Playoffs or post-season?
Call it semantics, but there is a difference between the two this year. Depending on the team, it’s a rather big difference.
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, who will play the Blue Jackets in a best-of-five series, the Stanley Cup qualifiers might as well be the start of the playoffs. Win and they move on. Lose and they are out.
For the Boston Bruins, who will keep busy by playing in a four-team round robin to determine playoff seeding while the qualifiers are going on, the stakes are significantly lower. Win or lose, nothing really changes. Maybe that is why head coach Bruce Cassidy is treating the start of the post-season as more of a warm-up than anything else.
“The round robin gets you prepared for the playoffs,” Cassidy said in a Zoom conference call on Monday.
Not surprisingly, there appears to be a lack of urgency surrounding the first 10 days of Bruins’ training camp. While the Leafs spent the weeks leading up to camp with more than 20 players on the ice for Phase 2 and have now been scrimmaging for days — with regular season intensity — the Bruins are operating on a different time line.
The team didn’t have large groups of players skating together in Boston during Phase 2, nor has it been playing simulated games, mostly because the Bruins don’t have enough players to ice even one team — much less two.
Ten players were absent from practice on Saturday. And while six of them returned on Monday, the Bruins are still missing David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Ondrej Kase and Chris Wagner.
“As you’re starting to see, some guys are injured. And there’s the COVID aspect of it,” said Cassidy. “You’re seeing tests that don’t come back in time. You’re seeing tests that are inconclusive. So we’re being cautious.”
Boston can afford to be cautious. The Bruins’ first round robin game is two weeks away. It will be nearly a month before the actual playoffs begin.
“There’s plenty of time to sort through that,” said Cassidy. “Some guys can skip steps and be at the top of their game. So that may very well happen for a few of our players.”
If not, it could be a very short post-season or playoffs — or whatever you want to call it — for a Bruins team that went to the final last year.
HEDMAN RECOGNISED FOR HIS CONSISTENCY
Is Victor Hedman the new Nicklas Lidstrom?
As far as consistency goes, it is looking like it. While the Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman only has one Norris Trophy to his name, he has been a finalist in each of the past four seasons. The last player to do the same was Lidstrom, who was named the league’s best defenceman seven times in a 10-season span.
“It’s always a big honour to be recognized for an individual prize,” said Hedman. “Definitely nothing you take for granted.”
Hedman won the award in 2018 and finished third in voting in 2017 and 2019. He will likely finish third again this year, having ranked third among defencemen with 55 points, behind first-time finalists John Carlson of Washington (75 points) and Nashville’s Roman Josi (65 points).
“Roman and I are in a different ballpark,” Carlson said of Hedman.
TWO PLAYERS TEST POSITIVE FOR COVID-19
Let the speculation begin.
The NHL announced that two players have tested positive for COVID-19 among the 2,618 tests administered to more than 800 players since training camps opened last week. Neither the league nor the NHLPA will provide the identity of the players or even what team they play for.
But with Sidney Crosby, David Pastrnak and several others missing from practices because they are —to use the league’s vague terminology — “unfit to play,” the assumption now is that one or both of them could have the coronavirus. Or not.
Either way, this is an important week for testing.
In order for a player to travel from the U.S. into Toronto or Edmonton for the qualifying round on Aug. 1, three negative tests are required — 48 hours apart — in the seven days leading up to their departure. With the qualifying round beginning on Aug. 1, a positive test after this Thursday could keep them from being available for the first game.
Patrice Bergeron, Sean Couturier and Ryan O’Reilly were named finalists for the Selke Trophy on Monday. Considering that O’Reilly and Bergeron met in the Stanley Cup final after both were finalists for the award last year, it might be a safe bet to put money on Boston, Philadelphia or St. Louis winning the Cup this year … Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella told reporters that Tuesday’s practice would be a game-like simulation, right down to the evening start time. The only question is whether they have anyone on their roster who can simulate what it’s like to defend against Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares … Sidney Crosby missed practice again on Monday. Not that Carey Price minded. When asked how Montreal plans on keeping Crosby and Evgeni Malkin off the score sheet, the Canadiens goalie joked: “We can ask them nicely to stay at the hotel during the games.” … According to Washington’s John Carlson, the round robin will be important for more than just determining a team’s seeding. Based on how a team does, it could also determine who gets out of the first round. “In the early going, I think momentum will be huge.” … Rangers forward Brendan Lemieux was suspended for the first two games of the qualifying round series against the Hurricanes for a high hit delivered against Colorado’s Joonas Donskoi on March 11.