We’ve known the first-round matchups for over 24 hours now. Which series are the most intriguing? What about the least intriguing? Which ones are must-see TV? Here are our rankings of the eight first-round playoff series on tap. 1. Penguins vs. Flyers
Even if you hate both teams, if you can’t get excited for this series then you’re not a hockey fan. This will be the sixth playoff meeting between the in-state rivals, but it seems like more than that. As with the 4 vs. 5 matchup in the West, a Stanley Cup contender will go down in the first round here.
This series oozes intriguing storylines. Jaromir Jagr (and Max Talbot) going up against his former team. Sidney Crosby’s first playoff series since the concussions. Evgeni Malkin and Claude Giroux, who respectively finished first and third in the scoring race, facing off. Peter Laviolette versus Dan Bylsma. Craig Berube versus Tony Granato.
Oh, the drama.
2. Predators vs. Red Wings
The Central Division was arguably the NHL’s best division this season, and two of its perennial contenders are going toe-to-toe for the third time in the playoffs. Mighty Detroit won the first two meetings, but they were far and away the better team in each series – and Nashville still gave them all they could handle.
The matchup game will be fun to watch here: Shea Weber and Ryan Suter against Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg; Pekka Rinne against Jimmy Howard. Another reason to watch is that the Predators are under pressure to go deep this year, and Detroit has been their measuring stick / benchmark all along.
This is the equivalent of a second- or maybe third-round series being played right off the bat!
3. Bruins vs. Capitals
This is one of the more intriguing 2 vs. 7 matchups in recent memory. You have the defending champs going up against the team everyone handed the Stanley Cup in the preseason. Between Washington’s underachievement and Boston’s winter invincibility, these have been two of the more intriguing teams to watch all season.
And how about the star power? The likely on-ice matchup of Alex Ovechkin and Zdeno Chara is enough to watch this series. Hockey fans should also tune in to see what Brad Marchand has up his sleeve or how Braden Holtby will perform in net for the Caps. It won’t take long for tensions to rise in this series. Also: if this is a long series, Games 5 and 6 will be played on back-to-back days. That should be fun.
4. Blues vs. Sharks
These two teams have a little bit of playoff history. St. Louis just completed their best regular season since 1999-00, the year they won the Presidents’ Trophy. It was also the year San Jose upset the Blues, as Owen Nolan scored on Roman Turek all the way from Kansas City. Overall, the Sharks and Blues met three times in a five-year span.
Those playoff hostilities obviously won’t carry over, but it will be interesting to see if Todd McLellan’s can channel the Sharks of 2000 and pull the upset. They are similar teams, but the Blues dominated the season series; most of the time, though, season series aren’t an accurate judge in the playoffs. This Sharks team is starting to hit its stride at the right time, and they’ll be facing a young Blues squad that has been to the postseason just once since the lockout.
5. Canucks vs. Kings
When the Canucks and Kings met two years ago in the first round, it had its fair share of momentum swings. Roberto Luongo couldn’t stop a puck in Los Angeles. Neither could Jonathan Quick in Vancouver (well, in Game 5 at least). But these teams are better than they were back then and they are squaring off in the 1 vs. 8 matchup.
You have the storyline of Vancouver looking to get back to the final. You have the storyline of Darryl Sutter and company attempting to play the upset role. You have the storyline of Daniel Sedin and Jeff Carter trying to get back in the lineup after injuries cut their regular seasons short. Unfortunately, most of the East Coasters will be asleep when the decibel levels ratchet up in Sin City and Van City.
6. Coyotes vs. Blackhawks
This almost has the feeling of the Ducks-Predators series from a year ago. Not many people are talking about it, but it could easily be one of the better and more dramatic first-round series over the next couple weeks. These are also two of the hottest teams in the West.
Mike Smith put the Coyotes on his back down the stretch to win the Pacific Division title. Meanwhile, Patrick Kane and company are always a dangerous group – especially if Jonathan Toews returns to the lineup. The storylines feature Toews’ status, Dave Tippett and Joel Quenneville going head-to-head behind the bench and the Coyotes possibly playing in their final days in the desert.
7. Rangers vs. Senators
A lot of Rangers think this has the same feeling as 1994. They’ll have to get past the upstart Senators first. This series doesn’t have a whole lot of intrigue. Ottawa did take three of four from New York this season, which is a slight cause for concern for the top-seeded Blueshirts. However, the Rangers have the edge in almost every department despite the contrasting styles. John Tortorella is always must-see TV. So is Paul MacLean’s ‘stache.
8. Panthers vs. Devils
It’s no surprise that most of these games are to be shown on NHL Network. It’s just not going to be that great of a series. Yes, the Panthers are a great story by getting back to the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Yes, Peter DeBoer is coaching against the team he coached just last year. There is zero sizzle for this matchup. Hopefully I’m wrong and this goes seven games.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.