Tomorrow night, the NHL Playoffs will be underway. The chase for Lord’s Stanley Cup will start with three games on the docket. All with teams ready to answer the bell and answer the question of whether they deserve to move on or go home early. Now, all eight series in the first round are expected to thrill, due in part that it’s the round with the most teams and most games played. But, there’s always that one aspect of each series that many fans and critics will keen on keeping an eye on. And here are just a few of them.
Storyline: Will the Avalanche give the Predators a hard time or will Nashville run right through them?
Being this is a one versus eight matchup, and there was a 22-point difference in the standings, it’s easy to say why this is an easy opponent for Nashville to get by. The Preds are loaded throughout their lineup and have more depth than the Avs, most of all in goal with Pekka Rinne. But the Avs are a speedy team from what everyone saw in the regular season. Having star center Nathan MacKinnon leading the way, and a very balanced offensive and defensive corps might allow this series to go the distance. The Avalanche have nothing to lose — considering they weren’t expected to make the playoffs — and this could factor into how serious the Preds take them.
Storyline: Will the playoff spotlight be too much for the expansion club?
After their magical regular season, the Vegas Golden Knights are ready for their first taste of playoff hockey. Vegas does have players with playoff experience — Marc-Andre Fleury, Erik Haula, James Neal, David Perron, just to name a few. But for many of the Knights, this will be their first time playing hockey in mid-April. How they respond to the bright lights and raised intensity of the playoffs, does add intrigue. So does the fact, that their opponent, the Los Angeles Kings, have a roster brimming with postseason experience and know the pressure of winning in the playoffs.
Storyline: Will whoever steals home-ice advantage win the series?
The Wild-Jets series is going to be a barnburner, and it’s because both teams home rinks provide the perfect edge. The Jets this year made MTS Centre a place no one wanted to play, ending the year with the best home record in the NHL (32-7-2). Minnesota wasn’t too far behind going 27-6-8 at Xcel Energy Center. Home ice, many critics say, doesn’t still have the same effect in the playoffs as it did in years past. But for this series, being the road team will loom larger in the long run and will be impactful on the outcome.
Storyline: Who’s got the advantage in goal?
These two teams are going to play a very physical series, as that is the style in the West. But both sides are very much set in goal. John Gibson and Martin Jones are two of the best goalies in the NHL. Gibson enjoyed the best season of his four-year career and is in the Vezina conversation. His adversary, Jones, posted his third straight 30 win season and is not far removed from getting the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago. This series could be a pitchers duel (or goaltenders duel) between these two combatants, allowing for every game to be even more exciting.
Tampa Bay-New Jersey
Storyline: Which of the Devils D can shut down Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos?
Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos were the best one-two punch in the NHL this season. Both were offensive dynamos, Kuckerov more, hitting the 100-point plateau. Their chemistry and skill is off the charts, something that a young New Jersey blueline could have a rough time with. Tasking rookie Will Butcher with neutralizing the twosome might be asking a lot, and the same could be said for veteran d-men Andy Greene and Sami Vatanen. Whatever the matchup against the Kucherov-Stamkos duo may be, it could be the difference maker.
Storyline: Which goalie will overcome their playoff demons?
There’s a lot of offensive firepower that will be displayed in this series, but it’s in net where the most significant story lies. The two starting goalies, Sergei Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby, have been mired in playoff failure for a number of seasons. One of these teams will move on, and it will be because their netminder finally stepped up and showed the confidence and mental toughness it takes. Bobrovsky hasn’t been able to get the Blue Jackets to the second round since coming to The Buckeye State while Holtby finally needs to find a way to get the Capitals to at least the Conference Finals if not the Stanley Cup Finals.
Storyline: Will history from five years ago repeat itself?
Every hockey fan can tell you where they were when the Bruins miraculously defeated the Maple Leafs in the seventh game of the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Now, these two Original-Six foes are set to meet again, this time matched so evenly well. These two teams did go seven games the last time, something every hockey fan and pundit want to see again. A series of this magnitude has a “slobber knocker” ring to it. And with how both teams are constructed on speed and skill, expect an all-out war from the first game to the last.
Storyline: Can the Flyers be the ones to stop the possible three-peat?
These two teams don’t like each other. Both fanbases don’t like each other. And the bragging rights, owned by the Penguins right now, will definitely be fresh in the Flyers players and fans minds. Pittsburgh has shown in the past two postseasons that they find ways to win and no one can break their iron will. The Flyers will have a massive task of just playing the Pens but do have the pieces to finally end the champ’s reign with MVP contender Claude Giroux, a young, but talented defense, and an experienced goaltender in Brian Elliott.