Blackhawks playoff bound as NHL announces postseason format, outlines timetable

The Hawks will play a best-of-five “qualifying round” series against the Oilers in a to-be-announced hub city. Chicago is one of 10 locations being considered as hubs.

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The Blackhawks will face the Oilers in the first round of the 12-team Western Conference playoffs.

Jason Franson/AP Photos

The Blackhawks’ three-year playoff drought is over.

With an asterisk.

The NHL announced its 2019-20 season-resumption plan in a televised special Tuesday, pulling the plug on the regular season but making official the 24-team playoff format that has been rumored in the last week.

The Hawks, the 12th and last seed in the Western Conference, will play a best-of-five series against the fifth-seeded Oilers in a to-be-announced Western hub city.

The top four teams in each conference will play a round-robin tournament to determine their seeds. The series involving the fifth- through 12th-place teams technically will be a “qualifying round” for the playoffs and will be played with regular-season-style overtime and shootout rules, but also won’t be considered regular-season games and won’t have statistics counted in the regular season.

“The reason we are doing this is because our fans are telling us, in overwhelming numbers, that they want us to finish the season if at all possible,” commissioner Gary Bettman said on NBC Sports Network. “And our players and our teams are clear that they want to play and bring the season to its rightful conclusion.”

The Blues, Avalanche, Golden Knights and Stars are the four Western teams automatically advancing past the qualifying round. The other Western qualifying series are Predators-Coyotes, Canucks-Wild and Flames-Jets.

The NHL did not give specific dates for stages of the plan, but Bettman said it would be a “good thing” if training camps start by mid-July and games start by late July or early August.

The league already had announced Monday that players could practice in small groups of up to six people starting in early June.

Bettman also said the NHL plans to play the 2020-21 season in its entirety, but it could start as late as January and continue through the summer if necessary.

In the meantime, the Hawks likely will be happy about drawing the Oilers despite their inferior seed and record.

The Hawks won two of three regular-season meetings against Edmonton, outshooting them all three times, and have a drastic advantage in postseason experience up and down their roster. But the Oilers do have the top two scorers in the league this season in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.

If the Hawks lose the series, they’ll inherit a low-odds spot in a convoluted draft-lottery format also announced Tuesday.

Additionally, Chicago was listed among 10 cities in the pool from which the NHL will choose its two hub cities in three to four weeks. The others are Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.

Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league will need to test every player every night for COVID-19 once games resume, estimating that will require 25,000 to 30,000 total tests, but that one or two players testing positive won’t necessarily shut down the playoffs.

Chicago’s high-testing availability could work in its favor during host-city consideration in spite of the region’s high coronavirus case count.

Nonetheless, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — which paused the NHL season March 12 — still will determine the ultimate fate of the resumption plan.

“There has never been any dispute that this can’t go forward unless the health and safety can be protected of everybody involved,” NHL Players Association director Donald Fehr said.

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