NHL’s return offers Pens another shot at title


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The NHL’s new playoff format will bring in some underdogs.

Chris Bobuk and Jaiman White

The NHL’s plan to resume play is great news for sports fans everywhere, but particularly in Pittsburgh, where hockey fanatics will get to see Sid Crosby and Geno Malkin chase another Stanley Cup — possibly on home ice.

The league announced Tuesday that it will scrap the remainder of the regular season and move straight into a 24-team playoff series. The top 12 teams from each conference will advance to the postseason and be ranked based on percentage points from the standings as they stood on March 11. The seven teams remaining will enter the draft lottery.

The playoffs are expected to be played in hub cities, one hosting the Western Conference and one for the Eastern Conference. The potential sites include Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Edmonton, Columbus, Dallas, Minneapolis, and Chicago.

The top four teams in each conference will play in separate round robin tournaments to determine the seeding for the first round of the playoffs. The other 16 teams will play a best-of-five series in a qualifying round, with the winners being placed in the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket.

In early June, teams are scheduled to return to their home facilities for voluntary small group training. Players must wear face masks unless they are exercising or working out on the ice, and are prohibited from participating in training sessions in public facilities not organized by the team. Players and coaches participating will be tested two days prior to any organized workouts, and will be given temperature checks before entering the facilities.

Certainly the circumstances are unusual, but there are so many positives with the league moving straight into the playoffs. 

Formal training camps will open no earlier than July 1, with the playoff game dates to be determined.

While the NBA was the first league that suspended play when the coronavirus hit, the NHL has become the leader in major sports resuming play. Although the playoff games aren’t expected to begin for at least two more months, hockey fans should be excited.

This NHL postseason is going to be unlike any other in sports history. Certainly the circumstances are unusual, but there are so many positives with the league moving straight into the playoffs. 

Although the absence of fans will take away from some of the experience that the Stanley Cup playoffs create, the quality of play should be incredible. The NHL playoffs always feature a high possibility of upset situations, and even the lower-seeded teams will have great chances to succeed. The time off likely has solved some injury problems that several teams were experiencing, and with teams coming back to full strength the play should be competitive.

For a team like the Penguins, and a sports city like Pittsburgh, things should be very exciting. 

The Pens are notorious for being slow starters, but they had so much momentum leading into the suspension of the season. Sitting just outside of the top four in the Eastern Conference, Pittsburgh faces Montreal in the qualifying round, which is a team they handled in the regular season. 

Montreal has a strong goaltender in Carey Price, but the health of Penguins’ players like Crosby, Malkin, and possibly even Jake Guentzel should provide enough firepower for Pittsburgh. Crosby and Malkin have a chance to win yet another Stanley Cup together, and the possibility of getting to play in their own arena makes the story even better.

The aging Pens have maintained high levels of play, but this could be their last great chance at competing for a title. The impact it could have on the city as well is unmatched in Pittsburgh sports. 

Pittsburgh is a diehard sports city, and over the past couple of years, yinzers have enjoyed some of the greatest Penguins seasons, most recently with the club winning back-to-back titles for the second time. The potential to be one of the host cities will bring a kind of energy to the city that only comes around so often.

Playoff hockey is one of the most exciting times of the year for sports fans, and there is not a more coveted trophy than the great Stanley Cup. Commissioner Gary Bettman should be applauded for listening to his players and fans in trying to revive the NHL season. 

Although victory is never guaranteed, things are about to get very exciting for a lot of sports fans, and it’ll be nice to hear that it is once again a hockey night in Pittsburgh.