The Tampa Bay Lightning enter the NHL playoffs chasing a rare three-peat as Stanley Cup champions while the Florida Panthers hope to put the finishing touches on what has been a dominant season.
The playoffs mark the most exciting time of year for hockey fans, a grueling two-month tournament featuring 16 teams and four best-of-seven rounds that awards those on the winning team the right to have their names etched onto the silver trophy.
Top-seeded Florida, who have not made it past the first round since losing in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, open their playoff journey on Tuesday against a Washington Capitals team who could be without their top player.
Alex Ovechkin, who leads Washington in goals and points, has not played since leaving a game last Sunday when he tripped over a goalie’s stick after a failed breakaway attempt and crashed hard into the corner boards.
Florida finished the regular season with the NHL’s best record, earning them the first Presidents’ Trophy in team history and with it the guarantee of home ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Lightning’s quest for a three-peat, something not seen since the New York Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cup championships in the early 1980s, begins on the road against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.
The Maple Leafs boast a slew of offensive talent, led by goal-scoring machine Auston Matthews, and enter the postseason facing sky-high pressure after having fallen well short of expectations in each of the last five seasons.
Toronto, along with the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, represent Canada’s Stanley Cup hopes this year with each team trying to become the hockey-mad nation’s first NHL champions since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.
The other Eastern Conference matchups will have the Carolina Hurricanes face the Boston Bruins, starting on Monday, while the New York Rangers open their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.
The Western Conference’s top-seeded Colorado Avalanche, who will face the Nashville Predators in the first round starting on Tuesday, have scoring depth throughout their lineup, solid defending and a reliable Darcy Kuemper in goal.
That mix could be enough to finally help the Avalanche, who have lost in the second round in each of the last three seasons, make a deep playoff run.
In the other Western Conference matchups, the Minnesota Wild will face the St. Louis Blues, Calgary will battle the Dallas Stars while Edmonton play the Los Angeles Kings.
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