The NHL announced on Monday afternoon that it has had zero positive COVID-19 test results since its 24 playoff teams reported to their bubble cities of Toronto and Edmonton.
There were more than 7,000 tests administered since fourth phase of the league’s restart plan began on July 26 through August 1, when play resumed with the start of the qualifying round.
The league is testing all 52 members of each team’s traveling parties (including players, coaches, front office, team staff) on a daily basis and will continue to do so as long as the teams remain in their hub cities.
Previously, the NHL had announced that there were 43 positive tests results during the Phase 2 portion of the league’s return (which involved small groups of individual players skating at team facilities), and two positive tests that it was aware of during the first week of training camp. The league announced zero positive results during the second week of training camp and zero positive results when the teams arrived in their bubbles.
Pekka Rinne‘s run of 89 consecutive playoff starts came to an end for the Predators on Sunday when Juuse Saros got the call against the Coyotes. It did not go well from the very beginning. A fluke goal off the stick of Oliver Ekman-Larsson opened the floodgates as Arizona stormed out to an early 3-0 lead. The Predators attempted to rally and make it a game late in the third period, but the early deficit was too much to overcome as the Coyotes took Game 1 of their qualifying round series. Predators coach John Hynes did not commit to a starting goalie for Game 2 on Tuesday.
The Flyers were rapidly climbing the standings before the season was paused and they took a big step toward securing the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on Sunday when they beat the Boston Bruins in the opening of round-robin play. The Flyers received goals from four different players (all depth players: Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Nate Thompson, and Philippe Myers) while Carter Hart stopped 34 shots in goal.
Easily the best finish of the postseason (so far). Nazem Kadri‘s buzzer beater with just 0.1 seconds to play in regulation gave the Colorado Avalanche a 2-1 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues. It capped off a dominant power play performance to end the game.
The worst possible start to the postseason for the Maple Leafs. Not only did they lose to the Blue Jackets, but they did not even score a single goal in a 2-0 loss. Even without fans in the stands the pressure on the Maple Leafs is going to be immense and that is only going to increase as they find themselves down in the qualifying round. Losing in the first round every year is bad enough. Losing in this round would be inexcusable.
Jared Spurgeon was outstanding for Minnesota on Sunday night by factoring into all three goals (scoring of them himself) and playing his usual steady game defensively. The Wild used a pair of power play goals and a rock solid defensive game to shut down the Canucks’ young stars and take an early series lead.
1. Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets. At the start of the season goaltending was the big question mark for the Blue Jackets. But the tag-team duo of Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins played a huge role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the race, and on Sunday it was Korpisalo getting the shutout in his first career postseason start. He was definitely challenged a bit and had to make some big saves, and every single time he was up to the task.
2. Alex Stalock, Minnesota Wild. Goaltending was always going to be a big X-factor for the Wild this season, but the popular consensus was that it was going to be Devan Dubnyk backstopping the team to success. It has turned out to be Stalock that is giving the Wild a chance. His play during the regular season helped get them back into the playoff race, and on Sunday night he stopped all 28 shots he faced in a 3-0 win over the Canucks.
3. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers. Hart is the player that could make the Flyers an absolutely terrifying team in the postseason. They have been waiting for a franchise goalie for decades in Philadelphia, and they might finally have one. He was brilliant on Sunday afternoon against Boston, stopping 35 out of 36 shots to help the Flyers stay white hot (carrying over their hot streak from the end of the regular season) to get two points closer to the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Highlights of the Night
Kadri’s buzzer-beater is (so far) the play of the postseason.
After three straight opening round postseason exits there is no team under more immense pressure to advance through the qualifying round than the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Their current core has yet to break through in the playoffs, they play under the most intense media microscope in the league, and they were already dealing with the criticism that was coming from a sub-par regular season performance before the season was paused.
They need to win, and they need to win now.
So getting shutout and losing 2-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of their qualifying round series on Sunday night was probably not the start they were looking for.
For most teams this situation would not be anything to panic about. It is one game and even in a shortened series there is still time to turn things around, get back on track, and salvage the series. But given the way the regular season went and the fact this core is still looking for its first postseason series win and there is going to be no grace period here. No benefit of the doubt. No patience.
It is not just the fact they dropped the first game of the series, but the team they dropped it to.
Toronto and Columbus could not be at two more opposite ends of the NHL postseason spectrum even though their spot in the standings was virtually identical.
The Maple Leafs are the team loaded with superstars and the team that has had championship expectations. The goal is to simply not just make the playoffs, but to make the playoffs and win the whole thing.
To this point, fairly or unfairly, they are viewed as underachievers, especially after spending most of the 2019-20 regular season either out of the playoffs or teetering on the bubble.
The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, are a team that entered this season with zero expectations and have done nothing but overachieve all year.
Their roster was gutted over the summer in free agency, they were picked by most to finish near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division and perhaps even the entire league, and once the season did start they were absolutely ravaged by injuries all year to some of their best players.
