Who’s ready for some summer playoff hockey?!
24 teams playing 52 games over nine days. A Stanley Cup Playoffs unlike any the world has ever seen. And that’s before even getting to the fact that the Vancouver Canucks are making their unofficial postseason return after five long years.
Five months after the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill and cause the NHL to pause the 2019-20 season, hockey has finally returned to the stage and will use an extended five round playoff to determine this year’s Stanley Cup Champion. But with so much hockey going on across Rogers Place in Edmonton and Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, there’ll be no shortage of amazing stories.
Every day I’ll be bringing you analysis on the Canucks qualifying series against the Minnesota Wild and the rest of the NHL, as well as links to other great hockey content around the internet, from articles to tweets to videos.
A summer based hockey series like this needs a name; something that encompasses the chaos, fun and entertainment we’re all about to be a part of. It’s almost like the NHL’s answer to a music festival, only one where fans have to experience the band’s greatest hits from home.
Welcome to GoalChella.
The Main Stage
It’s amazing to think that I started this blog half a decade ago, and only now do I have the chance to cover a Canucks playoff(ish) team.
Vancouver enters the postseason in a rare scenario where there’s frankly no bad outcome. If they show up for Game 1 against the Minnesota Wild, play a series for the ages and move on to face a Western Conference titan, the Canucks are already playing with house money. If they can’t get by Minnesota, they still earn some valuable playoff experience and get a 1 in 8 shot at drafting Alexis Lafreniere for their trouble.
With so much of the roster making their Stanley Cup debut, naive optimism might just be a key to success for this young Canucks group. Vancouver has already cleared their main goal of making the playoffs, now they can seize the opportunity to loosen up and play without much in terms of pressure. Just ask the 2018 Vegas Golden Knights what a team can accomplish when there’s no expectations.
But make no mistake, the Wild are far from an easy out. Their offensive depth is quite solid even after trading Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline, and their defense core is among the league’s best. The great equalizers for the Canucks will be in goal, where Jacob Markstrom has clearly outperformed the Minnesota tandem of Alex Stalock and Devan Dubnyk, and a core group of Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller that can change the course of a game all on their own.
No matter how this series turns out, there’s one piece of advice we all need to keep in mind: enjoy this moment. 2020 has truely been a roller coaster of misery, and the return of NHL hockey will likely be one of the few bright lights this year gives us.
Whether this all ends in three quick games or with October championship champagne, the Canucks are eventually going to put on their final performance of the season. Let’s soak it all in and have some fun. From a socially safe distance, of course.
Penguins vs. Canadiens (Game 1): Anyone who tells you they knew the Habs would win the opening game against Pittsburgh is lying. Goaltending was the one real question mark heading into the series, but Carey Price lived up to his resume and Matt Murray wasn’t too shabby himself.
There were a few moments where the Penguins seemed to take their 24th ranked opponent too easily, while the Canadiens fought for every inch of ice they got. In the end, Jeff Petry was able to catch the Pens forwards napping and made no mistake.
This series could be more fun than I expected.
Oilers vs. Blackhawks (Game 1): Mike Smith is a goaltending enigma. Sometimes he pulls off a game stealing victory, and then sometimes things go south. To be completely fair to Smith, it sure looked like the Oilers had replacement players wearing his defensemen’s jerseys.
Dominik Kubalik had one hell of a playoff debut, scoring two goals and three assists, and holding the Oilers to just one goal at even strength has to be a confidence booster for Chicago. Who can stay out of the box more could very easily be the deciding factor in this series.
Flames vs. Jets (Game 1): I don’t think a playoff opener could’ve gone any worse for the Jets. Not only did Calgary pulled off a convincing 4-1 victory, but Mark Scheifele suffered a very scary looking injury just minutes into the game and Winnipeg lost Patrik Laine and Mason Appleton to their own midgame injuries after.
I’m definitely feeling nervous about picking the Jets to win now, but as long as Connor Hellebuyck is still standing Winnipeg has a chance. In Calgary’s case, Johnny Gaudreau finally finding the back of the net in a playoff game has to be a huge relief. Let’s see if he can keep the scoring going.
Hurricanes vs. Rangers (Game 1): The Hurricanes were already entertaining before Warren Foegele tried this in the final minute of play.
The Canes are stacked with young talent, and if they can get some stability in goal from Petr Mrazek and/or James Reimer they could make another deep playoff run.
The Rangers might still be a work in progress, but it’s hard to count out a team with Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. And for a guy who wasn’t expected to start, Lundqvist had a slow start to the afternoon but really settled in by the late stages of the first. If Ilya Shesterkin comes back and it ends up being the last we saw of King Henrik this season, he made a great final impression.
