It took until the final game on the final night of the NHL regular season to set the matchups for the first round of the playoffs.
Naturally, the battle for the Stanley Cup starts in less than 72 hours.
Technically there’s still one more inconsequential, weather-postponed game to be played on Sunday, but all eight first-round series are set. The playoffs begin Monday when the Metropolitan Division-champion Carolina Hurricanes host the Boston Bruins in Game 1.
Nashville blowing a four-goal lead and losing to last-place Arizona hours after Dallas beat Anaheim with an emergency backup goaltender in net for the third period flipped two matchups in the Western Conference. The Predators will now open at top-seeded Colorado with the Stars going to Calgary to face the Flames.
Colorado lost to Dallas in the playoffs two years ago and now may have an easier path through the playoffs against Nashville, which could be without injured starting goalie Juuse Saros. The winner of the Avalanche-Predators series will face whichever team comes out of what promises to be a bruising showdown between Minnesota and St. Louis.
The Wild and Blues were the first series to get locked in, but it took until Friday night to determine who had home ice. After Minnesota beat Colorado and St. Louis lost to recently eliminated Vegas, the series will begin in St. Paul on Monday.
Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers open at home against the Los Angeles Kings with the winner advancing to the survivor of Calgary-Dallas. The Oilers haven’t won a round since 2017.
The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004 and face a major challenge trying to break that trend against the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The Leafs beat the Bruins to set up a series against the Lightning that starts Monday in Toronto.
Carolina-Boston is a rematch of the 2019 East final and a 2020 second-round tilt. The Bruins won each of those series but go into this one as a slight underdog, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, despite the likelihood of Hurricanes starting goalie Frederik Andersen missing at least the start of the first round.
They’re not the only team in the East with goaltending questions.
The Washington Capitals limp into the playoffs on a four-game skid with no clarity whether Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek will be in net for Game 1 against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers on Tuesday. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has also missed the past three games with an apparent left shoulder injury.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been without starting goalie Tristan Jarry, and their situation remains unclear going into their series against the New York Rangers that starts Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. Tampa Bay still has 2021 playoff MVP Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes, but the Rangers go into this postseason with the likely Vezina Trophy winner in Igor Shesterkin.
The winners of the Panthers-Capitals and Maple Leafs-Lightning series will face off in the Atlantic Division side of the East bracket, while the Rangers-Penguins and Hurricanes-Bruins winners will meet in the Metro half.
All eight teams in the East finished with 100 or more points, the first time that has happened in either conference in NHL history.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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