(UPDATE: Here’s the full Round 1 schedule with dates and TV info.)
After 1,271 games, the 2018-19 NHL regular season has come to a close and we know the Round 1 matchups that will begin the road to the Stanley Cup.
Heading into Saturday, the 16 playoff teams had been decided, but there was plenty of seeding and a division up for grabs. Now that the dust has settled, here’s what we’re looking at for Round 1, which begins Wednesday night.
A1 – Tampa Bay Lightning vs. WC2 – Columbus Blue Jackets
A2 – Boston Bruins vs. A3 – Toronto Maple Leafs
M1 – Washington Capitals vs. WC1 – Carolina Hurricanes
M2 – New York Islanders vs. M3 – Pittsburgh Penguins
The Lightning finished their historic season with 62 wins and 128 points, tying the mark set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings and falling just short of the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens’ record 132 points. But they still earned the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, and will now have a reunion against their old coach in John Tortorella.
After a 10-year drought the Hurricanes are back in the playoffs. When they last played in the postseason, the Canes reached the Eastern Conference Final before being swept by the eventual Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Now the “bunch of jerks” get the defending champions, and given the love generated by the team with their “Storm Surges” this season, they might be the darling underdog pick of the opening round.
The Bruins and Maple Leafs meet for the second straight postseason and third time since 2013. Boston has won the previous two playoff matchups in seven games.
In another rematch from 2013, the Islanders will face the Penguins and have home-ice advantage in a series for the first time since the 1987-88 playoffs. Barry Trotz’s team also won the Jennings Trophy, which is given to “the goaltender(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it.” What a year from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss. The Islanders allowed 196 goals in 2018-19, which is an improvement from the 296 that were scored on them last season.
C1 Nashville Predators vs. WC1 Dallas Stars
C2 Winnipeg Jets vs. C3 St. Louis Blues
P1 Calgary Flames vs. WC2 Colorado Avalanche
P2 San Jose Sharks vs. P3 Vegas Golden Knights
The Predators claimed the Central Division for the second straight year and they’ll face a staunch defensive team in the Stars who finished right behind the Islanders in the Jennings race. Nashville finished third.
After finding themselves dead last in the NHL on Jan. 3, the Blues recovered and went on a run, thanks to Craig Berube and Jordan Binnington, and are in the postseason. They have an interesting matchup against the Jets, who have struggled of late losing five of their last seven games. They closed out the regular season with a 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night.
Out in the Pacific, the Avalanche will face a tough test against the Flames, the top team in the conference. Calgary won all three of the meetings between these two teams during the regular season. This is the first time since 2006 that the Avalanche have qualified for the playoffs in two consecutive seasons.
The Sharks and Golden Knights meet for the second spring in a row. Vegas won last year’s meeting in six game en route to advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.
The full Round 1 schedule will released by the NHL on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. ET.
For the third consecutive postseason, NBC Sports’ coverage of Stanley Cup Playoff first-round games on NBCUniversal cable networks (NBCSN, USA Network and CNBC), as well as NHL Network, will air side-by-side and will be available for streaming on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app in local markets alongside regional sports network game telecasts. (Local blackouts apply in Las Vegas and Pittsburgh in the first round).
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.