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Best-of-5 Qualifiers call for quick adjustments by coaches, Bowman says

'You've got less track to run' than in seven-game series, Hockey Hall of Famer warns

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Scotty Bowman remembers everything happening quicker in a five-game series.

Sixteen NHL coaches must be prepared for the same starting Saturday, when the Stanley Cup Qualifiers begin in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city, and Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city.

"You always have to be ready to adjust, and faster in a five-game series," Bowman said. "Teams have lost the first two games in a seven-game series and come back because of the home ice situation. Home ice is no factor in this situation."

The Qualifiers will have eight best-of-5 series, four in each conference. The winners advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the losers will have a chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, to be held Aug. 10. The top four seeds in the East and West will play in the round-robin portion of the Qualifiers to determine seeding for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each conference.

The NHL had best-of-5 series in the preliminary round from 1980-86, and Bowman coached in five of them with the Buffalo Sabres (1980, 1982-85), going 2-3. (It was best-of-3 in the preliminary round from 1975-79.)

"I always thought there was urgency in every game," said Bowman, a Hockey Hall of Fame coach who holds NHL records with 1,244 regular-season wins, 223 playoff victories and nine Stanley Cup championships. "Naturally, the five-game series, you fall behind, you've got less track to run. That's for sure."

New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz referred to it as one less life to live, which adds a sobering reality to the qualifier series, when every series will be through at least three games within the first six days, including two of them getting through Game 3 in four days.

"It can end real quick," Trotz said. 

Trotz then thought back to two years ago, when he was coaching the Washington Capitals. They had to win Games 6 and 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final before going on to win the Stanley Cup Final in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights.

"If it was a five-game series, we would have been out," Trotz said. 

The same thing happened last season with the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Second Round. They were down 3-2 in the best-of-7 series against the Dallas Stars. If it was best-of-5, they wouldn't have had a chance to go on to win their first Stanley Cup championship.

"You get another game to add punishment or have an effect on the other team, wear them down, whatever method you're using [in a seven-game series]," Trotz said. "You get another life, but life is short in a five-game series."

Bowman, though, said a coach's philosophy, game plan and approach shouldn't change based on the length of the series.

Video: Memories: Scotty Bowman's 1,000th win as head coach

"If you're coaching and you're in the playoffs, five games or seven games, you've got to have that playoff mentality right from the start," Bowman said. "You could come from behind, but you've got to really be ready for that first game."

The question is what happens after that first game if you're a coach and you're not pleased with what you saw in Game 1?

"Maybe you're quicker on adjustments," Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "Maybe you don't let things marinate as long. I think that's all remains to be seen."

Bowman indeed said his adjustments, be it tactical or with personnel, happened faster in the five-game series setup because of the urgency. But he also mentioned that coaches must be careful because their teams will read off their decision making.

He said if the opposing coach is keeping things status quo and you're still confident in your lineup, keeping the status quo even after a Game 1 loss might be the best option.

"You don't want to show that there even is a panic button," Bowman said. 

That will be a challenge because of the unique situation each team is in, having not played a meaningful game in more than four months since the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

No team comes in with momentum. Each team gets one exhibition game, which for coaches might not be enough of a look at their teams to predict how they will react when the intensity ramps up.

"We have a belief that we can get our team back to as close to the game they were playing at the end, because we were all just kind of amping up for the playoffs and that playoff push," Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "We think we can get our teams there. And then the puck is going to drop and you're going have to decide pretty quickly, even on guys who you know are real strong players in certain situations, if it's not going for them." 

Added Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett, "If you spend too much time waiting for someone to come around, it might be too late."

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