2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs: First-round previews

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Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews celebrates his goal against the Montreal Canadiens. (Chris Young/CP)

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin on Wednesday with two Canadian teams in action. Both Winnipeg and Toronto stand as legitimate contenders for the Cup as a nation hopes to break a 25-year drought.

There are plenty of intriguing 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 broke them down one by one.

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING vs. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Neither of these teams reached the playoffs a year ago, but get here in 2018 with much different expectations. While the Devils have exceeded all expectations, the Lightning were a popular pre-season pick to win the Stanley Cup and got out ahead early with a red-hot start. The Lightning hold a 16-point advantage in the standings, but is their defence vulnerable to New Jersey’s attack?

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GAME DATE TIME STATION
G1 Thurs., April 12 New Jersey @ Tampa Bay,  7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT SN
G2 Sat., April 14 New Jersey @ Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. ET /  Noon PT SN360
G3 Mon., April 16 Tampa Bay @ New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT SN
G4 Wed., April 18 Tampa Bay @ New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT SN
G5* Sat., April 21 New Jersey @ Tampa Bay, TBD TBD
G6* Mon., April 23 Tampa Bay @ New Jersey, TBD TBD
G7* Wed., April 25 New Jersey @ Tampa Bay, TBD TBD

BOSTON BRUINS vs. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
The Maple Leafs were the seventh-best team in the NHL this season, but draw a huge test in Round 1 with the Boston Bruins, the fourth-best team league-wide and one that dominated the competition in the second half. The Maple Leafs will remember in horror their 2013 series versus Boston, which went seven games and ended with the Leafs blowing a 4-1 lead and falling in OT. Both teams have Stanley Cup hopes in 2018 and this figures to be a great back-and-forth series as a rivalry is reborn.

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GAME DATE TIME STATION
G1 Thurs., April 12 Toronto @ Boston, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT CBC
G2 Sat., April 14 Toronto @ Boston, 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT CBC, OMNI
G3 Mon., April 16 Boston @ Toronto, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT CBC
G4 Thurs., April 19 Boston @ Toronto, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT CBC
G5* Sat., April 21 Toronto @ Boston, TBD CBC, OMNI
G6* Mon., April 23 Boston @ Toronto, TBD CBC
G7* Wed., April 25 Toronto @ Boston, TBD CBC

WASHINGTON CAPITALS vs. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
The Blue Jackets rested all of their top players in their last game of the season and the ensuing loss locked them into a series with the Metro Division champion Washington Capitals. Both of these teams have playoff demons to exorcise. Washington, which went all in last season and lost all sorts of depth in the summer, still has not gotten past Round 2 in the Alex Ovechkin era. Columbus, meanwhile, has yet to win a playoff round at all in franchise history, but has iced its best squads the past two seasons.

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GAME DATE TIME STATION
G1 Thurs., April 12 Columbus @ Washington, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT SN360
G2 Sun., April 15 Columbus @ Washington, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT SN360
G3 Tues., April 17 Washington @ Columbus, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT SN360
G4 Thurs., April 19 Washington @ Columbus, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT SN
G5* Sat., April 21 Columbus @ Washington, TBD TBD
G6* Mon., April 23 Washington @ Columbus, TBD TBD
G7* Wed., April 25 Columbus @ Washington, TBD TBD

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS vs. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
The back-to-back champs are trying to become the first three-peat winners since the great Islanders dynasty of the 1980s and their first test are their in-state rivals from Philadelphia, a city that has already won a Super Bowl and NCAA basketball championship this season. The last time these two played in the post-season was 2012 and if this series is anything like that one, we’re in for a treat. Goals were going in all over the place in that six-game series and, since both sides have goaltending concerns, the table is set for more excitement.

