Here are your first round matchups

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With the Detroit Red Wings beating the St. Louis Blues, we now know which teams will meet in the first round.

If you’re not familiar with the new playoff format, the second and third place teams in each division will face each other while the division winners will play against the Wild Card squads. As you might imagine, the teams with the best record in their respective Conferences are paired with the worst Wild Card teams.

We’ll have plenty of in-depth coverage of the upcoming playoff series in the days to come, but for now, here are your first round matchups:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Boston Bruins versus Detroit Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive campaign. Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins have secured the Presidents’ Trophy for the second time in the franchise’s history. Two of the eight teams that have won the Presidents’ Trophy in the salary cap era have gone on to win the Stanley Cup.

Montreal Canadiens versus Tampa Bay Lightning

It remains to be seen who will have home ice advantage in this series. Montreal finished the campaign with 100 points, but Tampa Bay is at 99 going into its game against Washington this afternoon. The Canadiens control the tiebreaker, so an overtime/shootout loss wouldn’t be good enough for the Lightning.

Pittsburgh Penguins versus Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets have made the playoffs for just the second time in the franchise’s history and they are searching for their first postseason win. In Pittsburgh, all eyes will be on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury after his string of disappointing showings in the playoffs. The Penguins went to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009 and won it all the second time around, but they got a lot to prove going into the 2014 postseason.

New York Rangers versus Philadelphia Flyers

Goaltending could be the X-Factor in this one. The Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies of this era while Steve Mason has only played in four postseason contests and has lost them all. Philadelphia has also lost eight straight games at Madison Square Garden, which is a trend they need to snap given that the Rangers have home ice advantage.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Anaheim Ducks versus Dallas Stars

Anaheim won the Pacific Division for the second straight season — although obviously the division changed this season. The Ducks lost in the first round in 2013 despite their strong regular season, so they have plenty to prove going into this series. This will also be Teemu Selanne’s last postseason run before retirement. Meanwhile, Dallas is back in the playoffs after a five-year absence.

San Jose Sharks versus Los Angeles Kings

Will this be the year that San Jose’s regular season success translates into a Stanley Cup championship? This will be San Jose’s 10th consecutive season in the playoffs, but the franchise doesn’t have anything to show for it yet. The Kings had the inferior regular season record, but they won the Cup in 2012 and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2013.

St. Louis Blues versus Chicago Blackhawks

Lots of star power in this one, but how much of it will be healthy? Chicago will get Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews back for Game 1, but the Blues have a lot list of injured forwards, including Patrik Berglund, Brenden Morrow, Vladimir Sobotka, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Colorado Avalanche versus Minnesota Wild

The Avalanche’s turnaround under rookie coach and Hall of Famer Patrick Roy has been spectacular, but can they take that momentum into the playoffs? The Wild are going into this series as the underdogs, but expectations will still be high for them to perform in the second season of the Ryan Suter/Zach Parise era.

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

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Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He is leaving opponents all shook  up absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

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An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.