Islanders vs. Panthers (Game 1): This series will likely be as big a slogfest as the opening game was. Low scoring affairs are the name of the game for the Isles, but it was shocking to see that Sergei Bobrovsky got the memo.
While there’s so much to like on the Panthers, they always seem to be one giant step behind the contenders. Hopefully the Cats are able to wake up the offense more in time for Game 2, or this could be an extra quick series.
The Hurricanes and Coyotes have both elected to wear alternate jerseys for their home playoff games, with the Canes using their black “Warning Flags” sweater for the second consecutive postseason and Arizona correctly choosing to wear their throwback “Kachina” jerseys for their first playoff appearance since 2012.
It got me thinking, did every team bring the right jersey sets? For the sake of time, the eight teams without an alternate jersey (CHI, FLA, MIN, MTL, NSH, NYR, TOR, VGK) haven’t been included.
Arizona Coyotes: Until the Coyotes’ owners make the decision to bring the Kachina back full time and demote the current home jersey to alternate status, this is the best set they could bring.
Boston Bruins: I personally really like the Bruins’ Winter Classic third jerseys, but getting rid of the “Spoked B” would be a crime.
Calgary Flames: Apparently the Flames asked to wear both their gorgeous red throwbacks and its matching white version from this year’s Heritage Classic, but they’d missed the NHL’s deadline for playoff uniforms. Do I smell a jersey change on the way?
Carolina Hurricanes: Not gonna lie, I like Carolina’s regular red jersey much more than the alternates. I don’t care how cool Petr Mrazek’s matching black pads are.
Colorado Avalanche: I do like the Rockies fauxback jersey, but you can’t have the Avalanche without a burgundy home jersey.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The blue and cream cannon jersey is way more sleek looking than the Blue Jackets regular navy home sweaters. Make the switch.
Dallas Stars: Technically, the Stars don’t have an alternate jersey. But their Winter Classic jerseys from this year are so nice, I’d be crazy not to include them.
Edmonton Oilers: Frankly, I’m not a huge fan of any of the Oilers current uniforms. I much prefer the blue Gretzky era ones they wore before, so they might as well sick with what they’ve got for now.
New York Islanders: The Islanders have a basic blue alternate jersey that just doesn’t compare to the classics. Right call keeping the regular set.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers’ black jerseys are really nice, but it’d be a cardinal sin to have it displace their orange uniform. Stay the course, Philly.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Another case of a team having a super cool alternate, in this case a full gold Penguins jersey. But keeping it a third jersey is the best call when you have a regular set that’s among the best in the league.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues regular jerseys are pretty good. Their special 90s throwbacks are beautiful and deserved more ice time. You can’t go wrong with either.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts’ black gradient jerseys are a little weird and off-brand for my taste. Their regular blue and white set is clean, crisp and classic. Good call.
Vancouver Canucks: This is where it gets really difficult. As much as people (including myself) love the Flying Skate jersey, sticking with the green and blue Orca is the correct decision. The Skate jerseys are special because they’re such a rare sight; if you wear them every single night, the novelty wears off. Keep the Skate as a special treat.
Washington Capitals: The Caps throwback uniform is so much cooler than their regular home jersey. I also wouldn’t mind a new sweater with the alternate logo on it, but that’s not what this game is about.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are in a different kind of situation from everyone else. When it comes to the postseason, Winnipeg needs to wear their white jerseys for home games for the sake of the “Winnipeg WhiteOut”. I generally hate the mandatory white jerseys, but the Jets need to embrace it more.
This also feels like a great time to bring up Elias Pettersson’s sense of style, which has been on full display since the Canucks arrival in Edmonton. Vanessa Jang of The BroadsCast was kind enough to create a full Twitter thread detailing Petey’s… well, threads.
Other Great Acts
In the span of a week, a group of women have completely turned the Canucks podcast landscape on its head. Vanessa, Samantha, Mallory, Georgia and Dani debuted The BroadsCast on Friday, an all-women hockey podcast that’s very worth your time to take a listen to.
The Athletic’s Thomas Drance and Michael Russo teamed up to tell the oral history of the 2003 semifinal between the Canucks and Wild, and it is fascinating. It includes a bus crash, broken unspoken codes and blown series leads.
The Province’s Patrick Johnston wrote about Jake Virtanen’s healthy scratch against the Jets, why he’s likely to stay in the press box against Minnesota and why it appears his time in Vancouver is nearly at its end.
Boston based writer Marisa Ingemi is doing an NHL power rankings series on Substack, and it only costs $5 a month to subscribe. Marisa is an incredibly talented writer who’s also currently taking the independent hockey coverage route, so go check out her work if you can!
Finally, if you watch nothing else during these playoffs, make it this amazing speech by Wild defenseman Matt Dumba on behalf of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. The NHL needs to amplify more voices like his and use it to make the sport a more welcoming place for people of every background.
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