Both the New York Islanders and New York Rangers made their respective trips to the Eastern Conference’s bubble city of Toronto on Sunday to prepare for the NHL’s return to action on Aug. 1.
The New York teams will be partaking in the league’s initial qualifying round, which is a one-off postseason round created by the NHL this year to ensure all contending teams receive a fair chance at making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Play was halted on March 12 with 10-to-12 regular-season games remaining in the 2019-20 campaign.
The Islanders, ranked No. 7 in the East, and the No. 11 Rangers are two of eight teams ranked 5-12 in the East to play in the qualifying round, which will be a best-of-five series. The winners of each series are then joined by the top-four seeds in the East in the NHL’s traditional Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The same format holds for the Western Conference, which will play out its postseason at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
With the coronavirus hiatus stifling their sizable slump, the Islanders get a reprieve by getting a fully healthy roster together in Toronto to face the No. 10 Florida Panthers in the qualifiers
Losing the likes of top-pairing defenseman Adam Pelech and fourth-line center Casey Cizikas the Islanders’ playoff hopes were in severe danger after a torrid start to the season.
With two of their most valuable players back, they are looked upon as slim favorites over Florida in the best-of-five.
As for the Rangers, they used a hot streak between Jan. 7 and Feb. 21 to catapult their way into the playoff conversation. Over the 23-game stretch, they 16-7-0 behind the heroics of forward Artemi Panarin, who is in the running for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s most valuable player.
They are underdogs against the No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes in their qualifying series, but the Rangers owned their postseason opponents throughout regular-season play. They swept all three meetings, outscoring Carolina 13-7.