‘No secrets’ and no certainty in one-of-a-kind NHL playoffs

‘No secrets’ and no certainty in one-of-a-kind NHL playoffs

There will be no mysteries when Tampa Bay and Florida meet in the first round of the playoffs after facing off eight times this season and twice in the past week. Same deal for Montreal and Toronto, who have played 10 times since mid-January.

“I don’t want to say it takes kind of some of the fun out it, but it does because you know a lot more what to expect,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

A strange NHL regular season has given way to a one-of-a-kind playoff tournament for the Stanley Cup. It will feature an opening two rounds of all divisional play for the first time in almost 30 years and re-seed the final four to crown a champion for the first time in league history.

“It’s just another thing about our year that’s incredibly unique,” Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon said Friday. “You could see matchups that you would generally only see in a Stanley Cup Final situation, so that’s going to add another layer of uniqueness to an already unique season.”

It’s so unique that by the time Calgary and Vancouver finish their regular seasons, some first-round playoff series will be two games old. A total of 57 games were postponed this season — 51 for virus-related reasons — so the playoffs open a few days later than planned when Washington hosts Boston on Saturday night.

After expanding to 24 teams to complete the 2020 season, the playoff field is back to the traditional 16 with four from each temporarily realigned division. The first two rounds are a return to the divisional playoff format the NHL used from 1982-93, and things should be even spicier after a season of all divisional play.

“There’s really no secrets,” said Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour, one of six head coaches in the playoffs who played in that old format. “It’s going to be too much going on, both teams trying to do the same things and we’re each in each other’s way, so something’s going to give.”

Cooper thinks Game 1 of each series will better resemble a Game 2 or 3 since teams won’t need any time to get familiar with each other. They’ve had at least eight chances to get acquainted over the past four months.

“Bad blood’s already there, typically if you’ve played a team eight times and both teams are in the playoffs,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Instead of sort of a buildup over time where gradually you get to Game 4 and all of a sudden now the nastiness starts, you’ll just see it sooner. Familiarity will breed contempt quicker.”

Nashville GM David Poile believes that familiarity will also breed better series. The league has tried for years to gin up rivalries, and while these aren’t the circumstances anyone wanted, there’s no love lost in any of the eight first-round matchups.

“There’s been a lot to, I guess, not like about this year, but one of the things is playing these same teams and building up these rivalries,” Poile said. “It’s really, really good, and I think it’s going to make for good hockey.”

There will likely be different styles of hockey across the divisions: Nashville-Carolina and Tampa Bay-Florida in the Central, Boston-Washington and the New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh in the East, St. Louis-Colorado and Minnesota-Vegas in the West and Montreal-Toronto and Winnipeg-Edmonton in the North. For one, there are still no fans allowed in arenas in Canada, while every arena in the U.S. will have a crowd of at least 4,000 to start the playoffs.

“By this time, I think we’re pretty used to it with no fans,” Winnipeg forward Nate Thompson said. “In the bubble (last summer), every team had to create their own momentum, their own excitement.”

There’s no bubble this time, and the NHL is even relaxing pandemic protocols for each team that has 85% of its traveling party fully vaccinated. Even after he and the Lightning won the Cup in quarantine as bubble hockey champions, Tampa Bay center Yanni Gourde said “it’s a completely different vibe” this year and is excited to get back to sharing the playoffs with family.

“It does feel a lot more normal, or like it used to be in the years past,” Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron said. “Traveling, two games on the road, two games back at home and then 1-1-1, so it’s back to regular playoffs, and kind of looking forward to that.”

Hockey players and coaches know better than to look too far forward. But reseeding the final four provides the potential for cross-continental semifinals and Cup Final matchups that would ordinarily never be possible.

Boston and Toronto could meet for the Cup after several recent first-round series. It could be Washington-Carolina, Edmonton-Vegas or Nashville-St. Louis.

“We’d love to find out,” McCrimmon said. “It’ll be really interesting to see what those games are like, to see how teams are playing, and of course there’s so many things that are going to change between now and then. … Just through the eyes of a hockey fan, that’s going to be really neat to see what happens.”

___

AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker, Aaron Beard and Tim Reynolds contributed.

___

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

___

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

NHL

Just Posted

CMHA
Mental health support centre in central Alberta to receive funding

Shoppers Drug Mart is lending support to the Canadian Mental Health Association.… Continue reading

Downtown Red Deer was packed with people who lined the streets to watch the Westerner Days parade on Wednesday. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Westerner Days parade cancelled, full details on modified event coming June 28

The 2021 edition of Westerner Days will look much different than any… Continue reading

City council wants to hear from the public at a May 25 hearing about whether the temporary homeless shelter should be allowed to remain in the downtown for another year. (Advocate file photo).
City of Red Deer staff to recommend another extension to allow operations at current temporary shelter site

Following some more research city administration has received no other new locations… Continue reading

A scene from the short Western ‘Cheaters, Robbers and Outlaws,’ written and directed by Jason Steele, with support from Telus Storyhive. (Contributed image)
Red Deerians make ‘Cheaters, Robbers and Outlaws’ short Western film

Writer and director Jason Steele received a $20,000 Storyhive grant from Telus

Residents in several neighbourhoods reported little to no water pressure Tuesday night. (File photo by Advocate staff)
City hall to reopen for payments and customer service

Red Deer City Hall will reopen on June 21 for utility and… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: You can’t trust Mondays

Monday isn’t my favourite day. It insists on occurring right after a… Continue reading

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price stops Vegas Golden Knights' William Karlsson as he is covered by Canadiens' Joel Edmundson during first period of Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup semifinal Friday, June 18, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Andreson’s timely scoring, Price’s goaltending give Habs 2-1 series lead over Vegas

Canadiens 3 Golden Knights 2 (OT) (Montreal leads series 2-1) MONTREAL —… Continue reading

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) is defended by Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) as he looks for an opening during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinal series Friday, June 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Curry, Harris help 76ers stay alive, hold off Hawks 104-99

76ers 104 Hawks 99 (Series tied 3-3) ATLANTA — Seth Curry hit… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise of a two-dose fall is… Continue reading

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, speaks during a press conference in Ottawa, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Mendicino has announced a new policy to help settle 500 refugees and their families in a news conference today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year: Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced plans to expedite applications and increase the… Continue reading

Louis Oosthuizen, of South Africa, plays his shot from the third tee during the second round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Friday, June 18, 2021, at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Bland leads at Torrey and shows the US Open is truly open

SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Open prides itself on being the most… Continue reading

The Prime Minister's car waits outside the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg Tuesday, May 19, 2009. The head of the Public Health Agency of Canada is showing no sign he'll release unredacted documents about the firing of two scientists at Canada's highest security laboratory — despite the prospect of being publicly shamed in the House of Commons for his refusal to turn them over. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
PHAC head maintains he’s bound by law not to release docs on fired scientists

OTTAWA — The head of the Public Health Agency of Canada is… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant in Canada

OTTAWA — The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly… Continue reading

Most Read