NHL playoffs have finally arrived
Oilers' Oscar Klefbom (77) battles Sharks' Patrick Marleau (12) during NHL action at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Jan. 10, 2017. (Ian Kucerak/Postmedia Network)
After six long months, the NHL’s regular season has finally come to a close, and sport’s greatest postseason is about to begin.
The two-month war of attrition to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug begins Wednesday. Here’s a look at what’s happening in each of the divisional brackets:
Montreal faces the New York Rangers in what should be a low-scoring series.
The starting goalies (Carey Price vs. Henrik Lundqvist) are the same as the 2014 Olympic gold medal game in Sochi.
The Canadiens' top forwards need to step up, but Montreal won the season series between the two 3-0, and the home-ice advantage at Bell Centre should prove a difference-maker.
CANADIENS in 7
Ottawa won its season series against Boston 4-0, but this is their first playoff meeting, and the Bruins have re-tooled on the fly under new coach Bruce Cassidy.
Brad Marchand is back for the playoffs, just in time after serving his two-game debt to society.
Ottawa’s forward lines are uninspiring, and it’s uncertain how they’ll hold up in an extended, grueling series.
BRUINS in 6
Washington is loaded heading into their series versus the young Maple Leafs.
The veteran Capitals, having just captured their second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy, face the new kids on the block.
Toronto’s D-corps is just too thin to hold up to playoff rigours.
This would be the biggest upset of the first round, but it ain’t going to happen.
CAPITALS in 5
Defending champ Pittsburgh takes on Columbus in an intriguing first-round battle.
Kris Letang is out for the entire playoffs, but the Penguins' deep and talented forward lines can carry the day.
Sergei Brobovsky (who’s going to win his second Vezina Trophy) can stand on his head for the upstart Blue Jackets, but experience will win in the end.
PENGUINS in 7
Chicago won the season series against Nashville 4-1.
The Blackhawks' special teams are weak this year, which could hurt them in the playoffs, but the Predators lack scoring depth at forward.
Most glaring: the Preds have the worst road record of all playoff teams, while the Hawks had the second-most road wins in the NHL.
BLACKHAWKS in 6
Minnesota takes on St. Louis in what should be a close battle.
Blues coach Mike Yeo was fired by the Wild last February.
The Wild defence and goalie Devan Dubnyk are unproven in the playoffs, but it feels like the Blues have taken a step backwards from recent years.
WILD in 7
Anaheim will confront Calgary in a series that could get nasty.
The Ducks won the season series 4-1, and the Flames, bizarrely, haven’t won a game in Anaheim in 11 years.
The Ducks have a big, veteran forward group, and the Flames lack elite playoff goaltending.
DUCKS in 5
Edmonton won the season series with defending conference champs San Jose 3-1-1.
Oilers coach Todd McLellan had a successful seven-year run with the Sharks, which adds intrigue to what could be the most interesting first-round matchup.
The health status of the Sharks’ Joe Thornton and Logan Couture remains murky.
Led by 100-point Art Ross (and probable Hart Trophy) winner Connor McDavid and the underrated Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers are a team on the rise.
OILERS in 7