A field of 24 teams has been trimmed to 16. After a day off Monday, when the owner of the first pick in the 2020 NHL draft will be determined, the first round of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs will get underway in earnest.
The postseason has already started. There were eight qualifying-round series (best of five) played in the NHL's two Canadian bubble cities of Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta. Meanwhile, the top four teams in each conference played round-robin games to determine their seeding. This format was implemented because of the 2019-20 season's four-and-a-half-month hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With the bracket set for the first round and the teams reseeded from Nos. 1-8, the first four games of the playoffs proper will take place Tuesday. Depending on how these eight best-of-seven series unfold, first-round games could be taking place until Aug. 23. A full schedule can be found at NHL.com, while most games can be live-streamed at NBC Sports Live.
Here's a look at the Stanley Cup playoffs bracket, followed by some key storylines to watch entering the first round.
Stanley Cup Playoffs Bracket
No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets
No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Islanders
No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks
No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes
No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames
No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks
Storylines to Watch
Can Bruins Bounce Back After Rough Showing?
The Boston Bruins won the Presidents' Trophy this year as the team that had the most regular-season points. When the season was suspended in mid-March, they had 100 points and were cruising to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Yet they will be the No. 4 seed when the first round of the playoffs gets underway Tuesday, a scenario that would have seemed impossible when play was paused.
Because the top four teams in each conference played round-robin seeding games, anything was possible. And with Boston losing all three of its games, falling to the Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals, it has to face the No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes, who swept the New York Rangers in the qualifying round.
However, after Sunday's loss to the Capitals, Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask emphasized that the team has improved and got back into the swing of things.
"It doesn't matter what seed you are," Rask said, according to NHL.com's Amalie Benjamin. "You have to beat every team anyway if you want to advance. I think we feel good. It's over now, and we start real hockey."
Last year, the Bruins beat the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, sweeping them to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, so Carolina has an added incentive to win this first-round series.
Defending Champions Could Face Adversity Early
Just like the Bruins, the St. Louis Blues didn't have things go their way in the round-robin seeding games. They had 94 points and were in first place in the Western Conference when the season was suspended. Then they lost all three of their seeding games (against the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars) to fall to the No. 4 seed.
Because the Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators were both upset in the qualifying round, St. Louis will take on the Vancouver Canucks, the No. 7 seed in their best-of-five series against No. 10 Minnesota Wild before getting reseeded to No. 5 as the highest-seeded team to advance from the qualifying round in the Western Conference.
Last year, the Blues won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, outlasting the Bruins in a thrilling seven-game series. And while they will be looking to repeat, their focus appears to be on the short term.
"I'm not going to sit here and worry about what seed we are," St. Louis coach Craig Berube said, according to NHL.com's Tracey Myers. "I'm worried about Vancouver. That's who we play. We've got to play better as a team. That's what's on my mind: getting my team to play Vancouver. And we have to play better than we're playing."
If they dispatch the Canucks, there will be more strong teams awaiting the Blues. They're going to have to improve quickly if they want to repeat as champions.
Which Surprise Teams Could Make Deeper Runs?
If the regular season had been played to completion, there's a good chance the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens all would have missed the playoffs. But getting the opportunity to play in best-of-five qualifying-round series upon the NHL's return, all three teams pulled off upsets to advance to the first round of the postseason.
Arizona, a No. 11 seed, beat Nashville in four games, while Chicago and Montreal (both No. 12 seeds) took down the Edmonton Oilers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively, in four games. The challenges will be much greater for these three teams moving forward, however.
The Blackhawks will play the No. 1-seeded Golden Knights, and the Coyotes are set to face the No. 2-seeded Avalanche in the Western Conference. The Canadiens, meanwhile, take on the No. 1-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in the East. All three teams may have upsets under their belts already this summer, but victories in this round appear even more improbable.
These teams may not want to acknowledge just how great the upcoming challenges are, though.
"I'm not going to stand here and say, 'Hey, we're the underdogs, and they're the favorites,'" Canadiens coach Claude Julien said, according to NHL.com's Dave Stubbs. "I'm not playing this card because it's a lot of wasted time right now."
However, if Montreal, Chicago or Arizona makes a deep run in the playoffs—and perhaps even goes as far as winning the Stanley Cup—it would go down as one of the great underdog stories in NHL history.