Every night during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, we’ll give you Three Things To Track for each game that night. Before Game 1, our writers look at the three big storylines for each series.
(WC1) New York Rangers at (1) Montreal Canadiens
7:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN
- The Drama of a Rematch: There's a lot of bad blood between these two teams following their clash in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals. In that series, Rangers winger Chris Kreider infamously barreled skates-first into Montreal goaltender Carey Price, inflicting a serious injury on the goalie and knocking him out for the series. I doubt we'll see any full-on retaliation attempts from the Habs, but look for Lundqvist to be a bit antsy in the crease. There's no love lost between these two original six teams, which brings us to...
- Lundqvist vs. Price: It's always a treat when two of the best goalies of a generation square off in a playoff series. The stakes couldn't be higher as an aging Lundqvist looks to recapture his strong playoff form that disappeared last year against a motivated Price who will want to re-establish himself as the game's best with a strong playoff run after his injury cost the Canadiens a playoff spot a year ago.
- Julien vs Vigneault: You may not remember, but the last time a team coached by Alain Vigneault met up with a team coached by Claude Julien in a playoff series, the Boston Bruins knocked off the President's Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the enthralling 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Things have changed since then, namely the teams that each man coaches, but Vigneault's skill-centric offense combined with the occasional usage of man coverage in the defensive zone are still mainstays of his system. This Canadiens team may not have the #grit and #toughness that the 2011 Bruins possessed, but their personnel still makes them a solid fit for Julien's heavy, possession-driven brand of hockey. The two coaches’ styles contrast very nicely, meaning that we're likely in for some very entertaining hockey. -Kyle Morton
(3) Ottawa Senators at (2) Boston Bruins
7:00 p.m. ET, NHL Network
- Bad matchup for the Bruins: For some reason, the Senators have been a bad matchup for the Bruins in the regular season, with Boston dropping all four games (0-3-1). Ottawa has outscored Boston 12-6, despite the Bruins having a much better goal differential on the season (23 to Ottawa’s -4). And the teams are almost dead even in total points on the season, so it just feels like the Bruins are due a win soon into the series -- but are they due four?
- Erik Karlsson: Karlsson’s season has been slightly overshadowed by Brent Burns’ ridiculous goal totals for a defensemen, but his great play isn’t anything new. Karlsson has posted at least 65 points in each of the past four seasons, and he added a +10 to his +/- column this season, the best he’s totaled since 2011-2012. A two-time Norris Trophy winner and a three-time All-Star, expect Karlsson, making his fifth playoff appearance, to step up for the Senators, who lost in the first round in their last postseason run in 2015.
- Bruinsers and SenGladiators: Both teams are top 10 teams in PIM, and to my surprise, Ottawa actually beats out the Bruins in average PIM. Mark Borowiecki leads the Senators with 154 penalty minutes, and is known to stand up for his teammates, including his beatdown of Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky after the Blue Jacket slewfooted Senators goalie Craig Anderson. Dion Phaneuf, unsurprisingly, also checks in with 100 PIM this season. And when you think “Bruins” and “cheap shot,” a picture of Brad Marchand (81 PIM) is sure to pop up in your head. Will he strike again so soon after crotch-rocketing Jake Dotchin about a week ago? I doubt it, but you never know. And he’s got some support in enforcing with Adam McQuaid (71 PIM). -Jake Crouse
(3) Columbus Blue Jackets at (2) Pittsburgh Penguins
7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network
- The Ronster: Say it with me, in the voice of Chuck Kaiton: “5,296 days of frustration, and on the 5,297th day of NHL existence, Ron Hainsey is in the Stanley Cup Playoffs!” After a playoff-less 14 seasons and 907 NHL games, the most of any player in league history, the erstwhile mentor of the Hurricanes’ young defensive core finally gets to punch his ticket to the big show. Expect Hainsey to log important minutes for the Penguins in the absence of Kris Letang and with Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley still not at 100% from recent injuries.
