The matches that we are most excited about in the first round of the NHL playoffs

Puck falls in the NHL playoffs on Wednesday night, so the Ringer'S the resident hockey enthusiasts gathered to choose the clashes (within the clashes) that we are most excited to see in the first round. Here we go:

The headlines (Capitals) vs. A lot of shaking (hurricanes)

Donnie Kwak: When the first part of Game 1 night arrives in Washington, 315 days have pbaded since that fateful night in Las Vegas when Capital Captain Alexander Ovechkin lifted the Stanley Cup for the first time in the history of the franchise. For Caps fans, the regular season 2018-19 has been pleasant intermittently (51 Ovi goals!) But mostly interminable, the long prelude to a back-to-back quest. The Caps enter the postseason of 2019 with essentially the same championship squad, minus injured defender Michal Kempny and demoted forward Devante Smith-Pelly. Instead, if they are not equal replacements, there are the February pills, Nick Jensen (from Detroit) and the veteran of the Bogeyman Caps and the penalty killer Carl Hagelin. When all else fails, you can count on goalkeeper Braden Holtby to clean up the errors; has the third highest save percentage (.929) in the NHL playoff history. Washington won five of its last seven regular-season games to win the Metropolitan Division, including two against Carolina, against whom the Caps swept the series series of four games but never met in the postseason.

For the fans of Canes, the wait for the playoffs has been just one tiny a little more: 3,614 days will have elapsed between the playoff games of Carolina, 10 years apart. The leading scorer Sebastian Aho and the D-man Jaccob Slavin, the leaders of the time in the ice of the Canes in the forward and the defense, respectively, still have to play a single minute of playoff. However, that does not mean that Carolina's team is absent in the playoffs, since they are captained by the old "Game 7" Williams of Cap Justin, he of three Cups (including the only triumph of Carolina in 2006) and 140 playoff games in total. It was Williams who orchestrated the lush "Storm Surge" celebrations of the Canes after the victories at home, which inspired Don Cherry to label the team "a group of idiots." (Relax, Don) Playoffs, for the captain, as presumably it will require all the attention to defeat the defending champions. The Canes led the NHL in shots on goal this season, and they have a quick lineup that can create havoc in their opponents' network. PNC Arena will surely have energy for its first postseason games in a decade. But beyond the feeling of well-being of an upstart, Carolina will need one of her two goalkeepers, Petr Mrazek and Officer Curtis McElhinney, to be at their best in the network to have a chance to succeed.

The top flight scorers (flames) against the hot goalkeeper (avalanche)

Kwak: My colleague Michael Baumann wrote at length about Calgary, the best in the West and "the only team in the NHL that had five scorers of 70 points this year: [Johnny] Gaudreau, [Matthew] Tkachuk, [Mark] Giordano and the companions of Gaudreau, Monahan and Elias Lindholm ". Only Rayo scored more goals than the Flames this season, who will face Colorado in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. In the regular season, Calgary swept the avalanche, scoring 14 times in three games, although their last meeting was on January 9.

Meanwhile, the Avalanche had the lowest number of points of any playoff team, just like last year, when they lost in the first round to Nashville. For most of this season, Colorado's first line, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, was considered one of the best forward trios in the league. Outside of them, however, there are few harvests. Which means that the game of goalkeeper Philipp Grubauer will determine how long the Avalanche will survive. The 27-year-old German, acquired through an exchange with Washington last June, had an 8-1-2 record in his last 11 starts, and had a saving percentage of .958 with a uniform strength during the last two months of the regular season. We've seen this movie before: the hot goalkeeper inspires the improbable victory of the favorites over the big favorite. If Grubauer can keep the games closed, Colorado has a chance.

The unstoppable force (lightning) against fortune, which favors the brave (blue jackets)

Michael Baumann: I love what Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen did in the trade deadline in February. His club, which has never won a playoff series, was sitting in the playoff bubble and was destined to lose its two best players (goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Artemi Panarin) in free agency this summer. So Kekalainen did everything possible. The Jackets made four exchanges in the days before the deadline, acquiring forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, defender Adam McQuaid and goalkeeper Keith Kinkaid, all free agents without restrictions at the end of the season, by a network of six. draft picks, which could include two first-round and two second-round picks.

It's a big risk, exactly the opposite of what an expert, afterMoney ball, The GM arbitrage in sports should do. And Columbus must be rewarded for showing such aggression. But the Jackets are trained by John Tortorella, the avatar of spiteful nihilism hockey, and by not getting a place in the playoffs until their penultimate game, they will face Tampa Bay Lightning, which is probably the best NHL team of the last 20 years. It's incredibly annoying when teams as good as those in Tampa do not win the title, which gives the dumber at the bar the license to tell how they drowned when 90 percent of the playoff upsets can be attributed to the luck. But there is a playoff result, and only one, that would prefer to see a Tampa Bay coronation: that the Jackets take advantage of the benefits of their GM's audacity and ensure the first victory of the franchise in the playoff series.

Goalkeeper cold (Sharks) vs. Goalkeeper not completely healthy (Golden Knights)

Matt James: This series, which is a rematch of the semifinals of the Western Conference last season, could be the first round match more difficult to predict. Upon reaching the season, both the Sharks and the Knights were considered legitimate cup contenders and yet both have entered the postseason with only three victories in each of their last 10 games. Significant injuries have played a role in both mediocre finishes: Joe Pavelski and Erik Karlsson for the Sharks, and Marc-André Fleury for the Knights. The three players returned to the action only a few games before the playoffs, and although they will be on the ice for this series, we can not know for sure how healthy they really are.

