Sat. Jun 12th, 2021

The Habs and Golden Knights haven’t faced each other this year.

The Habs and Golden Knights haven’t confronted one another this yr.
Illustration: Getty

The cool reality concerning the NHL’s semifinal spherical is that whereas the Islanders and Lightning are assembly for a visit to the Stanley Cup Ultimate for the second straight yr, the opposite sequence pits the Canadiens towards the Golden Knights, a matchup that includes the most important hole between inaugural seasons in league historical past, as these two groups began 100 years apart.

What the matchup highlights is that the NHL has stumbled onto one thing this yr that may very well be a method ahead to preserving the playoffs contemporary and thrilling.

It’s typically agreed and fairly clear that Vegas is without doubt one of the elite groups within the league this yr, with the NHL’s fewest targets allowed and it’s tied for the third-most targets scored. The Canadiens, in the meantime, received solely 24 of 56 video games within the common season, had been outscored 168-159 on mixture, and made the playoffs as a result of there was a seven-team Canadian division and the Canucks, Flames, and Senators had been straight trash.

But, the Vegas-Montreal playoff sequence has little bit of intrigue, because the Golden Knights wanted seven video games to beat the Wild, earlier than grinding by means of a six-game sequence with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Avalanche. The Canadiens, in the meantime, have received seven straight video games, getting back from down 3-1 towards overwhelmingly-favored Toronto after which sweeping Winnipeg with out ever trailing within the sequence, the primary time that’s occurred within the league in six years, since Chicago annihilated Minnesota within the first spherical en path to successful the Cup.

As a result of they haven’t performed one another this yr, we don’t know the way, precisely, the Canadiens and Golden Knights match up towards one another. There’s an charisma about it that we simply don’t get in an unusual yr when each workforce faces each different workforce.

The rationale for having a schedule the place all groups face one another is to make sure that followers in every metropolis get to see all the league’s stars, however in a GIF-and-YouTube world, that reasoning turns into ever much less vital, even past this yr of little-to-no attendance in arenas. Is it that vital for Connor McDavid to make an annual go to to Philadelphia, or San Jose to see Nikita Kucherov up shut? Particularly because the NHL strikes into a brand new TV contract with companions who may transcend saying “screw it, we’ll simply put Buffalo, Chicago, or Pittsburgh on each week to financial institution a simple native score,” the celebrities’ publicity being extra on screens than in particular person is OK.

In the meantime, this yr’s divisional alignment, whereas not good, did have some very massive upsides. The eagerness of the all-Canadian division was palpable, Solar Belt rivalries like Hurricanes-Lightning acquired an actual probability to thrive (in a division the place Chicago and Detroit had been lastly and rightfully reunited), and the compressed East was a blast because the Northeast hall’s titans acquired their fill of one another.

Going ahead, the NHL ought to think about the positives of what it had to do that season, and arrange a schedule that provides us this sort of intrigue, i.e. a closely division-based schedule, with a number of video games sprinkled in towards the others. Maybe the regular-season standings may be based mostly on divisional play, whereas the inter-divisional video games can comprise the form of in-season match that the NBA is making an attempt to arrange.

By specializing in divisions fairly than conferences, we will get these sorts of semifinal matchups the place groups haven’t confronted one another all yr, and perhaps get the identical within the Ultimate. The constructive of divisional play fairly than aligning by convention is that the primary two rounds of the postseason may be based mostly on rivalries, then while you get to the ultimate 4, you’re getting contemporary matchups that function geographical variety.

If Vegas and Montreal had performed one another this season, their sequence would provide lots much less in the best way of unknowns. It’s not simple to get one thing contemporary and thrilling after six months of hockey. The NHL ought to take this uncommon reward, recognize it, and take it as a uncommon constructive to take ahead out of the pandemic, reshaping the Stanley Cup playoffs for the higher for years to come back.

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