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NHL playoff preview: A look at each series matchup

There is a new look to the NHL’s postseason as perennial participant Detroit is not in, and neither are Florida and Dallas

The Stanley Cup playoffs will have a different look this spring.

The Detroit Red Wings’ playoff streak ended at 25, coinciding with their last season at Joe Louis Arena. The longest active streak (10) now belongs to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Also missing are two of last season’s division winners: Florida won the Atlantic in 2015-16 with 47 wins and 103 points but fell to 35 wins and 81 points, and Dallas won the Central last season with 50 wins and 109 points but this season dropped to 34 wins and 79 points.

The team with the best record in each conference plays the wild-card team with the fewest points, and the other division winner faces the other wild-card team. Within each division, the second- and third-place teams face each other.

The first-round winners within each bracket will meet to determine the four conference finalists.

In the West, the winner of the Chicago-Nashville series will face the winner of the Minnesota-St. Louis series, and the winner of the Ducks-Calgary series will face the winner of the Edmonton-San Jose series.

In the East, the winner of the Washington-Toronto series will face the winner of the Pittsburgh-Columbus series, and the winner of the Montreal-New York Rangers series will meet the winner of the Ottawa-Boston series.

Those winners meet in the conference finals.

A look at the matchups:


CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS | 50-23-9, 109 pts


Season series: Blackhawks, 4-1

Power play: Blackhawks 18% (19th); Predators 18.9% (16th).

Penalty killing: Blackhawks 77.7% (24th); Predators 80.9% (15th).

Top scorers: Blackhawks, Patrick Kane 34-55—89; Predators, Viktor Arvidsson 30-31—61.

Outlook: The Blackhawks’ sustained success comes from their uncanny ability find kids who thrive in key roles. Rookie Ryan Hartman was one goal short of being their seventh player with at least 20 goals this season; 2016 rookie of the year Artemi Panarin went from 30 goals to 31. The core of three-time Stanley Cup winners — Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marian Hossa — remains formidable. The Predators struggled after they traded defenseman Shea Weber to Montreal for defenseman P.K. Subban, and were too inconsistent for their high talent level. Pekka Rinne (2.42 goals-against average, .918 save percentage) must be nearly flawless.

Pick: Chicago in six.


Game 1: Thursday at Chicago, 5

Game 2: Saturday at Chicago, 5

Game 3: Monday at Nashville, 6:30

Game 4: April 20 at Nashville, TBD

Game 5: April 22 at Chicago, TBD*

Game 6: April 24 at Nashville, TBD*

Game 7: April 26 at Chicago, TBD*

*if necessary; times PDT

MINNESOTA WILD | 49-25-8, 106

ST. LOUIS BLUES | 46-29-7, 99

Season series: Blues, 3-2

Power play: Wild 21% (9th); Blues 21.3% (8th).

Penalty killing: Wild 82.9% (8th); Blues 84.8% (3rd).

Top scorers: Wild, Mikael Granlund 26-43—69, Blues, Vladimir Tarasenko 39-36—75.

Outlook: The Wild were cruising in the Central Division until a 4-10-2 slump in March dropped the team out of first. Still, Minnesota set franchise records in wins and points. Eric Staal (team-leading 28 goals) was an excellent free-agent signing who gives them depth and much-needed size. Coach Bruce Boudreau will again be under the playoff spotlight after being outcoached in the Ducks’ last postseason ventures. The Blues looked to be done when they traded defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals but coach Mike Yeo — the former Wild coach — worked wonders with their defense. Yeo was 22-8-2 after succeeding Ken Hitchcock. Stopping the dynamic Tarasenko will be a big challenge for the Wild.

Pick: St. Louis in seven.


Game 1: Wednesday at Minnesota, 6:30

Game 2: Friday at Minnesota, 5

Game 3: Sunday at St. Louis, noon

Game 4: April 19 at St. Louis, 6:30

Game 5: April 22 at Minn., TBD*

Game 6: April 24 at St. Louis, TBD*

Game 7: April 26 at Minn., TBD*

*if necessary; times PDT

DUCKS | 46-23-13, 105

CALGARY FLAMES | 45-33-4, 94

Season series: Ducks, 4-1

Power play: Ducks 18.7% (17th); Flames 20.2% (10th).

