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Nashville's P.K. Subban and Dallas' Tyler Seguin would bring star power to a potential Predators-Stars playoff series.

Nashville’s P.K. Subban and Dallas’ Tyler Seguin would bring star power to a potential Predators-Stars playoff series.

If the season ended today, the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs bracket would look like this. Which matchup would be a must-see — and which series would be most skippable?

Greg Wyshynski: While it doesn’t have the traditional rivalry gravitas of the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs or the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings — both must-see series in their own right — that Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars series is the one I’m gluing myself to the screen to watch.

The Predators got a taste of the Stanley Cup Final last season and seem to be living each day to earn the chance to taste it again. Nashville GM David Poile is already all-in with that Kyle Turris trade — and one assumes he’s not done. P.K. Subban, that Filip Forsberg line, the catfish-tossing fans … yes, please.

But on the other side of the ice, you’d have a Stars team with a few must-see players — Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg and Alexander Radulov — playing for a coach, in Ken Hitchcock, who won the franchise’s lone Stanley Cup almost 20 years ago. It would be a battle between a team seemingly destined to win a championship vs. a team that desperately tried to reconfigure itself to contend for one again. Ben Bishop, a money playoff goalie, was part of that reconfiguration. His duel with Pekka Rinne could be the best of the first round.
Just a fascinating series, and two franchises that have never met in the playoffs.
The series I’d probably skip? Honestly, the Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets. Maybe I’ve already spent too many hours of my life watching John Tortorella glower at the Capitals from behind the opposite bench in a playoff series. Or maybe these are two teams that both qualify for “lemme know which one of you gets to the second round in case the Pittsburgh Penguins make it through again” status. Because things will only get really interesting for the Jackets or Capitals after the opening stanza.

Emily Kaplan: The Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues. I am so here for it. Really, this matchup could be the Jets vs. any of the Central Division teams lurking in the wild-card hunt and it would excite me. But Winnipeg and St. Louis would be especially entertaining. The Jets are a fun team to watch — their depth of young talent, from Mark Scheifele to Patrik Laine to Nikolaj Ehlers, is an embarrassment of riches — but they don’t get the attention they deserve here in the States. A competitive, seven-game series in the first round could change that.

Speaking of the casual fan, this can be a coming-out party for Scheifele, one of the more underrated stars in the game. And then there are the Blues, everyone’s darling for the first quarter of the season. As I wrote Monday, the Blues have a particularly tortured playoff history — they haven’t won the Cup since they entered the league in 1967-68 despite a plethora of superstars donning St. Louis jerseys and plenty of sustained success. The latest superstar is Vladimir Tarasenko, who I’m forever convinced is criminally underrated despite, you know, scoring the most even strength-goals since the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Most people wrote the Blues off this season after their flood of injuries in the offseason. So it would be fitting if this is the year that Tarasenko and his band of scrappy sidekicks — Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Alex Pietrangelo, who is continually praised by his peers for being elite — finally break through.

As for skippable? I don’t have a ton of interest in New York Islanders-Tampa Bay Lightning. The Islanders have been so streaky this season, and even with their redeeming qualities (John Tavares’ dominant season, Josh Bailey’s renaissance, being in awe of rookie Mathew Barzal), I don’t have faith in their playoff chances. Of course, a lot of that stems from deep-rooted goaltending issues. But I also feel they will be exploited by a superior opponent, and let’s be honest, the Lightning are the elite team everyone is scared to face come April. One particularly lopsided matchup? The Lightning’s potent power play against the Islanders’ penalty kill, which ranks 29th in the league.
Chris Peters: The one I’d be watching with the greatest interest would probably be the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s a pretty even matchup based on their performances this season, but you also never quite know what to expect with either team. Also, a Patrice Bergeron-Auston Matthews head-to-head goes a long way in my watchability valuations.
There are a lot of other factors at play, too. We all remember the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the two teams — one of the most memorable playoff battles of the past decade, as far as I’m concerned. The Bruins still have plenty of key players from that team, but the Maple Leafs are a completely different team. Things have changed so much for both teams in seemingly different ways. The Bruins and Leafs also are in unique positions in their franchise development. Boston still has some stalwarts from its Stanley Cup core in Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara, while the Leafs are very much leaning on the new wave of players such as Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner. It is going to be fascinating to see how that all plays out.
If we’re judging by what has happened so far in the regular season, it’s anyone’s guess who would have the upper hand in this series. Toronto has won two of three in the head-to-head so far, with one of those victories coming in overtime. Meanwhile, both teams are top 10 in goals for per game, and in both power play and penalty kill. I think it would be an awfully tense series that could go the distance, which would be a lot of fun.

The rest of the series, as they stand right now, come with a lot of intrigue and good storylines. In terms of matchup, the one that looks the most lopsided is probably the Lightning-Islanders one. The two teams have actually split their regular-season matchups, but in a race to four wins, I have a hard time believing the Isles would be any match for Tampa’s high-powered offense.

