Following a nearly five-month layoff because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL returns to action Aug. 1.
With the regular season prematurely ended in mid-March, the league is staging a return-to-play plan with a 24-team tournament in two hub cities in Canada in order to crown this season's Stanley Cup champion. The top 12 teams from the Eastern Conference will play in Toronto, and the top 12 in the Western Conference square off in Edmonton, Alberta.
While the top four teams in each conference will play a round-robin to determine seeding for the opening round of the playoffs, the remaining 16 clubs will face off in eight best-of-five qualifying series to decide who goes on to the opening round.
This one-time change of format has brought about several interesting matchups featuring clubs that wouldn't have qualified under normal circumstances. With teams starting on the same footing, there could be some surprises once play gets underway Saturday.
The following is a brief preview of the qualifying round, with predicted outcomes for each series.