The best time of year for hockey fans has finally arrived, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway on Wednesday, April 12 with four games to start the best postseason tournament in any sport.
Before the games get going and teams start taking series leads, let's first preview each matchup and figure out who should win and advance to the Divisional Finals — also known as the Conference Semis.
Just look below at all eight series, where you will find info on schedules, season series, and some keys to victory for each team. The quest for the Cup is finally underway, and the next two months of play are going to be amazing.
Montreal Canadiens (1) vs. New York Rangers (WC1)
Full Schedule | Season Series: Canadiens 3-0
The first series to drop the puck gets going Wednesday night at 7 p.m. EST, and this should be the best matchup of goaltenders in the entire first round as Carey Price (Montreal) goes to battle against Henrik Lundqvist (NYR).
These teams are different in the way they approach the game, as the Rangers focus on scoring — 4th best goals per game average — while the Canadiens depend on defense and their all-world goalie. The Rangers may actually be the better team in this matchup, but got the luck of a tough division forcing them into a wild-card berth.
Montreal missed the postseason last year due to major injuries and bad play, but came back strong this season. New York has been a consistent threat for the last near-decade, and that experience should help them in the journey to continue forward through the playoffs. Hockey fans loves to see upsets, and we could have one right off the bat.
Prediction: Rangers in 6
Ottawa Senators (2) vs. Boston Bruins (3)
Full Schedule | Season Series: Senators 4-0
Our second Canadian team in post-season play this year after none made it into the playoffs last season for the first time since 1970, we could also see another fall in the first round as they take on a tough Bruins squad.
Boston has been playing wonderfully as of late with Tuukka Rask becoming a good goaltender once again following some struggles. The net minder set a career high with 37 wins this season, and also recorded a respectable 2.23 goals allowed per game. Ottawa on the other hand, has been trending down recently, but should get defenseman Erik Karlson back. The goaltending situation is not as fluid for the Sens though, so that advantage gives the B's the upset bid.
Prediction: Bruins in 7
Washington Capitals (1) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (WC2)
Full Schedule | Season Series: Capitals 2-1
Toronto suffered a loss in the regular season finale against Columbus that left them with this tough matchup, and though the Leafs are a great young team, they are just that… young.
Washington is the winner of the President's Trophy for the second straight season, which might be a bad thing. The trophy has not yielded a Stanley Cup winner in the last few years, and the Caps are notorious for choking in the playoffs. But this year, it might actually be the time they take home the Cup.
Braden Holtby has been one of the best goalies in the NHL this year, and Toronto does not have a great presence in the net to combat the Washington attack led by Alex Ovechkin. Auston Matthews will have a good series, but the young rookie takes a first round exit to start his career.
Prediction: Capitals in 5
Pittsburgh Penguins (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (3)
Full Schedule | Season Series: Tied 2-2
Prior to the last two weeks of the season, this was going to be the headlining matchup of the first round. But since the Jackets have gone on a bad streak of one win in their last seven contests, this one might be over sooner than people would have guessed.
The defending champs, the Pens have the best offense in the league, as well as the best player in the world: Sidney Crosby. While Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky always gives him fits, Pittsburgh is much more capable of attacking without Sid than they have been in recent years.
If Columbus is going to win, they need Sergei Bobrovsky to play like the best goalie in the world. The likely Vezina winner, "Bob" has had some rough goings against the Pens in the past, and those could come back to bite in the very near future.
Prediction: Penguins in 6
Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs. Nashville Predators (WC2)
Full Schedule | Season Series: Blackhawks 4-1
This is the premier matchup in the first round, as either team is capable of taking home the best trophy in sports. Though the season series tends toward Chicago, Nashville is just the kind of team that can pull an upset in the first round.
Chicago has six players with 20 or more goals — one of the best marks in the league — and a defense that hounds night after night. But Nashville has one of the best D-men in the game, P.K. Subban, and a young center in Ryan Johansen who can score in bunches if he is feeling right.
Expect this one to get ugly folks, as this series has been one of the most brutal in recent seasons. This one will go seven games, and it is a coin-flip to decide the winner. But in the game of hockey, always expect some upsets.
Prediction: Predators in 7
Minnesota Wild (2) vs. St. Louis Blues (3)
Full Schedule | Season Series: Blues 3-2
Another exciting matchup, this one should be less close than the one we just talked about, though these two were pretty close all season long.
Minnesota actually has the best odds to win the Cup at 6-1 this year, and that seems a bit surprising. While the Wild are a good team, the are not one you hear about a whole lot as compared to the Blues. St. Louis was good this year as well, but lost a few key pieces that made them a great playoff team last year.
Minnesota has been a team waiting to break out and they may finally have their chance. If the Wild are for real, they need to start proving it.
Prediction: Wild in 6
Anaheim Ducks (1) vs. Calgary Flames (WC1)
Full Schedule | Season Series: Ducks 4-1
The Ducks come in as the hottest team in the game, riding an 11-0-3 finish to the regular season to a divisional title in the Pacific and a good matchup for them to be able to advance forward.
The Flames do have good goaltending in Brian Elliott, but they lack the offensive ability that the Ducks possess. With Perry, Getzlaf and Kesler manning the different lines and power play, the Ducks should be able to score just enough to advance into the second round after a disappointing finish in 2016.
Prediction: Ducks in 5
Edmonton Oilers (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (3)
Full Schedule | Season Series: Oilers 3-2
This series is the matchup of youth (EDM) vs. experience (SJ) as the Sharks boast multiple 30-year-olds on their roster while Edmonton relies on young guns, led by Connor McDavid.
The defending West champs, San Jose finally broke through the playoffs last season and are looking to do the same again. Their defense is among one of the best top-four in the game, but Edmonton may have just enough offense to negate that fact.
This series will come down to how McDavid plays in his first trip to the playoffs. If the next superstar in the league can play as well as he did in the season, then the Oilers can go far this year. If not, then 97's first trip to the postseason will end early.
Prediction: Oilers in 7