- Torts: Have the years mellowed Columbus head coach John Tortorella, or will he once again embrace the crazy when the stakes are high? After a woeful appearance with Team USA in the World Cup, Tortorella coached himself into Jack Adams consideration during the Blue Jackets’ historic 16-0 run. But with the playoff pressure on, it's hard not to hope for an altercation with a fan, or a verbal sparring match with the media, or a visit to the Penguins locker room to pick a fight with the opposing head coach.
- The Matchup: Canes fans are well familiar with these two Metro Division rivals, so it's not necessary to dwell on a lot of details about either one. Expect this to be an evenly-matched and hotly-contested series between two opponents that jockeyed back in forth in the standings all season. Each ended the season with 50 wins and went 2-1-1 in head-to-head action. The Penguins have the league's highest powered offense, led by Rocket Richard trophy winner Sidney Crosby. The Blue Jackets have the league's best goaltending, backstopped by Sergei Bobrovsky, whose .931 save percentage and 2.06 GAA make him a heavy favorite to win his second Vezina Trophy. Can Bob steal the win against the defending Cup champs? -Jamie Kellner
(3) St. Louis Blues at (2) Minnesota Wild
9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
- Eric Staal: The longtime Canes captain is returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 after a bounce-back season. The 32-year-old center scored 28 goals and 65 points while playing every game for the second straight season. Many Hurricanes fans will be watching and cheering for Staal and his Wild team to make a deep playoff run this season.
- Mike Yeo leads the Blues into battle: An ironic turn of events has Blues head coach Mike Yeo coaching in the playoffs against a team that fired him just 14 months ago. The Wild parted ways with Yeo in February of 2016 after dropping 13 of his last 14 games as head coach. Despite his struggles that season, he had led the team to three consecutive playoff berths in the prior three seasons. The Blues brought Yeo on board last summer as the eventual successor to Ken Hitchcock, who was ultimately fired in early February. Yeo is now entering a playoff series as head coach against a team he has a recent history with and knows well. He insists that he isn't thinking about revenge, but these games have to be very meaningful for him.
- A bitter Central Division rivalry: Any matchup between Central Division powerhouses is fun to watch. The Wild essentially had the Central Division title on lockdown before winning just 4 of their 16 games in March, handing the crown to the Blackhawks. The Blues were a struggling team before Yeo took over, but his presence behind the bench has yielded a 21-8-2 record and a solid playoff berth. Despite the two teams’ differing trajectory, the playoffs are an equalizing force. -Andrew Ahr
(3) San Jose Sharks at (2) Edmonton Oilers
10:00 p.m. ET, USA Network
- Connor McDavid makes his playoff debut: McDavid is appointment television any time the Oilers are playing. Playoff McDavid has the potential to be on a whole other level. The Oilers’ 20-year-old captain reached the century mark in points in his final regular season game, becoming the only player in the 2016-17 season to do so and winning the Art Ross Trophy, the third-youngest ever to do so. His play led Edmonton to a second place finish in the Pacific Division and back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 season (remember that one?). A neutral hockey fan could do much worse than ending their night watching #97.
- Can the Sharks break out of their funk? After their long run to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, the Sharks looked poised to repeat early in the season. However, since the start of February, they have basically been a .500 hockey club. Injuries have certainly complicated things with both Joe Thornton and Logan Couture question marks heading into the postseason. However, good teams tend to play the best when the most is on the line, and San Jose should be able to draw on their Stanley Cup experience from a year ago to right the ship.
- An underrated goaltending duel: For all the offensive names in this series like McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Thornton, it could be the goaltending battle that has the biggest impact. Martin Jones was terrific last season in the playoffs for the Sharks, winning 14 games and playing to a 2.16 goals against average with a .923 save percentage. However, he has faltered a bit as the team’s play has slipped in his last eight starts, with an .882 save percentage. Cam Talbot has been a huge piece to the Oilers’ playoff puzzle, setting an Edmonton record with 42 wins. The fact that he has played in 73 of the team’s 82 games is a bit concerning, especially as the playoffs progress. Although he has not started any playoff games in his NHL career to his point, he did fill in twice for Henrik Lundqvist in the 2013-14 playoffs when he was a member of the New York Rangers. -Kevin LeBlanc