2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs: First round previews

John Shannon previews the Eastern Conference matchups, focusing on how goaltending will sway each series.

After being shut out last season, Canada returns to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with five qualifiers — and none of them will meet in the first round.

There are plenty of intriguing and exciting matchups that should make for tough decisions when you go to fill out your bracket. To help you out and give you some insight into each series, we break them down one by one.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic Division

MONTREAL CANADIENS vs. NEW YORK RANGERS
When these two teams met in the 2014 Eastern Conference final, Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed the crease and injured Carey Price, forcing the Canadiens’ MVP out for the rest of the series. The Habs return to the playoffs with a healthy Price, while the Rangers look to avoid back-to-back first-round eliminations. The Habs may have won the Atlantic Division, but the wild card Rangers were a 100-point team themselves in the Metro Division, the NHL’s toughest this season.

CHECK OUT OUR SERIES PREVIEW

Game 1: Wed., April 12 New York Rangers @ Montreal, 7 p.m. ET CBC
Game 2: Fri., April 14 New York Rangers @ Montreal, 7 p.m. ET CBC
Game 3: Sun., April 16 Montreal @ New York Rangers, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT SN
Game 4: Tues., April 18 Montreal @ New York Rangers, 7 p.m. ET CBC
Game 5:* Thurs., April 20 New York Rangers @ Montreal, TBD
Game 6:* Sat., April 22 Montreal @ New York Rangers, TBD
Game 7:* Mon., April 24 New York Rangers @ Montreal, TBD

OTTAWA SENATORS vs. BOSTON BRUINS
This will be the first meeting between the Senators and Bruins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as Zdeno Chara gets a crack at a team that chose to move on without him many moons ago. The Bruins recovered from a bad start after firing their long time coach, while the Senators are one of the more confounding teams in the league this season. It should make for a very interesting first round series.

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Game 1: Wed., April 12 Boston @ Ottawa, 7 p.m. ET SN
Game 2: Sat., April 15 Boston @ Ottawa, 3 p.m. ET SN
Game 3: Mon., April 17 Ottawa @ Boston, 7 p.m. ET SN
Game 4: Wed., April 19 Ottawa @ Boston, 7:30 p.m. ET SN
Game 5:* Fri., April 21 Boston @ Ottawa, TBD
Game 6:* Sun., April 23 Ottawa @ Boston, TBD
Game 7:* Wed., April 26 Boston @ Ottawa, TBD

Metropolitan Division

WASHINGTON CAPITALS vs. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Congratulations to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who get back into the playoffs with an exciting core of youth. Your prize? The Eastern Conference behemoth known as the Washington Capitals. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and all the Leafs’ rookies will be thrown right to the wolves, but have nothing to lose. The Caps, meanwhile, would be devastated if an upset is in the cards here.

CHECK OUT OUR SERIES PREVIEW

Game 1: Thurs., April 13 Toronto @ Washington, 7 p.m. ET CBC
Game 2: Sat., April 15 Toronto @ Washington, 7 p.m. ET CBC
Game 3: Mon., April 17 Washington @ Toronto, 7 p.m. ET CBC
Game 4: Wed., April 19 Washington @ Toronto, 7 p.m. ET CBC
Game 5:* Fri., April 21 Toronto @ Washington, TBD
Game 6:* Sun., April 23 Washington @ Toronto, TBD
Game 7:* Tues., April 25 Toronto @ Washington, TBD

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS vs. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

The Jackets return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, when they were ousted by the Penguins in six games. Columbus comes in cold, but still have safety net Sergei Bobrovsky coming off one of his best seasons that will have him in the Vezina and perhaps even Hart Trophy conversations. In their third Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance, the Jackets are still looking for their first series win. The defending champion Penguins, meanwhile, will continue on without top defenceman Kris Letang, but we know all about their top weapons and rookie Matt Murray, who already has a Stanley Cup ring. The Brandon Dubinsky-Sidney Crosby rivalry takes centre stage once more.