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GAME DATE TIME STATION
G1 Wed., April 11 Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT CBC
G2 Fri., April 13 Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT CBC
G3 Sun., April 15 Pittsburgh @ Philadelphia, 3 p.m. ET / Noon PT CBC
G4 Wed., April 18 Pittsburgh @ Philadelphia, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT CBC
G5* Fri., April 20 Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh, TBD TBD
G6* Sun., April 22 Pittsburgh @ Philadelphia, TBD TBD
G7* Tues., April 24 Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh, TBD TBD
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WESTERN CONFERENCE

NASHVILLE PREDATORS vs. COLORADO AVALANCHE
Last year’s Western Conference champion, Nashville returns deeper and more talented than it was a season ago. The NHL’s most complete team from top to bottom and from the net out, the Preds matchup against one of the best stories from this season as Colorado rebounded from a salary cap-era worst 48 points. If an upset were to happen here, it would be the biggest of Round 1, but in Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche have the best player in this series.

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GAME DATE TIME STATION
G1 Thurs., April 12 Colorado @ Nashville, 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT SN
G2 Sat., April 14 Colorado @ Nashville, 3 p.m. ET / Noon PT SN
G3 Mon., April 16 Nashville @ Colorado, 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT SN
G4 Wed., April 18 Nashville @ Colorado, 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT SN
G5* Fri., April 20 Colorado @ Nashville, TBD TBD
G6* Sun., April 22 Nashville @ Colorado, TBD TBD
G7* Tues., April 24 Colorado @ Nashville, TBD TBD

WINNIPEG JETS vs. MINNESOTA WILD
Canada’s other and possibly best Cup hope, the Winnipeg Jets finally came together after years of cautious build up from GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. Still searching for their first post-season win since coming back to Winnipeg, the Jets draw a geographic rival in Minnesota in Round 1, a team that has cooled down the stretch.

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GAME DATE TIME STATION
G1 Wed., April 11 Minnesota @ Winnipeg, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT SN
G2 Fri., April 13 Minnesota @ Winnipeg, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT SN
G3 Sun., April 15 Winnipeg @ Minnesota, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT SN
G4 Tues., April 17 Winnipeg @ Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT SN
G5* Fri., April 20 Minnesota @ Winnipeg, TBD SN
G6* Sun., April 22 Winnipeg @ Minnesota, TBD SN
G7* Wed., April 25 Minnesota @ Winnipeg, TBD SN

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS vs. LOS ANGELES KINGS
Vegas’ incredible first season has brought it to its first test as a playoff team and Pacific Division champion. In Round 1, the Golden Knights face a stiff test against the Los Angeles Kings who, while they’ve won just a single playoff game in the past three years, won two Stanley Cups between 2012 and 2014. Will Vegas’ Cinderella run end early, or is this the beginning of something even more special?

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GAME DATE TIME STATION
G1 Wed., April 11 Los Angeles @ Vegas, 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT CBC
G2 Fri., April 13 Los Angeles @ Vegas, 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT CBC
G3 Sun., April 15 Vegas @ Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. PT CBC
G4 Tues., April 17 Vegas @ Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. PT CBC
G5* Thurs., April 19 Los Angeles @ Vegas, 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT CBC
G6* Sat., April 21 Vegas @ Los Angeles, TBD TBD
G7* Mon., April 23 Los Angeles @ Vegas, TBD TBD

ANAHEIM DUCKS vs. SAN JOSE SHARKS
Two conference powerhouses meet right off the bat, with the Ducks reaching two of the past three West finals and the Sharks getting to the Cup final just two years ago. Both teams have heated up since the trade deadline, though injuries to some key players (Cam Fowler for Anaheim, Joe Thornton for San Jose) means both will lean a little more on their depth. Either of these teams could potentially come out of the West, but will have to survive a tough series right out of the gate.

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GAME DATE TIME STATION
G1 Thurs., April 12 San Jose @ Anaheim, 10:30 p.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. PT SN360
G2 Sat., April 14 San Jose @ Anaheim, 10:30 p.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. PT SN360
G3 Mon., April 16 Anaheim @ San Jose, 10:30 p.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. PT SN1
G4 Wed., April 18 Anaheim @ San Jose, 10:30 p.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. PT SN1
G5* Fri., April 20 San Jose @ Anaheim, TBD TBD
G6* Sun., April 22 Anaheim @ San Jose, TBD TBD
G7* Tues., April 24 San Jose @ Anaheim, TBD TBD

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