After a 142-day pause, the NHL finally resumed play on Saturday, with the league’s first-ever slate of August games signaling the start of a revamped 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Here’s a look at the schedule for the weekend:
Seeding is all that's up for grabs for top clubs like the Bruins during round-robin play, but for the other 16 franchises tasked with battling it out in the play-in round? Things can go off the rails in a hurry, especially during a best-of-five series.
Here's who we've got moving on to the next round:
EAST - Toronto
No. 5 Penguins vs. No. 12 Canadiens
Yes, Carey Price — even if he may not be the same Price that was the unquestioned top netminder in the league just a few years back — can very well steal a series, especially one compressed into a best-of-five format.
And yes, the Habs may not be nearly as bad as their records indicate — with Montreal's top line of Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher standing as arguably the most underrated forward trio in the league, outscoring opponents 36-26 over 572 minutes together this season.
Still, a Penguins team already loaded with offensive firepower should be licking their chops at this matchup. Pittsburgh, who ranked third in man-games lost to injury this season at 298, should benefit from four-plus months off, as top-six forward Jake Guentzel (20 goals, 43 points in 39 games) is back in the fold after recovering from shoulder surgery that he underwent back in December.
Even with those injuries, the Penguins still boasted a top-10 offense (3.20 GF/G) at the time of the break — with franchise cornerstones Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang leading the way. Add in pieces like Bryan Rust, Patric Hornqvist and deadline pickup Jason Zucker (12 points in 15 games with Pittsburgh), and the Pens have the forward depth to pile on goals against the top defensive units in the league.
Goaltending is a bit of a question mark for Pittsburgh, while the Pens' power play is surprisingly only 16th overall in the league, but with Crosby and Co. leading the way, I think Pittsburgh simply overpowers the Habs and Price — who actually ranks 32nd among NHL netminders (min. 1,000 minutes) in even-strength save percentage at .919 this season.
PREDICTION: Penguins in four
No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 Rangers
You could make the case that either of the clubs in this play-in matchup has the pieces to go on a run this summer, as the Rangers are a high-scoring bunch with a young goalie that was on a roll this season in Igor Shestyorkin (.932 save percentage in 12 games). And yet, while the Rangers have primarily been paced by stars like Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, the ‘Canes are the much more balanced club here, with much stronger special-teams units.
While Dougie Hamilton is currently "unfit to participate" at the start of this series, his eventual return will be a major coup for Rod Brind'Amour's club, while deadline pickups like Sami Vatanen, Brady Skjei and Vincent Trocheck further round out a very balanced Canes' roster.
While youngsters like Sebastian Aho (38 goals, 66 points), Teuvo Teravainen (63 points) and Andrei Svechnikov (61 points) pace the pack, the Hurricanes boast 14 players on their roster that have tallied at least 20 points this season. Add in a stout showing on special teams (eighth in power-play percentage and fourth on the penalty kill), and Carolina can beat you in a number of ways.
The Rangers have had success against Carolina this season, winning all four of their games against Carolina during the regular season — but the Blueshirts' leaky defense and subpar PK unit (77.4% success rate - 23rd in NHL) will have them behind the eight ball here.
PREDICTION: Hurricanes in four
No. 7 Islanders vs. No. 10 Panthers