It is one of the most exciting times in the sports calendar year. Playoff hockey has arrived once again! 16 of the NHL’s 30 clubs get a shot to win the Stanley Cup. The first club that wins 16 games will walk away with the Cup. This should be another exciting playoff year, with plenty of good storylines in each series.
What can fans expect to see in the opening round of the 2017 NHL Playoffs? What are the biggest storylines in each series? Could there be any upsets to look out for? Here are the things I am looking forward to in each series:
WASHINGTON CAPITALS VS TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
The Maple Leafs are back in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2013. They have almost finished a complete rebuild of their lineup. They have star power with players like Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner. They are inexperienced, but they are a fun team to watch on the ice. I expect to see a good skating series with lots of goals scored. It would not surprise me to see games in this series with 4-3 or 5-4 box scores. Both clubs have plenty of firepower so, if you are a hockey fan that likes goal scoring, this will probably be the series for you.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
This is the series that I am looking forward to the most. These two teams last met in the 2014 NHL Playoffs and it was a fun series to watch. There was plenty of hitting and snarl displayed between both clubs. The two coaches in the series are the fiery John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan, and they are both very familiar with one another. The Penguins are a bit banged up heading into this series, so it will be interesting to see if Columbus can get an early jump on them in the series. The Penguins will be without defenseman Kris Letang for the rest of the playoffs.
MONTREAL CANADIENS VS NEW YORK RANGERS
The Canadiens made a coaching change mid-season, and it has paid off for them. Claude Julien changed the locker room culture a bit after the Canadiens organization made some questionable managerial decisions over the past year. This is a rematch of the 2014 Conference Finals. The series in 2014 quickly changed after Game 1 when Carey Price was injured. Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed hard into Price in the game, and Price was injured for the remainder of the series. The Habs will be looking for some payback in this series. I expect things to possibly be chippy, and it will be a series that will see plenty of quick skating.
OTTAWA SENATORS VS BOSTON BRUINS
The Senators and Bruins are meeting for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both teams missed the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. Bruins forward Brad Marchand finished 5th in the league in scoring with 85 points. Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson led his club in scoring with 71 points. These two Atlantic Division rivals should give hockey fans plenty of entertainment with tight checking and hard hits.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS VS NASHVILLE PREDATORS
These two teams last met in the opening round of the 2015 NHL Playoffs. The Blackhawks were victorious in 6 games in that series. These two teams have met a couple of times in the NHL Playoffs and they have provided fans plenty of excitement in their playoff series. The Blackhawks have established themselves as the favorite in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks have plenty of star power with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but they will be put to the test when they face a couple of Nashville’s defensive stars P.K. Subban and Roman Josi. This series will be a battle, and there should be plenty of excitement on the ice.
MINNESOTA WILD VS ST. LOUIS BLUES
This is a rematch of the opening round of the 2015 NHL Playoffs. The Blues were victorious in 6 games in that series. The most intriguing storyline in this series involves current Blues Head Coach Mike Yeo. Yeo took over for Ken Hitchcock midseason, and Yeo is the former bench boss of the Minnesota Wild. Yeo coached the Wild from 2011-2016 and he led them to multiple playoff appearances. This series could see a lot of goals scored since both teams have plenty of firepower. Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko and Wild forward Mikael Granlund are the two exciting players to watch in this series.
ANAHEIM DUCKS VS CALGARY FLAMES
This is a rematch of the second round of the 2015 NHL Playoffs. The Ducks were victorious in 5 games in that series. The Ducks are a bit wounded walking into the playoffs this year. Defenseman Cam Fowler was injured against the Flames on April 4 after he took a knee-on-knee hit from Flames defenseman Mark Giordano. Ducks GM Bob Murray recently came out and said that he thought it was a dirty hit. This series has the makings to be a tough physical battle. With players like Corey Perry, Kevin Bieksa, and Michael Ferland on the ice, it has all the makings to be explosive.
EDMONTON OILERS VS SAN JOSE SHARKS
The Oilers are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 NHL Playoffs. Connor McDavid was the only player to hit the 100 point plateau this season. The Oilers are entering the playoffs with former Sharks bench boss Todd McLellan. The Sharks have plenty of veteran playoff experience with players like Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Joe Pavelski in their lineup. The Sharks will be looking to get back to the Stanley Cup Final after they were defeated by the Penguins in 6 games last year.
By: George Foussekis