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 Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins



Bust out your best Frank Sinatra vinyls, because the Boston Bruins are on to New York, New York.  Coming off a solid victory against a tough opponent, can the Bruins win their first set of back-to-back games?

Jeremy Jacobs may be Chairman of Board when it comes to the Boston Bruins.  But in music fans’ hearts, there’s only one Chairman of the Board, and that is Ol’ Blue Eyes.  But, setting music aside for the moment, there’s some life in the Boston Bruins!

The Bruins are coming off a victory against the Minnesota Wild, a respectable Western Conference opponent with a Vezina-caliber goalie.  The Bruins played tough, physical hockey.  They used their unique combination of size, speed, and skill to score 5 goals en route to a 5-3 win.

The Bruins now find themselves at 6-4-3 (15 points).  For a team so depleted by injuries to still be keeping their heads above water, it’s starting to become impressive.  Now, if only the team can string together performances like they had on Monday night against Minnesota, that will be something to get really excited about.  The Bruins have 2 or 3 games in hand over most of the teams in front of them in the standings, and at 15 points, they’re right in the mix.

The Bruins opponents tonight are the Blueshirts from Broadway, the New York Rangers.  Another team like Minnesota that has all the talent in the world, yet is off to a disappointing start to the season.  Sitting at 7-7-2 (16 points), the Rangers are another team that have failed to gain any momentum from game to game.  Questions have arisen as to whether the window has closed on the Rangers and the Henrik Lundqvist era.  The undeniably elite goalie’s crown has tarnished a bit over the past few seasons.

The curtain goes up on this show at 8:00 pm tonight at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY.  The game will be featured on NBC Sports Network as their national Wednesday Night Rivalry game.  You can listen on 98.5 The Sports Hub if you’re so inclined.
What to watch for

The players in the Bruins lineup appears to remain the same from the Minnesota game on Monday.  However, the lines have a slightly different look about them:

All of the forward line combinations remain the same.  However, the 3rd and 4th lines appear to be flipped.  That may just be nothing, or it could mean Jake DeBrusk, Jordan Szwarz, and Frank Vatrano are in for less minutes tonight.  A lot of people were praising Matt Beleskey’s performance in the last game.  If you read our page consistently, you know I’ve taken a different approach to #39.

The Bruins need to be on the lookout for speedy and skilled players like Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, and J.T. Miller.  All of them can easily get past the defense at any moment.  Given the Bruins proclivity for giving up breakaways recently (4 in the last two games, 2 of them shorthanded), it’s a growing concern.  However, the two Zs also sport some hefty minus ratings, meaning the Bruins could take advantage of them on the ice.

Three or four years ago, a match-up between King Henrik and Tuukka Rask would be a battle of elite goalies.  However, King Henrik’s crown doesn’t fit so well anymore, and people constantly question whether Tuukka is an elite goalie (hint:  he is).  However, even with both getting longer in the tooth, this could still be an epic goaltending match-up.

Avalanche ‘listening to offers’ for Duchene

Matt Duchene

Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene remains available via trade, but general manager Joe Sakic told The Denver Post on Thursday he expects Duchene to be at training camp.

“I will be listening to offers,” Sakic said. “Right now it’s quiet on all fronts. But I’ll listen to offers on how we can get better. I’ll never name names, but I’ll sit there and if something makes sense for the way we want to go with our team, we’ll really look at that.”

Duchene, 26, had 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists) in 77 games last season. He was second on the Avalanche in scoring but it was his worst offensive output since he had 28 points in 2011-12. In 2015-16, he scored an NHL career-high 30 goals and has scored at least 20 goals in five of his eight seasons with the Avalanche.

Colorado had the fewest points in the NHL in 2016-17 and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season.

The No. 3 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, Duchene has 418 points (174 goals, 244 assists) in 572 games. He told NHL.com on Aug. 2 that he’s focused on his training and leaving any team association he has out of his workouts.

“Divorced is a strong word, so I wouldn’t say that, but I think I’ve made it so that [any team association] is not part of my identity,” Duchene said. “My identity will be with a team come training camp. I don’t know what team that is yet, but my identity right now needs to be strong in myself and belief in myself.”

The Avalanche also need to work out a contract with defenseman Nikita Zadorov, a restricted free agent. Zadorov, 22, had 10 assists in 56 games last season. He is considering signing with CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League, according to the newspaper.

“Both sides agreed to a two-year deal and we just have to figure out the numbers,” Sakic said. “We’ve got our NHL comps that we’re going with, and he’s got to make a decision at some point on what he wants to do.”

Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie and Mark Barberio are the only NHL defensemen the Avalanche have under contract for this season. Sakic said they plan to give long looks to rookie defensemen Chris Bigras, Andrei Mironov and Anton Lindholm during training camp.

Defenseman Will Butcher, the Hobey Baker Award winner who was selected by the Avalanche in the 2013 NHL Draft, did not sign with Colorado and became a free agent on Wednesday.