The 2017 NHL playoffs started Wednesday night, and we have predictions for each first-round matchup on the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Sure, we have the top-seeded Capitals and Blackhawks advancing easily in the playoff bracket, but there could be a few upsets in the first round.
NHL playoff bracket: Eastern Conference
Capitals (M1) vs. 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
Penguins (M2) vs. 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 mentionSidney Crosby vs. Brandon Dubinsky?
Head to head:Split, 2-2-0
Prediction:Penguins in six
Canadiens (A1) vs. 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
Senators (A2) vs. 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
NHL playoff bracket: Western Conference
Blackhawks (C1) vs. Predators (WC2)
For all the success the Blackhawks dynasty has enjoyed this decade, the franchise accomplished something in 2016-17it has done only once before in 90 years: win 50 games in the regular season. The first time (2009-10), Chicago won the Stanley Cup. Now it faces a Predators team which has had its fair share of ups and downs this season. The Blackhawks beat their Central Division foe in the first round to start two of their last three Cup runs. Make it three of four?
Head to head:Blackhawks, 4-1-0
Prediction:Blackhawks in five
Wild (C2) vs. Blues (C3)
The curious case of Bruce Boudreauand the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Wildcoach is a regular-season whiz with a.658 career win percentage, by far the best among active coaches and one percentage point better than Hall of Famer ScottyBowman. Yet, Boudreau's teams routinely wither when it comes to the playoffs (41-39 all time). Is this the year his fortune changes? The Wild are hot, winners of four straight coming in.
Meanwhile, Blues coach Mike Yeo gets a crack at his old team after turning St. Louis back into a playoff contender mid-season.
Head to head:Blues, 3-2-0
Prediction:Wild in six
Ducks (P1) vs. Flames (WC1)
The tablewas set for this series at the beginning of the month when the Ducks and Flames combined for 132 penalty minutes in back-to-back grudge matches. Mark Giordano's knee-to-knee hit on Cam Fowler still looms large. With Anaheim's top defenseman set to missa fair portion of this series(whileGiordano misses none), expect more of the same from these division foes.
Head to head:Ducks, 4-1-0
Prediction:Ducks in seven
Oilers (P2)vs. Sharks (P3)
Is there a single more compelling reason to tune in to the Stanley Cup playoffs than Connor McDavid? The20-year-old wunderkind captained the Oilers to their first playoff berth since 2005-06, when the franchise lost in the Stanley Cup Final, and was the NHL's lone 100-point producerto boot. Last year's Cup runner-up awaits in the first round. The injury riddled Sharks have thepedigree to return, butfirst they'll need to find a way to counterMcDavid's wizardry.
Head to head:Oilers, 3-1-1
Prediction:Sharks in seven