Drop the puck for summer hockey: NHL playoffs get under way

TORONTO (AP) — Henrik Lundqvist and Petr Mrazek led their teams on to the ice for warmups, and the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs are set to get underway after hockey was on hiatus for more than four months.

The New York Rangers are facing the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon in the NHL's first game since March 11.

The dynamics are far different than the league’s usual playoffs: It’s the middle of summer, there are no fans and all games are being played in Toronto or Edmonton, Alberta. But players and coaches expect the chase for the Stanley Cup to bring the same level of intensity.

“Once the game is being played and we’re in it, it feels like a real hockey game,” Tampa Bay's Kevin Shattenkirk said. “There are guys trying to hit you and you have to make your plays in a pretty short amount of time. I think as these games get going here starting today and going forward, it’ll be different, but it’ll be what we have to do going forward to play.”

The Edmonton Oilers face the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers face the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens face the Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets face the Calgary Flames in the other games on opening day. All the Eastern Conference games take place at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena and the Western Conference games at Edmonton's Rogers Place.

At Scotiabank Arena, the first dozen or so rows are covered in grey and white tarp, with the NHL shield on four of them and Toronto in all capital letters on another four.

Above them are electronic banners with NHL logos on them and a TV viewing platform at center ice, all of them limited to the benches side of the ice. These electronic banners will feature team logos, as well as videos of each team’s fans chanting.

In each of the end zones are NHL Eastern Conference banners book-ending a banner that reads “Stanley Cup Qualifiers 2020.”

The remainder of the arena is as is, with the 19 Maple Leafs player banners, from Frank Mahovlich in the east end to Doug Gilmour in the west, and Turk Broda smack dab in the middle.

Behind them are the Raptors banners, including the 2019 NBA championship, and beyond the row of Maple Leafs Stanley Cup banners.

On the top banner of the video scoreboard at center, are the words: ”#WeSkateForBLACKLIVES.”

The rink boards feature the familiar series of ads. And the NHL’s newest corporate partners, Roman and Little Caesars are among those who have their logos painted on the ice in the corners.

The temperature in the arena is cold, with it being advisable to wear a jacket, while the temperature outside is expected to rise to 79. Lightning coach Jon Cooper noticed that during his team's exhibition game earlier in the week.

“It was extremely cold in the arena, which is by a big part because there are no fans,” Cooper said. “When the puck went (out of) play, we all yelled heads and nobody was in the stands.”

Outside the arena, the streets are generally bare of people, with Maple Leaf Square fenced off and with security personnel at each entrance.

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Stephen Whyno reported from Washington.

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