Leaving aside the question marks, the definitive reason to see this series is the certainty of the drama of the goal. Despite a season of 101 points, the Sharks somehow made it to the postseason without a goalkeeper with a save percentage north of .900. The Knights will look to Fleury to play his usual savior role in the playoffs, but he has had a statistically low season and is dealing with the dreaded "injury to the lower body" of the goalkeeper. The support of the Knights, Malcolm Subban, has been useful at best. My advice to these two teams, who finished in the top five in the league's shots per game: shoot the puck.

The experienced (Penguins) vs. The happy ones of being heretics (islanders)

Cory McConnell: The confrontation of this year between the penguins and the islanders is a study of contrasts. The Penguins have won three Stanley Cups in 10 years, while the Islanders have won only one playoff series in the last 25. The praised Islanders defense has allowed the fewest goals in the league this season and the least amount of goals. points against per game. Offensive mentality pens occupy sixth place in goals per game and fifth in percentage of power play.

The first-year coach, Barry Trotz, has done wonders with this team without John Tavares: New York won 48 games this season, the greatest total of victories in the franchise since its dynastic teams of the eighties. And for the fourth year in a row, the former Capitals coach faces a playoff game against Mike Sullivan, whose penguins seem vulnerable, having suffered a season full of injuries and poor defensive play. But despite Pittsburgh's relative difficulties, Evgeni Malkin told reporters earlier this week: "We have a second chance at the moment, it was not a great year for me, sure, but now you can change everything … Now everything is zero. "

"Everything is zero" is not the most attractive playoff mantra, but Malkin is right that the playoffs offer a new beginning. The penguins will have to rely on the experience of their veterans, while the islanders will try to extend their best season in decades. Or maybe these two teams will simply win over each other like they used to.

Brad Marchand (Bruins) against The Toronto Hockey Media-Industrial Complex (Maple Leafs)

Katie Baker: Before last year's postseason clash with the Bruins, Toronto Maple Leaf coach Mike Babbad told the media he had tried to watch a Boston game on television, but had frustrated him after seeing the Bruins do an incredible play after another. Sportsnet posted a video on Twitter, and eight minutes later. Brad Marchand de los Bruins replied. "Their

The[[sic]We call to play mental games, "he tweeted, a great compliment from the master of mental games.

In a recent survey of NHL players by The athletic, Marchand was named the best trash talker in the league, and also the worst. This is appropriate, because Marchand is as polarizing a figure as they come from: or you are unchained by the infuriating smirk-on-skates, who are known for hitting faces when you are not busy running your tongue over them; or you are a rat and are delighted with your goal celebrations inspired by Conor McGregor, his tattoo of "Champions of the Stanley Cup", once poorly written, and the inescapable fact that in the last three seasons the Little Ball of Hate 2.0 has scored 85, 85, and 100 regular-season points, respectively. Marchand actually being a fantastic player is really his best trolling.

With Leo Komarov gone, Travis Dermott was asked what would happen if Brad Marchand hit him. Laughing said that "my dog ​​Niylah (an Australian shepherd) has been eating the floorboards in my apartment and I have put some hot sauce (to discourage him), maybe I'll put some hot sauce on it."

– Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) April 7, 2019

The Maple Leaf media device, bless your heart, is the perfect complement to Marchand: like him, Toronto columnists, speakers and bloggers are masters of the controversy and masters of its form. The Leafs-Bruins series can be expected to show wild avatars between two combatants with a long history of disgust. And then there will be hockey. I can not wait

Recent Juggernaut (Jets) against the hottest team in Hockey (Blues)

Megan Schuster: Stop me if you've heard this before: the emerging Blues are entering this postseason in the back of a wild second-half run (after January 3, they went 30-10-5 and jumped from last place in the league to Fifth place). in the Western Conference), a big part possible for the rookie goalkeeper, Jordan Binnington. That's right, folks, it would not be the San Luis Blues in the playoffs without a hot archery narrative! Binnington has been excellent this season, posting a saving percentage of .927 and only 1.89 goals against the average in 32 games. But as a first-year starter, he never played in the postseason: a situation similar to that of Jets goalkeeper Connor Hellebuyck was found last year.

Winnipeg made it to the Western Conference finals last season, and since most of that team's main cast returned for 2018-19, it's not out of place. Captain Blake Wheeler had his second consecutive season of 91 points, Mark Scheifele has been excellent once again, and the Jets are backed by one of the most excitable crowds in the league. The only thing that stands (or rather, kneeling) in its path? A hot doorman. Be careful, Jets.

Power Play Woes (Predators) vs. Offty Offense (Stars)

James: After a regular ups and downs season, first-year coach Jim Montgomery now finds his Dallas Stars in the playoffs. (I guess the team CEO has nothing to shout about right now). The postseason can act as a new beginning if you have some troubling tendencies you are looking to get rid of, or as the natural continuation of all your hard work if things are right. it is going well. For the Dallas Stars, they are both. They finished the regular season 29 in the league in goals scored, but also finished second in goals against per game. They will expect that the return of Mats Zuccarello to the lineup will stimulate the team's scant offensive output and that Ben Bishop can remain an absolute wall in the goal if he has any hope of advancing.

Looking back at the Stars, there are the Nashville Predators, another excellent defensive team with excellent goalkeeping. The Predators, however, were much better than Dallas in turning the lamp on this year, and they also have the added benefit of having accumulated some recent playoff experience. However, these Predators have an obvious flaw: they ended the regular season with the worst percentage of power play in the league, which does not compare to the number 11 power game of the Stars. The Preds have only scored two power play goals in their last 10 games. In what is probably a low-scoring series, the Stars can see the escape port in this Death Star of Predators.

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