CHECK OUT OUR SERIES PREVIEW

Game 1: Wed., April 12 Columbus @ Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. ET SN 360
Game 2: Fri., April 14 Columbus @ Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. ET SN
Game 3: Sun., April 16 Pittsburgh @ Columbus, 6 p.m. ET SN 360
Game 4: Tues., April 18 Pittsburgh @ Columbus, 7:30 p.m. ET SN 360
Game 5:* Thurs., April 20 Columbus @ Pittsburgh, TBD
Game 6:* Sun., April 23 Pittsburgh @ Columbus, TBD
Game 7:* Tues., April 25 Columbus @ Pittsburgh, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Central Division

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS vs. NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Long-time rivals, but it’s more of a one-way street, with the Original Six Blackhawks a modern dynasty, and the 1998-expansion Predators still searching for their true breakthrough year. This was supposed to be the year Nashville really arrived as a contender after the big-splash summer acquisition of P.K. Subban, but they face the biggest test they could have in Round 1.

CHECK OUT OUR SERIES PREVIEW

Game 1: Thurs., April 13 Nashville @ Chicago, 8 p.m. ET SN
Game 2: Sat., April 15 Nashville @ Chicago, 8 p.m. ET SN
Game 3: Mon. April 17 Chicago @ Nashville, 9:30 p.m. ET SN1
Game 4: Thurs., April 20 Chicago @ Nashville, TBD SN360
Game 5:* Sat., April 22 Nashville @ Chicago, TBD
Game 6:* Mon., April 24 Chicago @ Nashville, TBD
Game 7:*Wed., April 26 Nashville @ Chicago, TBD

MINNESOTA WILD vs. ST. LOUIS BLUES
Trade deadline buyer (Minnesota) versus trade deadline seller (St. Louis), but the way these teams played after the deadline, you’d think their outlooks would have been flipped. The Blues were tremendous down the stretch and re-established themselves as a Cup contender, even if they’re a bit more of an outside shot than they had been in recent years. The Wild, meantime, slowed considerably down the stretch, but still have plenty of depth and scoring which could be tough to handle.

CHECK OUT OUR SERIES PREVIEW

Game 1: Wed., April 12 St. Louis @ Minnesota, 9:30 p.m. ET SN360
Game 2: Fri., April 14 St. Louis @ Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET SN360
Game 3: Sun., April 16 Minnesota @ St. Louis, 3 p.m. ET SN
Game 4: Wed., April 19 Minnesota @ St. Louis, 9:30 p.m. ET SN360
Game 5:* Sat., April 22 St. Louis @ Minnesota, TBD
Game 6:* Mon., April 24 Minnesota @ St. Louis, TBD
Game 7:* Wed., April 26 St. Louis @ Minnesota, TBD

Pacific Division

ANAHEIM DUCKS vs. CALGARY FLAMES
The Ducks are the veteran team who’s been here many times before, while the Flames are just getting started and seeing the first shine through an opening window. Anaheim comes with the pressure of needing to win, while the Flames caught fire in the second half and bring a free-wheeling and exciting game. How that holds up against the tight-checking Ducks remains to be seen.

CHECK OUT OUR SERIES PREVIEW

Game 1: Thurs., April 13 Calgary @ Anaheim, 7:30 p.m. PT CBC
Game 2: Sat. April 15 Calgary @ Anaheim, 7:30 p.m. PT CBC
Game 3: Mon., April 17 Anaheim @ Calgary, 7 p.m. PT CBC
Game 4: Wed., April 19 Anaheim @ Calgary, 7 p.m. PT CBC
Game 5:* Fri., April 21 Calgary @ Anaheim, TBD
Game 6:* Sun., April 23 Anaheim @ Calgary, TBD
Game 7:* Tues., April 25 Calgary @ Anaheim, TBD

EDMONTON OILERS vs. SAN JOSE SHARKS
The Oilers are back in the playoffs for the first time since many of their core players were in elementary school and their first test is last year’s Western Conference champs. The Oilers are another fast team, which is the kind of game that sunk the Sharks in the Stanley Cup final last season — but with youth comes inexperience. As they say, sometimes you need to lose before you can succeed. However, there have been plenty of exceptions to that rule over the years.

CHECK OUT OUR SERIES PREVIEW

Game 1: Wed., April 12 San Jose @ Edmonton, 7 p.m. PT SN
Game 2: Fri., April 14 San Jose @ Edmonton, 7:30 p.m. PT SN
Game 3: Sun., April 16 Edmonton @ San Jose, 6 p.m. PT SN
Game 4: Tues., April 18 Edmonton @ San Jose, 7 p.m. PT SN
Game 5:* Thurs., April 20 San Jose @ Edmonton, TBD
Game 6:* Sat., April 22 Edmonton @ San Jose, TBD
Game 7:* Mon., April 24 San Jose @ Edmonton, TBD

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