Penalty killing: Ducks 84.7% (4th); Flames 81.6% (12th).

Top scorers: Ducks, Ryan Getzlaf 15-58—73; Flames, Johnny Gaudreau 18-43—61.

Outlook: The Ducks rode an 11-0-3 point streak to a fifth straight Pacific Division title, but a division banner means little after four straight seasons of holding a 3-2 playoff series lead and losing a Game 7. Getzlaf, who had a goal and 11 points in his last seven games, has a strong complement in Rickard Rakell (33 goals in 71 games). Winger Patrick Eaves has 11 goals in 20 games since he was acquired from Dallas. The Ducks haven’t forgotten Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano’s April 4 knee-on-knee hit against defenseman Cam Fowler, who will be out from two to six weeks. Their depleted defense could be tested by Calgary’s speed. The Flames have lost 25 straight regular-season games at Anaheim with one playoff win in two series in that span.

Pick: Ducks in seven.


Game 1: Thursday at DUCKS, 7:30

Game 2: Saturday at DUCKS, 7:30

Game 3: Monday at Calgary, 7

Game 4: April 19 at Calgary, 7

Game 5: April 21 at DUCKS, TBD*

Game 6: April 23 at Calgary, TBD*

Game 7: April 25 at DUCKS, TBD*

*if necessary; times PDT

EDMONTON OILERS | 47-26-9, 103

SAN JOSE SHARKS | 46-29-7, 99

Season series: Oilers, 3-1-1

Power play: Oilers 22.9% (5th); Sharks 16.7% (25th).

Penalty killing: Oilers 80.7% (T-17th); Sharks 80.7% ( T-17th).

Top scorers: Oilers, Connor McDavid 30-70—100; Sharks, Brent Burns 29-47—76.

Outlook: It’s the first playoff experience for 20-year-old NHL scoring champion McDavid, who had four goals and eight points against the Sharks in the teams’ season series. The Oilers are deep up front with McDavid, Leon Draisaitl (29 goals, 77 points) and Patrick Maroon (27 goals), but the back end of their defense is iffy. Oilers coach Todd McLellan coached the Sharks for seven seasons and knows them well. The Sharks finished the season without injured forwards Logan Couture (25 goals, 52 points) and Joe Thornton (seven goals, 50 points) and it’s unclear if they’ll be ready or effective. Burns can be a game-changer. The Sharks must improve their power-play efficiency to have a chance.

Pick: Edmonton in five.


Game 1: Wednesday at Edmonton, 7

Game 2: Friday at Edmonton, 7:30

Game 3: Sunday at San Jose, 7

Game 4: April 18 at San Jose, 7

Game 5: April 20 at Edmon., TBD*

Game 6: April 22 at San Jose, TBD*

Game 7: April 24 at Edmonton, TBD*

*if necessary; times PDT



TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS | 40-27-15, 95

Season series: Capitals, 2-1

Power play: Capitals 23.1% (4th); Maple Leafs 23.8% (2nd).

Penalty killing: Capitals 83.8% (7th); Maple Leafs 82.5% (10th).

Top scorers: Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom 23-63—86; Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews 40-29—69.

Outlook: Is this finally the Capitals’ year? They won the Presidents’ Trophy for compiling the top regular-season record but they won that last year too and exited in the second round. Their offensive depth is highlighted by 33 goals each from Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, and they have a solid defense in front of goaltender Braden Holtby (2.07 goals-against average. .925 save percentage), who won the Jennings Trophy for playing at least 25 games for the club that allowed the fewest goals). Matthews led NHL rookies with 40 goals and tied for second-most overall, and Mitch Marner (61 points, third among rookies) provides hope for the future. Their time isn’t now.

Pick: Washington in five.


Game 1: Thursday at Washington, 4

Game 2: Saturday at Washington, 4

Game 3: Monday at Toronto, 4

Game 4: April 19 at Toronto, 4

Game 5: April 21 at Wash., TBD*

Game 6: April 23 at Toronto, TBD*

Game 7: April 25 at Wash., TBD*

*if necessary; times PDT



Season series: 1-1

Power play: Penguins 23.1% (3rd); Blue Jackets 19.9% (12th).

