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NHL playoff primer: Quick things to know about every series

CBC Sports' daily newsletter gets you up to speed for round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs with some key points for all eight matchups.

Some key points for all 8 first-round matchups

The NHL's most unstoppable offensive force since Lemieux. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

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The Stanley Cup playoffs start tomorrow night

Quick turnaround, to say the least. The NHL just announced the first-round schedule yesterday afternoon, the matchups weren't even finalized until last night (Colorado beat L.A. to leapfrog Vegas for top spot in the West Division and win the Presidents' Trophy), and the North Division is still finishing up its regular season. Time is tight. So here's a quick few lines on each series to get you ready for the playoffs:

(Tap the hyperlinks to watch Rob Pizzo's preview video for that division.)

North Division

(1) Toronto vs. (4) Montreal: It's been 42 years since hockey's most storied rivals met in the playoffs. That series ended in a sweep by the Guy Lafleur Habs dynasty. This one appears tilted in the opposite direction, with NHL goal-scoring champ Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner (fourth in points) leading a powerful Leafs attack that threatens to overwhelm Montreal.

(2) Edmonton vs. (3) Winnipeg: Connor McDavid is wrapping up one of the greatest offensive seasons in NHL history. With 104 points in 55 games heading into his regular-season finale tonight, he's racking up points at a higher rate than anyone since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96. McDavid and his sidekick, last year's points leader Leon Draisaitl, have won four of the past five scoring titles. But they've won just one playoff series in their previous five seasons together. Winnipeg, with some high-end forwards and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck in net, has a puncher's chance to keep it that way.

West Division

(1) Colorado vs. (4) St. Louis: The Avalanche are the betting favourite to win the Stanley Cup, and they should be too much for the Blues even if superstar Nathan MacKinnon isn't 100 per cent healthy (he missed four of the last five games). But the team with the best regular-season record hasn't won the Cup since 2013 (Chicago), and hasn't even made it past the second round since 2015.

(2) Vegas vs. (3) Minnesota: The Wild's Kirill Kaprizov is going to win the Calder Trophy after a phenomenal rookie season in which he scored 27 goals in 55 games. But Vegas has an even better ace in two-way monster Mark Stone, one of the league's best goalies in the ageless Marc-Andre Fleury, and a very deep lineup. The Golden Knights might be the best team in the NHL.

Central Division

(1) Carolina vs. (4) Nashville: Thanks largely to smallish goalie Juuse Saros, the Predators went on a second-half tear to sneak into the playoffs. But the lowest-scoring team in the playoffs might have trouble keeping up with a Sebastian Aho-led Hurricanes attack that finally got the goaltending it needs to be a real contender. This might shock you, given the 'Canes reputation: they allowed the fewest 5-on-5 goals in the league.

(2) Florida vs. (3) Tampa Bay: Despite being the worse seed, the defending Stanley Cup champs are favoured to win the NHL's first all-Sunshine State series. Two big reinforcements are coming: 2020 playoff scoring leader Nikita Kucherov is set to return for Game 1 after missing the entire regular season, and sniper Steven Stamkos is also expected back after sitting the last 16 games. But with reigning Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman banged up and Vezina favourite Andrei Vasilevskiy tailing off down the stretch, don't rule out the Panthers. They have a nice one-two punch at forward with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, who finished 10th and 14th, respectively, in points per game.

East Division

(1) Pittsburgh vs. (4) New York Islanders: Sidney Crosby had another fantastic season, and the return of Evgeni Malkin from a lower-body injury that cost him two months is huge for the Penguins' Cup hopes. But the gritty Islanders are masters of the playoff upset: they swept Pittsburgh in the first round in 2019 and knocked off Washington and Philly last year before falling to the eventual Cup-champion Lightning.

(2) Washington vs. (3) Boston: Brad Marchand is No. 3 in the NHL scoring race, and the trio of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak might still be the toughest line in the league to face. The Bruins added Taylor Hall at the trade deadline, and they've won 12 of their 17 games since. Washington is limping into the playoffs: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and T.J. Oshie have all missed time recently with injuries, while Evgeny Kuznetsov and goalie Ilya Samsonov are still on the COVID-19 protocol list.

Quick reminder of the playoff format: The first two rounds are intra-divisional. Then the four division champs are reseeded based on regular-season points, with No. 1 facing No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3. The winners of those series play for the Stanley Cup. All series are best of seven.

Schedule notes: The playoffs start Saturday at 7:15 p.m. ET with Game 1 of the Washington-Boston series, followed by the Pittsburgh-Islanders, Vegas-Minnesota and Tampa-Florida openers on Sunday. Carolina-Nashville and Colorado-St. Louis begin Monday. Edmonton-Winnipeg gets going Wednesday, and Toronto-Montreal on Thursday. See the full schedules and TV info for each series here.

Stanley Cup Playoff preview: North division

Sports

1 month ago
3:08
Hockey's oldest rivalry highlights round 1 in the all-Canadian division. 3:08

Quickly...

Bianca Andreescu is out again. The Canadian tennis star withdrew from next week's event in Parma, Italy, with what the WTA Tour called "continuing illness." The strange thing is that Andreescu appeared to be fine after missing the April 29-May 8 Madrid Open due to a positive coronavirus test. She suggested she could have played in this week's Italian Open but decided to skip it because, she said, Italy's quarantine rules could have put her "at risk of being isolated again." Andreescu hasn't played since quitting the final of the Miami Open on April 3. With the French Open beginning in about two weeks, she's running out of opportunities to sharpen her clay-court game. Read more about Andreescu's latest withdrawal here.

Jessie Fleming can join an exclusive Canadian soccer list. If Chelsea beats Barcelona in Sunday's Women's Champions League final, Fleming will join Kadeisha Buchanan and Alphonso Davies as the only Canadians to win the most prestigious club trophy in the sport. Last year, Davies won the men's Champions League title as a rookie with Bayern Munich, while Buchanan captured her fourth consecutive women's Championship League crown with Lyon. Unlike those two, Fleming is not a starter — she didn't even see the field in either leg of Chelsea's semifinal win over Bayern. But she was out there for the final whistle last Sunday when Chelsea clinched its second straight English league title. Read more about the young midfielder, who will try to win another Olympic medal with the Canadian national team this summer, in this story by CBC Sports contributor John Molinaro.

And finally…

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk's latest lawsuit squabble sounds like something out of Succession. It involves a $500,000-a-week superyacht, a Christmas vacation in the Bahamas (at a time when much of Canada was in lockdown), and peak Aggrieved Rich People stuff like getting mad at the salty British captain for (allegedly) making your guests seasick. Read more about the (Roy) Melnyk family's misadventures at sea here.

This weekend on CBC Sports

World Rowing Final Olympic Qualification Regatta: Seven Canadian boats have already clinched their spots in Tokyo, and three more can join them via this competition in Switzerland. Stream the races live Saturday from 4-8:30 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

Olympic Games Replay: The theme of this week's show is "Canadian track and field giants." Relive iconic moments like Ben Johnson's (short-lived) win in the 1988 men's 100-metre final, Donovan Bailey's cathartic victory in Atlanta eight years later, and Andre De Grasse's battles with Usain Bolt in the 100 and 200 in 2016. Watch the show Saturday from 4-6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

Women's hockey Dream Gap Tour: Watch two of the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association's U.S.-based teams square off in St. Louis on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

You're up to speed. Have a good weekend.

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