Remember that time all sevenCanadian NHL franchises missed the Stanley Cup playoffs?It feels like ages ago.
The neighbors to the north returned with a vengeance in 2016-17 with five qualifiers, including three in the Eastern Conference — Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. That's not the best news for U.S. television ratings, but the postseason is infinitely more entertaining when Canada has a few dogs in the fight.
In the top-heavy East, it's best not to take them for granted.
If the loaded Metropolitan Division — a.k.a., hockey's version of the "Group of Death" — starts to wearon its members, it wouldn't be all too surprising to see one of those freshened-up Canadian clubs take advantage and make a deep run through an easier path.
Washington Capitals (M1) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (WC2)
Fresh off a second consecutive Presidents' Trophy, the Capitals are Stanley Cup or bust and hopeful the depth at defense and throughout the NHL's second-highest scoring forward group can once and for all cure their playoff ills. That's not to say those Leafs rookies should be taken lightly. Led by 2016 No. 1 pick Auston Matthews and his 39 goals, Toronto is back in the playoffs for the second time in 13 seasons.
Notably, these youthful Leafs arethe second team in history with a trio of 60-point rookie scorers (Matthews, 67; Mitch Marner, 61; William Nylander, 60).
We haven't even mentioned Alex OvechkinorNicklas Backstrom, who quietly finished fourth in league scoring. This series has no shortage of star power.
Head to head: Capitals, 2-1-0
Prediction: Capitals in five
Pittsburgh Penguins (M2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (M3)
The unfortunate reality of the aforementioned "Group of Death" is that the NHL will be out— at minimum — one of its top four teams in the first round. One of those casualties is guaranteed to come from this series.The defending Stanley Cup champion Penguinsmay find the road to a repeat difficult without top defenseman Kris Letang, but the Blue Jackets are reeling, too, having lost six of seven heading into the playoffs. Did we mention Sidney Crosby vs. Brandon Dubinsky?
Head to head: Split, 2-2-0
Prediction: Penguins in six
Montreal Canadiens (A1) vs. New York Rangers (WC1)
Nothing like a good, old-fashioned goalie duel in the playoffs. In Montreal's Carey Price and New York's Henrik Lundqvist, this series boasts two of the NHL's most battle-tested postseason netminders. Lundqvist's 55 playoff wins are most among active goalies while Price's 23 are good for ninth.
The Rangers alsoare armed with the NHL's fourth-highest scoring offense, butShea Weber and Co. pose a number of fascinating matchup quandaries.
Don't forget: New York had the better regular-season record, despite its lesser seed. Thank the Metropolitan Division, Habs fans.
Head to head: Canadiens, 3-0-0
Prediction: Canadiens in seven
Ottawa Senators (A2) vs. Boston Bruins (A3)
This is the Zdeno Chara Bowl. The Bruins' hulking defenseman quietly turned in a strong age-40 season, serving as the veteran fulcrum ofan otherwise inexperienced blue line. It will be Chara's 12thand potentially final playoff run. That it begins against the franchise where he cut his teeth with seems fitting.
Head to head: Senators, 4-0-0
Prediction: Senators in six