Quest for Cup in September almost complete
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
The NHL playoffs are getting close to the finish line. Yes, it is a September to remember—as usually this month is when NHL pre-season hockey occurs, but instead we’ve been treated to a restructured 24-team playoff tournament. So far, the playoff format has been a success with no outbreaks reported in either of the two NHL hub cities: Toronto and Edmonton.
It is down to the wire as four teams remain (as of this writing). Vegas is taking on Dallas in the Western Conference Final, and in the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders are playing Tampa Bay. Prior to the start of the east final, the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, in their east semi-final series, went to a game seven—with the Islanders winning 4 to 0 in the series clinching game. Before the start of the West final, the Dallas Stars defeated the Colorado Avalanche, 5 to 4 in overtime in another game seven.
Locally, the Vancouver Canucks, despite losing their second round series in seven games against the Vegas Golden Knights on September 4, did very well in the Edmonton playoff bubble. The Canucks made positive strides by winning their first playoff series in nine years. The playoff experience will benefit the Canucks’ young core, and they will be better for it in the coming years. Canucks coach, Travis Green, says losing in the playoffs is humbling yet painful. “It obviously hurts,” Green said during an emotional press conference after the Canucks were eliminated. “We’ve got a bunch of guys that are upset right now. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. The Stanley Cup is hard to win. It should hurt when you lose.”
Remarkably, the New York Islanders have not made the Conference Final since May 1993, when they faced the Montreal Canadiens—losing in five games. The Habs would eventually win the Cup that year by defeating the Los Angeles Kings in five games (Wayne Gretzky’s last appearance as a player in a Cup Final as a member of the Kings). Significantly, the Montreal Canadiens are the last Canadian team to win Lord Stanley’s mug.
I have not watched every playoff game, but from what I have seen from the revised version of the 2020 NHL playoffs, the hockey has been fantastic. Games have been exciting with lots of speed, good body checks, and remarkable skills from star players such as Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado), Mikko Rantanen (Colorado), Miro Heiskanen (Dallas), Elias Pettersson (Vancouver), Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), Brayden Point (Tampa Bay), and Coquitlam’s Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders). Importantly, the NHL playoffs have provided a much-needed diversion from the hardship and stress that COVID-19 has had on many people. It was nice to watch the Canucks’ short but memorable playoff drive. And while these are very uncertain and unprecedented times, who knows when the next NHL season will occur? But if it is anything like the hockey we have witnessed, it will be the most anticipated and unprecedented hockey season in a very long time.