but also ensure no setbacks when it’s time for contact.

Jason Zucker #16 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second goal
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5. Deadline pickups having an effect

The trade deadline seems like it arrived years ago. Let’s now all remember that Tyler Toffoli is a Canuck, Brady Skjei and Vincent Trocheck are Hurricanes, Jason Zucker and Patrick Marleau are Penguins, J.G. Pageau is an Islander, Alex Galchenyuk is a Wild, and Andreas Athanasiou is an Oiler.

Those players will be among the names in the Qualifying Round who switched teams this season, but didn’t get a ton of time to settle into their new digs. Toffoli (6-4-10–10 GP), Zucker (6-6-12–15 GP) and Galchenyuk (3-4-7–14 GP) have had strong starts and will be needed in their individual series.

Meanwhile, Taylor Hall had a longer run with the Coyotes and in 35 games put up 27 points.

In a number of cases — Zucker, Skjei, Pageau, Trocheck, etc — the players have term remaining on their contracts. But then you have the pending unrestricted free agents. The Canucks gave up a good package to add Toffoli; Arizona is hoping to entice Hall to stay; Toronto is relying on Kyle Clifford to bolster their bottom six in what’s going to be a grind-it-out series vs. Columbus.

These players will get time during July training camps to get acclimated with their new teammates and further educate themselves on their new systems. Disappointing outputs could have a big effect on their next contracts.

6. The swan songs

Justin Williams took a break after last season and rejoined the Hurricanes in January. Hanging up his skates for good after this season is something he spoke about in April. Who else could join him?

Wild captain Mikko Koivu has an expiring contract and has hinted his days in Minnesota could be coming to an end. Could GM Bill Guerin value his leadership enough for a one-year deal or will the forward choose to end his playing career at home in Finland?

Is there a spot somewhere in the NHL for Jason Spezza next season? “I’m just enjoying coming to the rink every day, trying to get better day to day,” he said in February. “I can’t say I’ve been too nostalgic at all, kind of going in and out of places. I hope to have a good year and keep going.”

A tighter salary cap could squeeze out a number of veterans as teams look for cheaper, younger alternative already in their systems. Will any get to have their Ray Bourque moment?

MORE:
NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans
Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.