What series, player or storyline is your first-round obsession?
Chris Peters, NHL prospects columnist: The Boston Bruins-Toronto Maple Leafs series brings multiple layers of intrigue. Of course, there's the whole Original Six angle. These are two historic franchises and the more recent history of their 2013 first-round playoff series featured the iconic Bruins comeback in Game 7 that still causes the stomachs of Maple Leafs fans everywhere to churn. More than anything, I'm interested to see what a healthy Toronto team can do against the overall depth and experience of Boston's lineup.
How will Auston Matthews handle going head-to-head with Patrice Bergeron's line? Will things open up for Mitch Marner to make an impact? Can Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen outduel the Bruins' Tuukka Rask? Will Toronto coach Mike Babcock find a way to outwit Boston's Bruce Cassidy, who definitely has the advantage when it comes to on-ice assets?
Of all the first-round series, this one definitely interests and excites me most. I'm not sure the Maple Leafs have the depth to survive, but their top players still have the potential to make this a competitive series -- and even give Toronto a chance to pull off the upset. I don't plan on missing a second of this series.
Victoria Matiash, NHL fantasy columnist: However it unfolds, one very good NHL team is guaranteed to get the boot from the first round when the Leafs and Bruins play seven games or less. So I'm drinking up every bit of action from that series in the meantime.
The Bruins have one of the league's best forward units in Brad Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak. The Leafs are riddled with young scoring talent three lines deep (habitually headlined by Matthews, but look out for the Nazem Kadri/Marner forward pairing this series). Both clubs can score, with only three goals separating them after 82 games. The Bruins, better defensively, are still a bit banged up, while the Leafs' blue line sports holes. Andersen has dominated Boston during his NHL career, while Rask boasts excellent postseason numbers. Boston's effective fourth line of Tim Schaller and Sean Kuraly -- expected to suit up Game 1 after missing some time -- should cause Toronto's offense some concern. There's just so much going on here.
Then there's the vengeance narrative. The current class of Maple Leafs can pish-posh 2013 all they like as ancient history, but there isn't a single fan in Toronto over the age of 12 who can't tell you where they were, what they were wearing and on whose shoulder they wept in shock during the closing period of that year's opening series. So, while Matthews, Marner, William Nylander and others may not have been around for any of it -- or even old enough to drive -- that doesn't diminish Toronto's thirst for, not revenge exactly, but a shot at making it right. This series was a coin flip for me. When pushed, I went with the Bruins on record. I hopefully expect to second-guess that prediction from now until April 25.
Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL reporter: Sergei Bobrovsky against his horrible playoff past. The Columbus Blue Jackets goalie is arguably the best regular-season netminder of the past four seasons, as his .930 even-strength save percentage since 2014 is the best of any goalie with more than 200 games. But in his 18 career playoff games, Bobrovsky is 3-10 with an .887 overall save percentage, which includes five games against the Pittsburgh Penguins last season in which he posted an .898 EV save percentage.
Here's the thing: 12 of Bobrovsky's 18 playoff games have come against the Penguins, including all 11 with the Blue Jackets. So is this a postseason problem or a Penguins problem for Bobrovsky? We're about to find out ... unless it's also a Washington Capitals problem, given that he has been as bad against them in the regular season (64 goals in 22 games) as he has been against Pittsburgh (64 goals in 23 games).
Vegas coach praises Fleury's playoff performance
Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant says Marc-Andre Fleury's playoff experience has been able to keep the rest of the team loose.
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: In the course of winning the past two Stanley Cups, Sidney Crosby has played 48 playoff games, which amounts to more than half of an NHL regular season. That's 48 additional games of shoving, checking, sprinting, muscling and chirping -- all while most of his peers are resting. And that's not including events like the World Cup of Hockey, which Crosby and many of his teammates participated in before the 2016-17 NHL season.
The Penguins' quest for a third straight Stanley Cup fascinates me. Perhaps you have heard, but Pittsburgh has a chance to become the first team to win three consecutive Cups since the New York Islanders notched four in a row from 1980 to 1983. Why has it been three-plus decades since another team has matched the Islanders' feat? Probably because all of those games and that wear-and-tear eventually take its toll. Perhaps because in this salary-cap era, keeping a championship-caliber roster of stars intact is nearly impossible.There's more parity in the NHL now than ever. That's why, if Crosby & Co. pull it off, the three-peat will be all the more impressive.
Ben Arledge, Insider editor: I'm pumped to see a pair of dynamic, top-tier first lines rise up on the playoff stage. First, there's the Tampa Bay Lightning's top trio of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and J.T. Miller. This unit has so many components in creating scoring opportunities, especially when it's out there with Victor Hedman on the point. Stamkos and Kucherov combined for 186 points this season; Hedman tallied 17 goals from the blue line; and Miller has played at nearly a point-per-game pace since joining the Bolts at the trade deadline. That's electric. The foursome joins Alex Killorn on a 23.9 percent effective power play as well. Tampa Bay lit up the league with 290 goals this season, 17 more than the next best team, and this top unit is a big reason why this offense is so feared.
Then there's the Winnipeg Jets' top trio of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor. Wheeler put himself in the MVP conversation with 91 points; Scheifele produced a point per game; and Connor netted 31 goals as a rookie. Toss in Dustin Byfuglien's 45 points from the point, and you have a dangerous crew. Not surprisingly, the Jets trailed only the Lightning in finding the back of the net this season (their top goal-getter wasn't even on this line). It's going to be fun to watch the creativity and elite scoring talent of both of these high-octane first lines in a playoff environment. Expect some highlight-reel goal-scoring sequences in the opening round from these two units.
Who will be made or broken in NHL playoffs
ESPN's Greg Wyshynski lists the players -- and coach -- who have the most to gain or lose in this year's playoffs.
Sachin Chandan, ESPN The Magazine researcher: My first-round obsession is a series of medieval proportions: the Vegas Golden Knights vs. the Los Angeles Kings. I'm fascinated to see the Golden Knights in their first test in the playoffs against a dangerous team. The Golden Knights get the advantage on offense, but the Kings have a defensive and special-teams edge, having led the league in penalty-kill percentage and goals against. The Kings bring a treasure trove of playoff experience, led by MVP candidate Anze Kopitar and two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick in net. While goalie Marc-Andre Fleury won three Stanley Cups with the Penguins, the Golden Knights are otherwise a relatively inexperienced playoff team. Vegas' breakout season and story have captured my attention, so I will be glued to this series.