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Rick Zamperin: Welcome to the Stanley Cup playoffs

Toronto Maple Leafs' John Tavares (91)tries to steer the puck past Boston Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak during second period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018.
Toronto Maple Leafs' John Tavares (91)tries to steer the puck past Boston Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak during second period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Welcome to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

After a gruelling 82-game season, 16 of the National Hockey League’s 31 teams will continue to play on with the dream of winning the most recognizable trophy in all of sports — and the hardest one to win at that.

The players and coaches who want their names etched onto the cup know the championship recipe includes exceptional team play, health, and a little bit of good fortune along the way.

There are no guarantees. We’ve seen that year in and year out come playoff time in the NHL. But what we do know is there are some intriguing playoff matchups this spring.

Round one begins Wednesday when the 62-win Tampa Bay Lightning host the wild card Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s not the matchup Columbus planned for after loading up before the trade deadline. The President’s Trophy-winning Bolts swept the season series and outscored the Blue Jackets 17-3 in their three meetings this season.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins meet in the opening round for the second consecutive year. Boston eliminated Toronto last year and won three of four games against the Leafs this season. It is one of only two first-round series to feature two teams with 100-plus points.

READ MORE: Canadiens’ Ryan Poehling scores hat trick and shootout winner in NHL debut

The other is Pittsburgh Penguins versus the New York Islanders. The Isles have home-ice advantage in a playoff series for the first time since 1988 but lost three of their four games this season against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals draw the Carolina Hurricanes in round one. Rocket Richard Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin and the Caps will be overwhelming favourites to win the series after they beat the Canes in all four matchups this year, averaging four goals per game in the process.

Calgary police detail plans for Flames’ Stanley Cup Playoffs

Calgary police detail plans for Flames’ Stanley Cup Playoffs
Calgary police detail plans for Flames’ Stanley Cup Playoffs

Out West, the top-seeded Calgary Flames will battle the Colorado Avalanche. Calgary owned the Av’s in 2018-19, sweeping their three-game season series, but Colorado enters the post-season as one of the hottest teams in the league having won eight of their last 11 contests.

Last year’s expansion team darlings, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, meet the San Jose Sharks a round earlier than they did last year. Vegas dumped the Sharks in six games in round two in 2018. This season, San Jose and the Knights split their four-game season series.

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Nashville and Dallas hook up in what could be the lowest scoring series of the opening round. The Central Division-winning Predators allowed the third fewest goals this season (214) behind only the 202 that the Stars gave up and the 189 the Islanders allowed. The Preds went 3-2 versus the Stars this year.

Lastly, two 99-point clubs — Winnipeg and St. Louis — will dance in round one. The Jets won the season series 3-1 and despite being in the same division they remarkably haven’t met since Dec. 7. The Blues were last overall in the NHL on Jan. 2 before winning 30 of their final 45 games (30-10-5).

READ MORE: Winnipeg Jets begin Stanley Cup Playoffs at home on Wednesday

Which teams are going to advance to round two? And which team has what it takes to go all the way? Find out Tuesday when I make my playoff picks and choose this year’s Stanley Cup champion.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoff first round schedule (All times listed are ET and subject to change)

EASTERN CONFERENCE
#1 Tampa Bay vs. #WC2 Columbus
Wednesday, April 10 7 p.m. Columbus at Tampa Bay USA, SN360, TVA Sports
Friday, April 12 7 p.m. Columbus at Tampa Bay CNBC, SN360, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 14 7 p.m. Tampa Bay at Columbus NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 16 7 p.m. Tampa Bay at Columbus CNBC, SN360, TVA Sports
*Friday, April 19 TBD Columbus at Tampa Bay TBD
*Sunday, April 21 TBD Tampa Bay at Columbus TBD
*Tuesday, April 23 TBD Columbus at Tampa Bay TBD

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#2 Boston vs. #3 Toronto
Thursday, April 11 7 p.m. Toronto at Boston NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 13 8 p.m. Toronto at Boston NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Monday, April 15 7 p.m. Boston at Toronto CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN
Wednesday, April 17 7 p.m. Boston at Toronto CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN
*Friday, April 19 TBD Toronto at Boston TBD
*Sunday, April 21 TBD Boston at Toronto TBD
*Tuesday, April 23 TBD Toronto at Boston TBD

#1 Washington vs. #WC1 Carolina
Thursday, April 11 7:30 p.m. Carolina at Washington USA, SN360, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 13 3 p.m. Carolina at Washington NBC, SN, TVA Sports
Monday, April 15 7 p.m. Washington at Carolina CNBC, SN, TVA Sports
Thursday, April 18 7 p.m. Washington at Carolina SN360, TVA Sports
*Saturday, April 20 TBD Carolina at Washington TBD
*Monday, April 22 TBD Washington at Carolina TBD
*Wednesday, April 24 TBD Carolina at Washington TBD

#2 NY Islanders vs. #3 Pittsburgh
Wednesday, April 10 7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh at NY Islanders NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Friday, April 12 7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh at NY Islanders NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 14 Noon NY Islanders at Pittsburgh NBC, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 16 7:30 p.m. NY Islanders at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Thursday, April 18 TBD Pittsburgh at NY Islanders TBD
*Saturday, April 20 TBD NY Islanders at Pittsburgh TBD
*Monday, April 22 TBD Pittsburgh at NY Islanders TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE
#1 Nashville vs. #WC1 Dallas
Wednesday, April 10 9:30 p.m. Dallas at Nashville USA, SN1, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 13 6 p.m. Dallas at Nashville CNBC, SN, TVA Sports
Monday, April 15 9:30 p.m. Nashville at Dallas NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports
Wednesday, April 17 8 p.m. Nashville at Dallas USA, SN, TVA Sports
*Saturday, April 20 TBD Dallas at Nashville TBD
*Monday, April 22 TBD Nashville at Dallas TBD
*Wednesday, April 24 TBD Dallas at Nashville TBD

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#2 Winnipeg vs. #3 St. Louis
Wednesday, April 10 8 p.m. St. Louis at Winnipeg SN, TVA Sports, NHL Network
Friday, April 12 9:30 p.m. St. Louis at Winnipeg SN, TVA Sports, CNBC
Sunday, April 14 7:30 p.m. Winnipeg at St. Louis CNBC, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 16 9:30 p.m. Winnipeg at St. Louis CNBC, SN, TVA Sports
*Thursday, April 18 TBD St. Louis at Winnipeg TBD
*Saturday, April 20 TBD Winnipeg at St. Louis TBD
*Monday, April 22 TBD St. Louis at Winnipeg TBD

#1 Calgary vs. #WC2 Colorado
Thursday, April 11 10 p.m. Colorado at Calgary SN, CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN
Saturday, April 13 10:30 p.m. Colorado at Calgary SN, CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN
Monday, April 15 10 p.m. Calgary at Colorado CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Wednesday, April 17 10 p.m. Calgary at Colorado NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Friday, April 19 TBD Colorado at Calgary TBD
*Sunday, April 21 TBD Calgary at Colorado TBD
*Tuesday, April 23 TBD Colorado at Calgary TBD

#2 San Jose vs. #3 Vegas
Wednesday, April 10 10:30 p.m. Vegas at San Jose NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports
Friday, April 12 10:30 p.m. Vegas at San Jose NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 14 10 p.m. San Jose at Vegas NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 16 10:30 p.m. San Jose at Vegas NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports
*Thursday, April 18 TBD Vegas at San Jose TBD
*Sunday, April 21 TBD San Jose at Vegas TBD
*Tuesday, April 23 TBD Vegas at San Jose TBD

* if necessary
TBD – To Be Determined

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