New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens
Season series: Montreal 3-0-0, New York 0-2-1
This one’s been locked in for a while, with Montreal claiming the Atlantic Division crown and the Rangers locking up the Eastern Conference’s first wild card berth a few days ago. This will mark the first time these two Original Six foes have met in the playoffs since 2014, when the Rangers upended the Habs in the Eastern Conference Final.
That series is perhaps best remembered for the start of the Carey Price–Chris Kreider feud. Price suffered a playoff-ending injury on a crease collision with Kreider in Game 1, and exacted a measure of revenge when the two teams met early in the following season.
Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins
Season series: Ottawa 4-0-0, Boston 0-3-1
This marks the first time the Sens will face the B’s in a playoff series. Ottawa’s back in the dance after missing last year, while Boston returns following a two-year postseason absence. There’s not a ton of history here, but both enter with some compelling storylines — the Sens, under first-year head coach Guy Boucher, overcame losing Clarke MacArthur to a concussion suffered during the preseason, and were without No. 1 netminder Craig Anderson for long stretches while his wife underwent cancer treatment.
Boston, meanwhile, pulled it together after the midseason dismissal of head coach Claude Julien, and rallied under new bench boss Bruce Cassidy. Several pieces of the ’11 Cup-winning squad still remain — Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand, most notably — and it’s worth mentioning that one of the few Cup winners on the Ottawa roster is Chris Kelly… who won it all six years ago with the B’s.
Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Season series: Washington 1-1-1, Toronto 1-1-1
All the pressure versus no pressure, really. The Caps head into the postseason as the NHL’s top team, boasting an absolutely loaded roster — which includes the blockbuster trade deadline acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk — and firmly in year two of GM Brian MacLellan’s two-year Stanley Cup window.
Simply put, the time in now for Washington.
For Toronto, this season was supposed to be about building for the future. But the future arrived early. The Leafs are in the playoffs after a miraculous turnaround, which saw them go from the worst team in the NHL to one of the league’s most entertaining squads. Three of the club’s top four scorers — Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner — are all rookies, and will make their Stanley Cup playoff debuts.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Season series: Columbus 2-1-1, Pittsburgh 2-1-1
The Blue Jackets are going to the playoffs for just the third time in franchise history, but will face the Penguins for the second time in three years. Back in ’14, Columbus lost 4-2 to Pittsburgh in the opening round, but the series provided some unforgettable moments at Nationwide, including a pair of OT victories (one of which was Columbus’ first-ever postseason win).
For most of this season, Pittsburgh was a popular pick to repeat as back-to-back champion, but those predictions took a hit when No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang was lost for the year with a neck injury. Letang was a vital cog to last year’s Stanley Cup win, and he’ll be undoubtedly missed. How that absence plays out against Columbus will be a focal point of the opening round.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators
Season series: Chicago 4-1-0, Nashville 1-4-0
This has turned into a pretty healthy playoff rivalry, and will be the third series between the two in the last seven years. Chicago enjoyed another terrific regular season — 50 wins, 109 points — and now looks to get back to another Stanley Cup Final, after bowing out in the opening round to St. Louis last season. The ‘Hawks have never lost a series to the Preds, and they’ll aim to keep that streak going.
Nashville’s had an up-and-down campaign, and it’ll be interesting to see if that trend carries over to the postseason. Something worth keeping an eye on? The Preds were dynamite at home this year, posting a 24-9-8 record at Bridgestone, but weren’t great on the road. No playoff team had a worse away record than Nashville’s 17-20-4 mark.
Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues
Season series: Minnesota 2-2-1, St. Louis 3-2-0
The big storyline here will be Blues head coach Mike Yeo going up against his former club. The Wild fired Yeo last February after five years at the helm, but he wasn’t unemployed long — St. Louis hired him four months later as the coach-in-waiting behind Ken Hitchcock, who was in his final year behind the bench.
Yeo’s ascendancy happened quicker than expected. Blues GM Doug Armstrong fired Hitchcock on Feb. 1, and the team quickly righted the ship under Yeo, eventually finishing third in the Central Division (thanks in large part to the improved play of goalie Jake Allen).
The Wild have an interesting coaching angle of their own. Bruce Boudreau, who was fired by Anaheim after crashing out in the opening round last year, has done a terrific job in his first season in Minnesota. The Wild won 49 games and racked up 106 points, to finish as the second-best team in the Western Conference.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames
Season series: Anaheim 4-1-0, Calgary 1-4-0
This one was decided late — very late. Anaheim waited until the final night of the regular season to secure top spot in the Pacific Division and for that, they’ll face a fairly familiar foe in Calgary.
The Ducks and Flames met in the second round of the ’15 playoffs, with Anaheim breezing to a relatively easy 4-1 series win. As mentioned above, the Ducks were a major disappointment last year — losing in Round 1 to Nashville — and shook things up by firing Boudreau, and hiring Randy Carlyle. Carlyle is, of course, the same coach that led Anaheim to its first and only Stanley Cup championship back in 2007.
For the Flames, first-year bench boss Glen Gulutzan has one mission: Win a game in Anaheim. It’s been an incredible 11 years since Calgary last tasted victory in Orange County. Given the Ducks have home ice advantage, the Flames will have to win at least one game at Honda.
Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks
Season series: Edmonton 3-1-1, San Jose 2-3-0
The NHL’s longest playoff drought is over, as Edmonton will go dancing for the first time since 2006. Led by potential Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid and workhorse netminder Cam Talbot, the Oilers now get to face off against… the defending Western Conference champs.
On paper, a tough draw.
But on the ice, this has all the makings for a really intriguing series. Aside from McDavid’s playoff debut, there’s also Todd McLellan factor to consider. McLellan took the job in Edmonton after an incredibly successful seven-year run in San Jose. He’s still the club’s all-time leader in wins.