NHL set to resume Cup chase

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It feels too good to be true.

Hockey is back. The bubble seems to be working. What is happening?

While Major League Baseball is caving in due to the sudden surge of COVID-19 cases ransacking the Miami Marlins, the NHL thought it would be an amazing idea to let everyone know that the coronavirus will not penetrate Edmonton and Toronto for now.

A total of 4,256 tests were administered between July 18-25. Zero positive results among 800 players. The players and organizations should be commended for their willingness to make sure this works.

As a result, hockey is back and on schedule starting this week. In reality, exhibition hockey graced our televisions Tuesday with three games. But the fun begins Saturday with the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. It’s going to be weird; there will be no fans, crowd noise from EA Sports will be utilized, and the most exciting playoff field among the four professional leagues is going to have some feel of lackluster.

But at least it’s a safe environment.

“We have a good staff here,” Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch said Monday. “The entire Edmonton area is locked down pretty tight. The first few days, we’re quarantined to our own teams’ areas. We’re all wearing masks and getting checked. I think they’re doing a very good job.”

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What’s going to come of next season is still a long way to be determined. COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout the United States. The thought of live sports as we know it is not even a thought at the current time right now.

But the NHL needs to be given some credit in how it’s handling this ordeal. Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot to criticize, like the fact the number of beat writers allowed in the bubble is limited to a minute few and the quality insider access that makes the NHL thrive is going to be limited. While that’s lost, the quality of play is going to be the best it has ever been for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Teams are getting healthy at the right time. Sidney Crosby returned to practice for the Pittsburgh Penguins; Steven Stamkos is back for the Tampa Bay Lightning despite a scare during training camp. Even Corey Crawford, the Chicago Blackhawks’ best option in goal, recovered from COVID-19 and could be an X-Factor for the 12th seeded Chicago club.

Really, the only team that should be concerned heading into the qualifiers is the Golden Knights, with them being the gatekeepers to the health of forward Max Pacioretty. The forward did not travel with the team when they left for the West hub city Sunday.

But while there could be concerns surrounding one of the favorites for the Stanley Cup, it’s the thought of getting back to hockey that makes the bubble welcoming for the 24 teams vying for hockey’s holy grail.

“It’s good to be in a hockey environment,” said Vegas coach Peter DeBoer. “With everything going on in the world, it makes you feel normal. It’s nice to have that feeling back again. The setup’s been exceptional. The detail the NHL has put into this in a short amount of time has been impressive.”

Normal is the key. Nothing has felt normal the past four months. Nothing may seem normal beyond these next two months. But hockey is back, and there’s no greater feeling than what we have right now.

Saturday

Rangers vs. Hurricanes: So good to be making picks again. We’re going to see early on how much of a “home-ice” advantage “home” teams will have. New York can make an early statement in this best-of-5, and one has to wonder how motivated Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin will be in Game 1. High seeds will likely be the ‘dogs, so take that into consideration early on. RANGERS

Sunday

Coyotes vs. Predators: Congrats to Arizona for making it to the playoffs for the first time in a decade, only for GM John Chayka to “quit.” I’m not one to think management’s abrupt exit will have a negative play on this, but in this weird instance, it might. Nashville is going to be favored; that offense needs to click against the ‘Yotes goaltending, but expect it to be enough. PREDATORS

Flyers vs. Bruins: This game should be even on the books, but keep an eye on how the line fluctuates heading into Sunday. Philly should be favored given the B’s David Pastrnak’s absence for all of camp, but with nearly a week to get back in form, Boston should be at its Presidents Trophy caliber. Who says round robin games aren’t fun? BRUINS

About the Author
Danny Webster

Danny Webster

Danny Webster is an NHL columnist at Gaming Today. He is a graduate of UNLV whose work also appears on NHL.com, Vegas Hockey Now, and SB Nation.

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