NHL: Stanley Cup playoffs first round preview

There’s nothing quite like playoff hockey. 

For some reason, as soon as the calendar hits mid-April, the action on the ice just hits a new level that surpasses even the best games of the regular season. Let’s take a look at some of the first round matchups and storylines heading into the beginning of the chase for Lord Stanley’s cup.

Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins

Looking to put the demons of the late regular season collapses of 2014 and 2015 behind them, the Bruins will try to win their first playoff series in three years against Ottawa. The early storyline in this first round matchup appears to be injuries as the Bruins are without defenseman Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara for at least one game and potentially forwards Noel Acciari and David Krejci as well.

On Ottawa’s side, Marc Methot is questionable to play after his finger injury caused by Sidney Crosby’s skate blade and star defenseman Erik Karlsson is also struggling with an undisclosed injury. Keys to this first round series will be how effective Karlsson plays with his injury (if he plays at all) and the goaltending of Tuukka Rask, which has been up and down over the last month of the season.

San Jose Sharks vs. Edmonton Oilers   

The defending Western Conference champions take on the Oilers, who are in the postseason for the first time in a decade. Leading the Oilers is a familiar face to San Jose players and fans, as Edmonton head coach Todd McLellan coached the Sharks for over five seasons before leaving after the 2015 season.  Edmonton is the hot team coming into the series, undefeated in their home building since mid march.

San Jose, by far the older team in the series, (with an average age of 28.33 as compared to the Oilers average age of around 25.88) is also struggling with injuries.

Key players Joe Thornton and Logan Couture both missed at least the last week of the regular season with knee and upper body injuries respectively. The key to this series depends on your perspective.

Will the Sharks veteran leadership and playoff experience lead them to victory? Or will the Oilers, led by young superstar Connor McDavid, take down the Sharks?

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby, like he does nearly every year, dazzled in the NHL over the 75 games that he played. Scoring 89 points and winning the Rocket Richard trophy for scoring the most goals in the league with 44, there’s no doubting who the best player in this series is. But there certainly is room for doubt in who the best team is.

Led by 2013 Vezina trophy winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (who may well win it again this season, leading the NHL in save percentage and goals against average and also finishing top three in wins) and top 10 goal scorer Cam Atkinson, the Blue Jackets finished only three points behind Pittsburgh with 108 points, which was good enough for third place in the Eastern Conference and fourth overall throughout the entire league.

The Blue Jackets can also catch fire quite quickly, winning 16 games in a row at one point this season. This stands as the second-longest winning streak in NHL history.  This should be a very tight series, but if Bobrovsky can play as well as he has all season, look for Columbus to pull off the slight upset and beat the Penguins in six or seven games.