Stanley Cup playoff storylines: Penguins' quest to three-peat, can Capitals avoid more misery?

If Sidney Crosby and the Penguins raise the Stanley Cup again this June, they will become the first team to win three consecutive championships since the Islanders (1980-83). Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs begin on Wednesday with plenty of intrigue. The Pittsburgh Penguins are pursuing a three-peat; the Washington Capitals are hoping to end their postseason misery; and the league's newest darlings, the Vegas Golden Knights, are looking to continue their improbable first-year run.

Here is your five-minute guide to the top storylines and players to watch this postseason:

Can Crosby, Penguins win a third consecutive Cup?

The Penguins have a chance to become the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders racked up four in a row from 1980-83.

Each of the last four times a team was poised for a third consecutive Stanley Cup, it failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs.

Sidney Crosby is also seeking a third consecutive Conn Smythe Trophy (awarded to the playoffs MVP). He would be the first player ever to accomplish that feat. Patrick Roy -- who won the Conn Smythe with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986 and 1993, and with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 -- is the only player to nab the award three times.

Will Vegas' Cinderella season continue?

The Golden Knights finished with 109 points, becoming the first NHL team to reach 100 points in its inaugural season. Six active NHL franchises -- the Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild, Florida Panthers. Los Angeles Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs and Arizona Coyotes -- have never reached 109 points in a season.

The Golden Knights are the first NHL team to make the playoffs in its inaugural season since the Edmonton Oilers and Hartford Whalers did so in 1979-80. Both the Oilers (who had Wayne Gretzky) and Whalers (who had Gordie Howe) joined the NHL from the WHA following a merger between the two leagues.

Only one team in the NHL's Expansion Era (since 1967-68) has reached the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season. The St. Louis Blues were swept by the Canadiens in the 1967-68 Final. All six expansion teams were placed in the same division that season, however, so one was guaranteed to reach the Final.

The Golden Knights are one of seven teams in the playoffs that are looking for its first Stanley Cup title. The others are the Capitals, Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Wild and San Jose Sharks.

Will Ovi, Caps make another early playoff exit?

Since entering the league in 2005-06, Alex Ovechkin has the most goals in the NHL, but he cannot seem to get over the playoff hump. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ovechkin's 607 career goals are the second-most among players to never have played in a conference finals or Stanley Cup Final.

The Capitals have not been to the conference finals since 1998, the third-longest active drought without an appearance. Only the Islanders (1993) and Panthers (1996) have gone longer.

Canada's hope for a Cup rests with Leafs, Jets

This postseason marks 25 years since the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup -- when Montreal raised the trophy in 1993. Since then, Canada has won seven Olympic gold medals (three by the men's team, four by the women's), 15 world championships (seven for the men, eight for the women) and two World Cup of Hockey titles.

The only two Canadian teams to make the playoffs this season are the Maple Leafs and Jets, who are both fighting to overcome some frustrating history of their own.

The Maple Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1966-67, the last season before expansion. Toronto hasn't even won a playoff series since 2004, the fourth-longest active drought in the NHL.

The Jets' playoff history is even worse. They have not won a playoff game in their franchise history, dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers (1999-2011). The city of Winnipeg's last playoff series win came in 1987.

Predators primed for another playoff run

As catfish was tossed onto the ice and country superstars sang the national anthem, Nashville was the place to be during the playoffs last year. Expectations for another deep postseason run are even higher for the Predators this season.

They won the Presidents' Trophy (for the NHL's best regular-season record) for the first time in franchise history. Nashville is looking to become the ninth team to win the Presidents' Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season since the former was first presented in 1985-86.

The 2012-13, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Presidents' Trophy in a lockout-shortened season. The last team to win the Presidents' Trophy and Stanley Cup in a full season was the 2007-08 Red Wings.

No playoffs for New York or Chicago

None of the six NHL or NBA teams from New York or Chicago (Rangers, Islanders, Blackhawks, Knicks, Nets and Bulls) made the postseason this year.

The last time that New York and Chicago were shut out of the playoffs in both pro hockey and basketball was 1945 -- or before the Islanders, Knicks, Nets or Bulls existed. (Note: This includes the Knicks' playoff appearances in the Basketball Association of America.)

We don't mean to pile on, but the Jets, Giants and Bears also failed to make the NFL playoffs this past season.

Players to watch

Most casual fans know Crosby and Ovechkin, but here are some non-household names who could have a big impact in the playoffs after having terrific regular seasons:

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights: The Swedish center -- who had only 18 goals in 183 career NHL games entering this season -- ranked third in the league this season, with 43 goals. "Wild Bill" also led the NHL with a +49 rating.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers' captain ranked second in the NHL in points, with 102 (behind only Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid, who won't appear in the postseason). Giroux is the first Flyer to reach 100 points since Eric Lindros had 115 in 1995-96.

Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils: Hall -- who is making his first playoff appearance after 529 career regular-season games (which was the fourth-longest active streak, according to Elias Sports Bureau) -- led the surprising Devils with 93 points.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: Colorado's star center ranked second in the NHL with 1.31 points per game (minimum 10 games played) and helped the Avalanche make a 47-point improvement from last season (when they finished with the league's worst record).

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets: The 19-year-old Finn trailed only Ovechkin in goals this season. He scored 44 of them in 2017-18, bringing his career total to 80, which is the third-most in NHL history by a teenager behind Jimmy Carson (92) and Dale Hawerchuk (85).

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Kopitar had a career-high 92 points, tied for seventh-most in the NHL -- the most by a King since Gretzky had 130 in 1993-94.

Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets: The goalie tied for the NHL lead in wins, with 44, this season -- 15 more than any Jets goalie has had in a season since the franchise relocated to Winnipeg.