The first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs is officially in the book, and went pretty much as expected. Wait, does that say the Carolina Hurricanes play the New York Islanders? In the second round? Somebody find me the real nhl.com, this one is silly.
If you’re like me, your bracket is completely ruined and you now have a total possible score of, I don’t know, eight? With every division leader eliminated in the first round, the teams remaining all have a unique opportunity to make the most of a field largely devoid of traditional contenders. Luckily for us, the league is wasting no time at all getting into it and, with nary a moment to rest, the quarterfinals start tonight.
What’s on tap
Columbus Blue Jackets at Boston Bruins Game 1
4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS?
At this point, the Bruins beating the Toronto Maple Leafs sans a suspended Nazem Kadri in a Game 7 partially dictated by Jake Gardiner mistakes is basically a multinational holiday, and they’ll be rewarded with the apparently dominant Blue Jackets, who’ve been resting on their proverbial laurels for over a week. Columbus beat the Tampa Bay Lightning largely by muddying up the neutral zone and slowing down the Bolts’ skilled forwards and, in one of the more academically interesting series of the second round, they’ll see if they can adapt to a Bruins team that operates similarly but also has the top tier talent to challenge the league’s best.
Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues Game 1
6:30 p.m. PT/9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
The Blues have been the hottest team in the NHL since January 1, earning 45 points in that span and rocketing from last place in the NHL right up to third place in the Central division, earning them home ice over the wild card Stars. Hosting the second-most stifling defense in the season, and one of its most dominant goaltenders in Benjamin “been jammin’” Bishop, can the Stars muck up the ice and slow down the Blues the way the Jackets downed the Lightning?
Matt Duchene: Duchene’s 6.72 points per 60 minutes are the highest of any player in the playoffs’ first round by almost a full point (Jordan Eberle is second with 5.76), but he may need to dig deep to carry that over after such a long break. One of the Jackets’ approximately 35 blockbuster trade deadline acquisitions, Duchene is finally showing some of what we all expected after being dealt, and at the most important time.
Jaden Schwartz: Schwartz almost beat the Winnipeg Jets all by himself in Games 5 and 6, scoring the Blues last four goals over two games to put one of Canada’s best hopes for the Cup onto the golf course. Skating with Brayden Schenn and breakout candidate Oskar Sundqvist on one of the postseason’s most exciting remaining forward lines, Schenn will continue to be leaned upon heavily for offense against a stifling Stars system and goalie.
Jackets-Bruins will be on our televisions primarily, partially because it’s hard not to root for Columbus after what they did to one of the best NHL teams ever, and partially because the application of rest versus rust is just too interesting. In Game 1, it’ll be fascinating to see how the Jackets’ eight days off affects their pace compared to the Bruins, who are just under 48 hours removed from a hard fought (ish) and emotional Game 7.
What are you watching?