2020 NHL Playoffs Central: Bracket, schedule, scores, highlights, analysis

by 24USATVAug. 1, 2020, 7 p.m. 32

Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan break down their top games to watch once the NHL season returns as well as their predictions for the Stanley Cup winner. (4:20)

After months of a pandemic-induced pause, the NHL returned in earnest on Saturday, Aug. 1. Players hit the ice again as the NHL's return-to-play plan hit Phase 4.

Unlike the traditional playoff format, the league is running a 24-team tournament, with 12 teams from each conference playing in fan-less arenas in Toronto (for the East) and Edmonton (for the West). The top four teams in each conference are in the round of 16, and seeds 5 through 12 will square off to see who will take the next step toward immortality.

From the qualification round all the way through the Stanley Cup Final, ESPN has you covered. Check out the full playoff picture, including previews, analysis, highlights, scores and more for each team and series.

More: Check out the full NHL postseason schedule here.

Round-robin: No. 1 Boston Bruins, No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning, No. 3 Washington Capitals, No. 4 Philadelphia Flyers

Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m. | Game preview

Aug. 3: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. | Game preview

Aug. 5: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. | Game preview

Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD | Game preview

Aug. 8: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD | Game preview

Aug. 9: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD | Game preview

Preview: Since Jan. 8, the Bruins and Flyers tied for the NHL's best record. The Capitals are looking to win their second Cup in three years -- and try to top their celebrations from 2018 -- while the Lightning remain one of the league's most talented teams, looking to overcome their shocking sweep last spring. Read the full preview.

No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens

Preview: The Penguins played through one of the most injury-riddled campaigns in recent memory -- and still enter the playoffs as one of the favorites to make a run at the Cup. The Canadiens ... well, they're playing with house money after just squeaking in; are they a dark horse contender? Read the full preview.

No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers

Preview: Rod Brind'Amour's team made a shocking run to the Eastern Conference finals last spring; can the Hurricanes take it even further this time? A Rangers team that swept them 4-0 in the regular-season series is standing in their way. Read the full preview.

No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers

Preview: Both the Isles and Panthers were struggling as the season came to a pause on March 12. Will it be Barry Trotz or Joel Quenneville who gets his troops back on task more quickly? Read the full preview.

No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets

Preview: On paper, it would appear that the high-flying, offensively adept Leafs will have no trouble dispatching an overmatched Blue Jackets side. Then again, that's what we all thought last season before the Jackets swept the juggernaut Lightning. Read the full preview.

Round-robin: No. 1 St. Louis Blues, No. 2 Colorado Avalanche, No. 3 Vegas Golden Knights, No. 4 Dallas Stars

Aug. 2: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. | Game preview

Aug. 3: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. | Game preview

Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. | Game preview

Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, TBD | Game preview

Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD | Game preview

Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD | Game preview

Preview: It's plain to see the strength of the Central Division when considering that group provided three of the clubs in this quartet. The defending Cup champion Blues are well-rested and ready to defend the crown, while the Avalanche look to show that their time has finally come. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights will hope to ride the league's best goalie tandem, and the Stars aren't too shabby in that department, either. Read the full preview.

No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks

Preview: Are Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid ready to shine on the sport's biggest stage? Is there one more epic run left in the veterans remaining from the Blackhawks' recent dynasty? This promises to be one of the most fun qualification round series. Read the full preview.

No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes

Preview: The Predators are on their second coach of the season, and have a goalie controversy brewing. The Yotes also have a tough goalie decision to make, and just had their GM resign on the eve of the postseason. This one promises to be wild. Read the full preview.

No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild

Preview: Though the Wild showed quite a bit of offensive spark following the move to Dean Evason behind the bench, the Canucks can overmatch them with young offensive firepower. Who comes out on top? Read the full preview.

No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets

Preview: We'll miss seeing the unique fan setups at both of these home rinks, but this old-school Smythe Division clash should bring on some physical fireworks. Read the full preview.


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