Here are the 2018 playoff rankings, based on a final four of Bruins-Capitals and Jets-Sharks with a final of Bruins-Jets and Stanley Cup champ of Bruins. I will group the first-round match-ups by the divisional brackets, making it easier to show the conference semifinals
This year sees six new teams in the playoffs compared to 2017-18. After five of the six Canadian teams made the postseason a year ago, only one (Toronto) returns, joined by Winnipeg. The two "winners" of last year's draft lottery qualified for the playoffs this year. That shows how quickly tides can turn in the league. Reigning champ Pittsburgh aims for its third straight title, while the runner-up, Nashville, aim for its first.
EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS
Lightning vs. Devils
Tampa Bay cruised for most of the season but a late-season, partial swoon nearly cost it the top spot in the division. The Lightning are blessed with top-tier talent up front and on the blue line along with a young goalie who has taken a step forward this season in his first year as a starter.
Offense: Nikita Kucherov took over the team's top player, notching 39 goals and 61 assists after a blazing start to the year. Steven Stamkos added 27 tallies and 59 apples of his own, 33 of those points coming on the PP, but missed the final three games with a lower-body injury but is expected back for the playoffs and practiced Mondau. J.T. Miller seamlessly fit onto that line after coming