1 compelling storyline for each round of 16 playoff series
The real Round 1 of the playoffs is officially here. Everyone loves a good narrative, so we'll take a look at one key storyline for each series.
Note: The NHL re-seeded teams after the qualifying round.
Philadelphia Flyers (1) vs. Montreal Canadiens (8)
Carter Hart's favorite goalie growing up was Carey Price. Now the 21-year-old will go toe to toe with his childhood hero.
Price was the top goalie of the last decade, and today's players still believe he's the best in the league at his position. The 2015 Vezina and Hart Trophy winner was lights out in Montreal's upset series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round. He may need to be even better for the Habs to get past Philly.
Hart, meanwhile, is unquestionably the league's best young (under 25) goaltender, and he'll likely win the Vezina Trophy in the future. But only the present matters, and he'll need to perform better than his idol for the Flyers to advance.
Tampa Bay Lightning (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7)
Can the Lightning conquer their demons? Last year's shocking four-game sweep at the hands of the Blue Jackets surely still stings. What did they learn about playing Columbus? Tampa definitely won't take the Jackets lightly this time, but will the Lightning be able to figure out how to solve Columbus' stingy defense?
Tampa Bay could also be without Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman for the series. Stamkos didn't suit up during the round robin, and Hedman departed Saturday's game after taking an awkward fall. Their statuses for Game 1 are uncertain. Without them, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov would be counted on even more heavily to produce offense, and Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev would log more minutes on the blue line.
The Blue Jackets are also battle-tested after a roller-coaster play-in series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose playing style is similar to the Lightning's. Columbus should be well-prepared to pull off another upset. Losing again would be crushing for the Lightning, with the team firmly in its Stanley Cup window.
Washington Capitals (3) vs. New York Islanders (6)
Barry Trotz won the Stanley Cup following the last game he coached for the Capitals with Todd Reirden as his right-hand man. Now, Trotz will go head to head with his protege.
The Islanders will try to clog up the neutral zone and keep shots to the outside in the defensive zone. Despite Reirden being Trotz's disciple, his Caps are a bit more offensive-minded and will aim to make the series more wide-open. The coach whose team can dictate the pace will get the edge.
Boston Bruins (4) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (5)
The rematch of the 2019 Eastern Conference Final could be the most entertaining Round 1 series. It will also show how much weight we should have put on the round robin and play-in results.
The Bruins didn't look like this season's Presidents' Trophy winners while going winless in the round robin. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, were the most dominant team during the qualifiers, sweeping the New York Rangers in three games by a combined score of 11-4.
These aren't the same Hurricanes the Bruins swept a year ago, as Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Co. are a year older. Jake Gardiner, Joel Edmundson, Brady Skjei, and others have also been added to the mix. Additionally, rookie Martin Necas will be a factor. The Bruins, who entered the season as the league's fourth-oldest team, haven't changed much since last year.
Carolina's chances have seemingly improved, but overlooking Boston would be downright foolish.
Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (8)
"I went to Chicago to help them out and got promises of getting a fair chance to play," the goaltender said after the trade. "I didn't play much in the beginning or the middle beginning of the season, even if I played really well and had a good camp."
Lehner added that eventually he took over and won nine out of 10 games, saying, "We walked up one point behind a playoff spot.
"Then, all of a sudden, I found myself on the bench for no reason," he continued. "That was tough. Plus, negotiations had totally died out."
Lehner will be out to prove he's a better netminder than Corey Crawford, with whom he shared Chicago's crease for the majority of the campaign. That is, assuming Lehner gets the call for Vegas in Game 1 over Marc-Andre Fleury.
Colorado Avalanche (2) vs. Arizona Coyotes (7)
How far can Darcy Kuemper take the Coyotes? Though the Nashville Predators drastically outplayed Arizona in the qualifying round, Kuemper was a brick wall, posting a .933 save percentage in the 3-1 series win while facing an average of 41 shots per game.
The Avalanche are the vastly superior team and should dominate play in this series, but the Coyotes' one advantage comes between the pipes. If Kuemper can stand on his head, the Yotes have a chance. If not, this series could be over early.
Dallas Stars (3) vs. Calgary Flames (6)
Tyler Seguin's and Ben Bishop's health could have a major effect on this series. Both of Dallas' stars missed Sunday's final round-robin contest and their statuses for Game 1 are unclear. The Stars can survive without Bishop thanks to Anton Khudobin, the best backup in the league, but Seguin would be difficult to replace. He led the team with 50 points this season, while no other player cracked 40 on the goal-starved squad.
Even if Seguin plays, you know the Flames - specifically the likes of Matthew Tkachuk and Milan Lucic - will not hold back physically.
St. Louis Blues (4) vs. Vancouver Canucks (5)
This series will be an excellent test for Vancouver's young core. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes are about to get their first real taste of playoff hockey against a proven team built for the postseason. How will these three offensive juggernauts fare against defensive specimens like Ryan O'Reilly and Colton Parayko? The Blues are going to be extremely physical, and the Canucks' young guns will either back down or rise to the challenge.