The Stanley Cup playoffs will get underway this week, kicking off what typically serves as one of the most thrilling postseason experiences in all of sports. The road to raising the Cup is a long one, but most of the first-round matchups are set and we can look forward to a number of intriguing and promising matchups right from the jump
Here's a breakdown of the confirmed matchups we'll see in the opening round.
After a neck-in-neck race with the Bruins to close out the season, the Lightning finished as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and will draw the New Jersey Devils, who are back in the playoffs for the first time since making the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. The Lightning will boast one of the league's deepest teams heading to into the postseason and are led by some serious firepower up front with the likes of Steven Stamkos (who has been battling a lower body injury late in the season) and Hart candidate Nikita Kucherov. The Devils, who are led by a Hart candidate of their own in Taylor Hall, won all three of their games against Tampa this year, but will have their work cut out for them in the opening round.
The Capitals finished tops in the Metropolitan division for the third straight year. They'll await the Blue Jackets, who finished the season in the Eastern Conference's first Wild Card slot. Alexander Ovechkin led all players with 49 goals this year, and he'll be opposed by one of the league's top defensive pairings in Columbus' Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. The Caps took three of their four meetings against Columbus this season.
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Bruins and Maple Leafs -- the second and third-place finishers in the Atlantic division, respectively -- will reignite their playoff rivalry in what should be an exciting, fast-paced series featuring plenty of youth. The last time these two teams met in the postseason was back in 2013, when the Bruins famously came back from a three-goal deficit late to win in overtime of Game 7 in the opening round. Toronto won three of their four meetings this season.
After sneaking into third place in the Metropolitan division with a win in their final game of the season, the Flyers will face their cross-state rival and back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions in the Penguins, who finished second in the Metro. Pittsburgh -- led by the superstar duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- dominated the Flyers in their season series, taking all four contests (though two needed overtime). Hart candidate Claude Giroux will attempt to extend Philadelphia sports' stretch of success with the Flyers' first playoff series win since 2012.
The Predators entered last season's playoffs as the eighth seed before going on a Cinderella run that carried them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. This year, they'll be the Western Conference's one-seed after finishing as the NHL's Presidents' Trophy winners. Opposite Nashville in round one will be the Avalanche, who are back in the playoffs just one season after finishing as the league's worst team. They'll be led by 22-year-old Nathan MacKinnon, who could be a Hart Trophy finalist this year. The Predators won all four of their matchups against Colorado this season.
The Jets's 114 points during the regular season was good enough for second-most in the entire league, but they had the misfortune of being in the same conference as Nashville. As a result, they finished second in the Central and will draw the Wild, who finished third. The Jets are loaded with offensive talent -- including sophomore phenom Patrik Laine -- and are looking for their first postseason win since relocating from Atlanta in 2011. Winnipeg took three of their four games against Minnesota this year.
The Golden Knights had an incredible season as the league's newest expansion team, setting a number of records during the most successful inaugural season in league history and winning a division title in the process. They'll look to build on a rivalry with a divisional foe in the Kings, who finished as the first Wild Card in the west. Los Angeles hasn't won a playoff series since 2014, when they won the Stanley Cup. Vegas and LA split their season series, taking two games apiece.
California battles have made for some of the most entertaining Stanley Cup playoff seres in the past handful of years, and this should continue that trend. The Ducks jumped the Sharks in the standings after their final game of the season, giving Anaheim second place in the Pacific and home ice advantage in the first round. However, San Jose took three of the four meetings during the regular season, with the one loss coming in overtime.