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.
(WC2) Toronto Maple Leafs at (1) Washington Capitals
7:00 p.m. ET, USA Network
- The Caps’ best chance for a run: It’s do or die time for Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and company. This year's Caps roster is the most talent filled they have ever had, with a potential Norris Trophy-nominated defenseman in Kevin Shattenkirk, a likely Vezina finalist in Braden Holtby, and a pair of 30-goal scorers in Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie. With six pending UFA's and seven pending RFA's, this team will look drastically different next season. The pressure is immense.
- The youth movement: The Maple Leafs’ youth and inexperience could be a good thing, especially against a team with such high expectations.they will bring energy and excitement to the 1 vs 8 matchup in the East. The Leafs will enter the series with the playoffs’ youngest roster, with players that don't understand they are expected to lose this series. They’ll bring energy and excitement, and their speed could be a handful for the Caps over the series.
- Trying to shock the world: The Caps haven't made it out of the second round of the playoffs since their Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1998 that ended in a Red Wings sweep. If the Maple Leafs can come out and grab momentum with a Game 1 win, it could completely suck the energy out of the Caps and the Verizon Center for Game 2. This team and fan base are conditioned to disappointing playoff performances, and a game one loss could have both parties thinking 'not this again.' -Zeke Lukow
(WC2) Nashville Predators at (1) Chicago Blackhawks
8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN
- P.K. Subban: Where there is a spotlight, there is P.K. Subban. And what bigger spotlight is there than the Stanley Cup Playoffs? For better or worse, 76 always seems to be in the middle of game and/or series-defining moments. Sometimes it's an ill-advised risk that ends up with the game-winning goal in his own net, other times it's a dazzling solo effort to spark his team. But no matter what, you can bet he'll command your attention throughout this series.
- Underrated scoring: I know, it's weird to think of a series involving Chicago as containing "underrated" anything, but hear me out. The Blackhawks' seven rookies combined for 105 points this season, and offer strong support to the superstars under the microscope. And on the other side, Viktor Arvidsson (31g, 30a) is arguably just as dangerous as Ryan Johansen or Filip Forsberg, or perhaps even moreso given his lack of fanfare. Either way, the dark horses for both teams may be the ones who decide the winner.
- The little brother no more: For years, the Central Division belonged to the Blackhawks. It still does to an extent, but their first-round exit at the hands of the Blues last season has opened the door for another team to exorcise some demons. St. Louis made the Hawks bleed, and the Predators have the pieces to finally clear the hurdle. The 2015 series will likely still be fresh in both teams' minds. Will it be more playoff disappointment in Nashville, or could they shock the Hawks and move to the second round? -Peter Dewar
(WC1) Calgary Flames at (1) Anaheim Ducks
10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
- Johnny and Mony: Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan serve as Calgary's dynamic duo and will make up two-thirds of their club's top forward line going into the playoffs. Neither of them had banner seasons, but they were unstoppable down the stretch. They will undoubtedly be Anaheim's top priority defensively, and the physical presence of Micheal Ferland opposite of Gaudreau should open up room for the two young stars to do what they do best - create mismatches and put plenty of pressure on opposing defenses.
- Ryan Kesler: At the age of 32, Ryan Kesler continues to be one of the most impactful two-way forwards in the league. He's a great skater, he has loads of offensive talent, and he can be a nasty hockey player. Going back to his Vancouver days, Kesler is a player who thrives in physical games. He's fresh off of his best campaign as a Duck, netting 22 goals, 58 points, and winning nearly 58% of his faceoffs. He always rises to the occasion in the postseason, so expect him to be a huge part of Anaheim's hopeful success.
- Differing Styles of Play: The Ducks are a big, physical team that has no problem getting in the face of their opponents with big power forwards like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry They'll square off against a young, fast Calgary team that, outside the likes of Matthew Tkachuk and Troy Brouwer among a couple others, doesn't possess that same rough nature. It's going to be interesting to see which side wins - the fast, dangerous offense, or the big, physical cycling team that can wear down defenses. -Brett Finger