Penalty killing: Penguins 79.8% (20th); Blue Jackets 82.5% (9th).

Top scorers: Penguins, Sidney Crosby 44-45—89; Blue Jackets, Cam Atkinson 35-27—62.

Outlook: Crosby was the NHL’s top goal scorer, but the defending Cup champions are battered. Defenseman Kris Letang (neck surgery) is out, and injured forwards Chris Kunitz and Carl Hagelin aren’t expected to start the first round. However, defensemen Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta recently returned from long-term injuries and a return might be imminent for forward Evgeni Malkin, who had 33 goals before he suffered a shoulder injury in mid-March. The Blue Jackets likely will be physical against the finesse-loaded Penguins. Columbus will rely heavily on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who led the NHL in goals-against average (2.06) and save percentage (.931).

Pick: Pittsburgh in seven.


Game 1: Wednesday at Pittsburgh, 4:30

Game 2: Friday at Pittsburgh, 4

Game 3: Sunday at Columbus, 3

Game 4: April 18 at Columbus, 4:30

Game 5: April 20 at Pitt., TBD*

Game 6: April 23 at Columbus, TBD*

Game 7: April 25 at Pitt., TBD*

*if necessary; times PDT


N.Y. RANGERS | 48-28-6, 102

Season series: Canadiens, 3-0

Power play: Canadiens 19.6% (13th); Rangers 20.2% (11th).

Penalty killing: Canadiens 81.1% (14th); Rangers 79.8% (19th).

Top scorers: Canadiens, Max Pacioretty 35-32—67; Rangers, Mats Zuccarello 15-44—59.

Outlook: This is their first postseason series since crease-crashing Rangers forward Chris Kreider took out Canadiens goaltender Carey Price in Game 1 of the 2014 Eastern Conference finals and New York went on to win. Price is healthy, and he has gotten more help in front of him since the Canadiens hired Claude Julien to replace Michel Therrien as coach. Montreal is 16-7-1 in that span. The Rangers don’t have one go-to scorer but the scoring load is shared well. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist (2.74 goals-against average, .910 save percentage) didn’t post his usual stellar numbers. The window to win the Cup might be closing for Lundqvist, 35, but that could motivate him to start a strong run.

Pick: Montreal in six.


Game 1: Wednesday at Montreal, 4

Game 2: Friday at Montreal, 4

Game 3: Sunday at New York, 4

Game 4: April 18 at New York, 4

Game 5: April 20 at Montreal, TBD*

Game 6: April 22 at New York, TBD*

Game 7: April 24 at Montreal, TBD*

*if necessary; times PDT

OTTAWA SENATORS | 44-28-10, 98

BOSTON BRUINS | 44-31-7, 95

Season series: Ottawa, 4-0

Power play: Senators 17% (23rd); Bruins 21.7% (7th).

Penalty killing: Senators 79.7% (22nd); Bruins 85.7% (1st).

Top scorers: Senators, Erik Karlsson 17-54—71; Bruins, Brad Marchand 39-46—85.

Outlook: Karlsson is having a Norris Trophy-caliber season, given to the league’s top defenseman, though he had foot problems that could hamper his mobility. Coach Guy Boucher has the Senators playing a tight-checking style. It’s not always exciting, but there are no style points at stake. Goalie Craig Anderson interrupted his season to be with his wife, Nicholle, while she underwent cancer treatment, but he finished strong. The Bruins are hurting on defense, with Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo unlikely to be ready for the opener. Marchand missed the last two regular-season games after being suspended two games for a spearing incident, and he must avoid that kind of stuff. The Bruins were 18-8-1 after Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien as coach.

Pick: Ottawa in seven.


Game 1: Wednesday at Ottawa, 4

Game 2: Saturday at Ottawa, noon

Game 3: Monday at Boston, 4

Game 4: April 19 at Boston, 4:30

Game 5: April 21 at Ottawa, TBD*

Game 6: April 23 at Boston, TBD*

Game 7: April 26 at Ottawa, TBD*

*if necessary; times PDT

Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen

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