The regular season of the NHL season has ended. After 82 games each only sixteen teams of the thirty continue on in an attempt to win the coveted Stanley Cup.
The playoffs begin tonight with five times kicking off their bid to be crowned champions.
Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs
Washington not only won their division and conference, but also topped the league at the end of the season. The Caps won their second straight presidents trophy, putting them in the top spot to perform in the playoffs, but they do carry baggage.
Washington headed into the playoffs last year holding the presidents trophy with an amazing regular season run. However, they were kicked out in the second round their hopes at winning; their first Stanley Cup pulled from their reach. It is definitely time for the Caps to prove themselves, but will the pressure be too much?
For the Maple Leafs it is their first Playoff appearence since 2013. After clinching the second wild card spot the Leafs are in tough competition against the Washington Capitals.
In their three regular season games against each other, the Caps took the win with two wins, one coming in overtime, but the Leafs did defeat Washington 4-2 at home.
With key forwards such as captain Alex Ovechkin not having the best of seasons, scoring only 33 goals this season it may be tough for the Caps against the Leafs who have rookie and No.1 2016 draft pick Auston Matthews. Matthews had a spectacular start to the season, scoring a hat trick in his first NHL game; he will be heading into his first playoffs eager to show himself as a potential best.
Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets
Defending Stanley Cup Champions Pittsburgh will head into the playoffs with hopes to become back to back champions. No other team has managed to do this is since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
Pittsburgh are armed with captain Sidney Crosby who is the leagues top scorer this season with 44 goals. After missing out multiple games at the beginning of the season because of concussion, Crosby only game back from his break stronger. Crosby will be a leading force for the Penguins who are without defenceman Kris Letang and with forward Evgeni Malkin coming back from injury.
Columbus will be heading into this series with the hope of defeating the reigning champions. Rookie Zack Werenski is the Blue Jackets has been absent for the last four games with an upper body injury. The 19-year-old set Columbus rookie records for most assists (36) and points (47) in a season will be hoping to prove himself against Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh speed will be for them in this playoff campaign, but Columbus will use their physicallity in an attempt to slow the Penguins down with Coach John Tortorella saying: “We’re going to hit. It’s a big part of who we are.”
Pittsburgh and Columbus are equal with two wins against each other this season, Columbus winning 7-1 against the Penguins early in the season.
Montreal Canadiens v New York Rangers
Montreal missed out on the playoffs last year, but the Canadiens came back this year topping the Atlantic division with 103 points.
The New York Rangers clinched the first wild card spot in the conference. However, in the three games they have faced the Canadiens the Rangers have been left defeated. The Rangers sit fourth in goals scored in the league with 256. This is a stat they will be utilising when facing the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, one of the most successful goalies in the NHL.
Eyes will be set on net minders Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist; arguably the most competent and consistent netminders in the league at the moment. Lundqvist’s numbers have slipped this year after 11 years of consistency. Can the seasoned goalie take the pressure? Both netminders will be essential for their teams if they hope to make their way into round two.
Ottawa Senators v Boston Bruins
Ottawa finished the regular season second in the Atlantic division, grabbing their playoff spot after missing out last year with new head coach Guy Boucher. Boston have their own new coach, Bruce Cassidy, who replaced Claude Julien on Feb. 7.
Senators captain Erik Karlsson back in the line up after missing five of their final seven games in regular season, hoping to make an impact in the opening round.
The Bruins have missed out on the playoffs in the last two seasons. The 2011 Stanley Cup Champions will hope to defeat the Senators. It will be a tricky one as the Senators have defeated the Bruins in all four of their match ups this season.
There’s a hole in the Bruins defensive line, with Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo out with injuries, leaving Charlie McAvoy playing his first NHL game. Seasoned players would be the better option when entering the playoffs, but the Bruins have no choice but to put faith in McAvoy.
Chicago Blackhawks v Nashville Predators
Chicago Blackhawks are strongly tipped to be this years Stanley Cup Champions, topping the Western conference the Blackhawks head into the playoffs with confidence.
Nashville have never reached further than the second round. The two times they faced Chicago in the first round, the Hawks went on to win the Cup.
The Blackhawks have Patrick Kane who managed to tie second with Sidney Crosby for second in the NHL regular season goals scored. A player like Kane, who has already won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks, will be an important asset. Chicago are not alone with just Kane, players like Artemi Panarin, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Towes all will be important in their quest for the cup.
It will be a tough battle for the Predators, but with P.K Subban and Filip Forsberg on their side they will put up a fight against the Blackhawks; scores predicted to be high between this match up.
Minnesota Wild v St Louis Blues
The Wild against the Blues is a match up that has split views straight down the middle.
Netminder Devan Dubnyk’s performance this season should give the Wild confidence heading into this match-up. But with a few tough loses in recent games, the 30-year-old will be hoping to prove himself and get the Wild towards the second round.
For St Louis, forward Vladimir Tarasenko led the Blues with 39 goals this season. Tarasenko scored five goals in their last eight regular season games. He is a scoring threat against the Wild any time he is on ice.
During regular season match ups, St Louis beat Minnesota 3-2. With the Wild heading for the top of the conference before slipping in the second half of the season, and St Louis finishing third in the division, it is no wonder why this match up is hard to predict.
Anaheim Ducks v Calgary Flames
After missing out on the playoffs last season the Flames want to prove themselves against Anaheim who failed to reach the second round of the play offs last season.
There will be tensions between the Ducks and the Flames, after Calgary defenceman Mark Giordano’s knee hit knocked Ducks defender Cam Fowler out of the game, who sprained his knee causing him to be out or 2 to 6 weeks.
For the Ducks, they have more depth on the offence, with four players scoring more that 20 goals this season. The Flames have only two players that have scored more than 20 goals.
With the Ducks topping their division and Calgary grabbing the first Wild Card spot, everything will be going the Ducks’ way heading into the first round. But with the Stanley Cup playoffs, anything can happen.
Edmonton Oilers v San Jose Sharks
Edmonton are a real shock of the 2016/17 season, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Connor McDavid will undoubtedly be the star of this game, the 20-year-old in the running to winning the Hart Trophy after scoring 100 points in the regular season. Arguably, McDavid’s performance this season has got the Oilers into this playoff position.
Experience is key in the playoffs and the San Jose Sharks has plenty more than the Oilers. The Oilers roster has a total of 342 games of playoff experience, while the Sharks have 1,169.
After a defeat in the finals last year against the Penguins, the Sharks will be heading into the playoffs with the burning desire to reach the finals again this year, and this time have their own names engraved on the cup.