After the final buzzer sounded during the final NHL regular season game on April 9, the field for the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs was set. Sixteen teams, featuring the best and brightest placers on ice, are set to battle for the honor of having their names immortalized on the championship trophy.
The first games of the opening round begin on April 12. It’s a best-of-7 series, so the first round could last as long as April 26. It probably won’t. Keep in mind that last year’s Stanley Cup finals wrapped up on June 12, so hockey fans can expect plenty of action before the final puck drops.
With that being said, here is what you need to know about each of the first round matchups, conference by conference.
Washington vs Toronto: This might be Washington’s last chance at a Stanley Cup. Alex Ovechkin is getting up their in age and youthful speed is starting to trump veterans and experience. The Leafs have the best head coach and the best young core in the Eastern Conference, but they aren’t ready for this tall of a task just yet.
Prediction: Capitals in 6
Pittsburgh vs Columbus: Blue Jackets are making the playoffs for the second time in their history and the first time since being in the Eastern Conference. Columbus looked like they might win the Presidents trophy in December but have come back down to earth since. Do the Jackets have enough to dethrone the defending champs? Sidney Crosby doesn’t think so as he is gearing up for his third Stanley Cup run. This has the potential for a new rivalry to spark up as the two are separated by 185 miles and only three points in the standings.
Prediction: Penguins in 6
Boston vs Ottawa: The Bruins firing of their head coach, Claude Julien, in February seemed to be a blessing in disguise. Boston ended the last month and a half of its regular season on a high note, behind the performance of Brad Marchand, who rose to become one of the league’s top goal scorers in 2017. This side of the bracket is wide open as neither team seems to be that dangerous. Ottawa is playing with house money with a good team but not much of a Cup contending team.
Prediction: Bruins in 7
Montreal vs New York: Montreal might be Canada’s best team to win the Cup. The teams were separated by one point over 82 games despite Montreal sweeping the season series over the Rangers.
Prediction: Canadiens in 5
Chicago vs Nashville:The rivalry is renewed in the great central division. These two teams have had great postseason battles over the years, most notably in 2010 when Chicago won in six games and eventually took home the franchise’s first title in 49 years. Nashville will make this series competitive, but I can’t see them pulling off the upset.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 6
Minnesota vs St. Louis: The Blues have underperformed all year after they were picked by some to be Cup contenders. The Wild were the surprise of the Western Conference this year challenging Chicago for the division title. This might be the best series of the eight and I’m looking forward to it.
Prediction: Blues in 7
Edmonton vs San Jose: The Oilers have arguably the best player in the world, the most exciting team and from my experience on Saturday night, some of the best fans in the world. They will try to out-skate San Jose, who will try to defend their Western Conference Title.
Prediction: Oilers in 6
Calgary vs Anaheim:Calgary hasn’t won at the Honda Center since the 2006 Playoffs. That’s a long time. The Ducks are getting old and with Edmonton right on their heels this might be the best chance the Ducks have to get to the Conference Finals in the coming years. Calgary will have a chance to win the series if their top-line can get it done, but their margin for error is slim.