Despite all of that being stacked against them they still exceeded all expectations and found themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Even with all of their flaws they still had a strong core thanks to defenseman Seth Jones and Zach Werenski and a couple of criminally underrated forwards in Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois. The wild card was always going to be how their goaltending duo of Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins performed. They excelled, and on Sunday Korpisalo played one of his best games of the season.
A year ago the Blue Jackets shocked the hockey world by sweeping the 62-win Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.
Now they are one game closer to really sending the NHL world into chaos if they can upset the Maple Leafs.
NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Sunday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs. Coverage will be joined-in-progress beginning at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Blue Jackets-Maple Leafs stream at 9 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Toronto is the only Eastern Conference team in the Qualifying Round to switch coaches mid-season as they hope the move will produce similar results to the Blues last season, winning the Cup after Craig Berube took over in November.
Two years in a row the Leafs lost to the Bruins in Game 7 of the opening round and have not won a playoff series in 15 seasons. The improvement is there, though, with young stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner leading the way and the addition of John Tavares.
After losing Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency, the Blue Jackets entered this season with questions in goal. Bobrovsky won two Vezina Trophies with Columbus, but the duo of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins have filled the void. Korpisalo had 17 wins and was named an All-Star this season, but was forced to miss nearly two months from Dec-Feb after undergoing knee surgery on Dec. 31. Merzlikins stepped in and put up ridiculous numbers. From December 31 to February 7, Merzlikins went 12-2-0 in 14 starts with a .953 save percentage and five shutouts. However, he cooled down and finished the season with just one win in his final nine starts (1-3-4). Merzlikins, who is from Latvia and played his entire career in the Swiss league, had no NHL experience prior to this season. Both goalies also have zero NHL playoff experience.
WHAT: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto WHEN: Sunday, August 2, 9 p.m. ET (joined-in-progress) TV: NBCSN ON THE CALL: Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blue Jackets-Maple Leafs stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.
(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets
Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 9 p.m. ET – NBCSN (Livestream joined-in-progress) 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
You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.
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.
UPDATE: While Cassidy said Rask is feeling better, Jaroslav Halak will start Sunday. Dan Vladar will serve as the backup. “He’s not going to play today. Hopefully he gets back on the ice as early as tomorrow.”
Head coach Bruce Cassidy said that the netminder felt ill and did not join the team for practice on Saturday.
“He wasn’t feeling well, so unfit to participate today,” said Cassidy. “As an afternoon question tomorrow, the natural next question is ‘will he start?’ I’ll have to talk to Tuukka later and see where he’s at. If [he cannot play] then Jaro [Halak] will be ready to go.”
A fractured finger during summer training camp forces Rask to missed a handful of practices. Fortunately for the Bruins, they have Halak to fall back on in case their No. 1 can’t go. The two netminders combined to win the 2019-20 Williams Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed since they both played at least 25 games.
Because the Bruins have three round-robin games before the First Round begins, Halak was expected to get at least one start. Both goaltenders split time during Thursday’s exhibition game against Columbus. Boston’s next game will be Wednesday against the Lightning (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
As far as definite absences go with the Bruins, Ondrej Kase finally arrived in the Toronto bubble and will not be ready. Same goes for Nick Ritchie, who has been “unfit to participate.”
Game 1: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m. ET (USA Network; livestream): The Predators are in the playoffs for the sixth straight season – the longest active streak in the West and behind only Pittsburgh in the entire league. Arizona making the 24-team tournament is also notable as the Coyotes snapped what was the second-longest active postseason drought in the NHL. The Coyotes sat four points out of the final wild card spot when the season paused.
Round-robin: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream): The defending champs will benefit from the return of forward Vladimir Tarasenko. The 28-year-old underwent left shoulder surgery in late October and was on pace to return for the playoffs even before the season was paused. He played just 10 games this season. The Avalanche were a banged up team before the pause, missing Mikko Rantanen, Andrew Burakovsky, Philipp Grubauer, Matt Calvert and Nazem Kadri. But the long break has allowed the club to heal up, and now the only forward missing is Colin Wilson, who’s been out since October.
Game 1: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, (joined-in-progress) 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream): Toronto is the only Eastern Conference team in the Qualifying Round to switch coaches mid-season as they hope the move will produce similar results to the Blues last season, winning the Cup after Craig Berube took over in November. Last summer, the Blue Jackets lost four of their top players in free agency, with Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky all leaving Columbus. Despite losing those players, the Blue Jackets had the exact same point total through 70 games (81 points) as last season.
Game 1: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream): Minnesota is back in the postseason after falling short last year following six straight playoff appearances from 2013-2018, while Vancouver is in the tournament for the first time since 2015. Neither of these teams have had much playoff success in recent years as the Wild have been bounced in the opening round in each of their last three postseason series. Likewise for the Canucks, who have lost three straight opening-round series since losing in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to Boston.
MONDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
Game 2: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Round-robin: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Round-robin: Stars-Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Game 2: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)