The first round of Stanley Cup playoffs is starting to take shape

A pair of tasty Eastern Conference matchups highlight the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (Getty)

The Stanley Cup playoffs’ opening round features two exciting Eastern Conference games. (Getty)

The NHL’s Stanley Cup playoff picture is coming into focus after Thursday night’s action. The Eastern Conference bracket has been set with all four series for the first round. However, the West Conference bracket is still to be determined.

Eastern Conference playoff series matchups

Historic, Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins vs. Florida Panthers (Second wild-card seed)

A feisty Florida team is Boston’s “reward” for setting a new NHL record for points in a single season.

The Bruins finished as hot as they’ve been all season (eight straight wins, one loss since March 16), while the Panthers squeezed into the playoffs thanks to a torrid finish. Beware of a potential pest vortex that could be created by a Matthew Tkachuk vs Brad Marchand matchup.

It’s the first time the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winner will face the previous season’s winner in the first round, at least since the trophy was first awarded in 1986.

No. 2 seed Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. No. 3 seed Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning hope that history repeats itself — as long as you ignore the most immediate history of Tampa Bay limping down the stretch while the Maple Leafs boasted the far superior record this season. The two teams will tell you to throw their records away once the playoffs begin. Toronto will attempt to avenge its first-round defeat last spring.

Metro winner Carolina Hurricanes will play New York Islanders in the first wild-card game.

Down the stretch, it’s been at times a bumpy ride for both the Hurricanes and the Islanders. This series pits an aggressive Carolina team against a post Trotz Isles team that relies heavily on Ilya Sorokin, the world’s best goalie. This could be a match-up between quality and quantity.

Metro No. 2 seed New Jersey Devils vs. Metro No. 3 seed New York Rangers

A Rangers-Devils series hasn’t been this enticing since Mark Messier was making Namath-style guarantees. (OK, if you want to pick on us olds, you can say it’s been about 30 years.) From missing the postseason for four consecutive years and having only made one appearance in 10 seasons, the Devils have nearly won their division. The Rangers are entering the playoffs even stronger than they were before after a strong showing in the conference final last season.

Combine all of those strengths with the history and animosity of this local rivalry, and fans really couldn’t ask for more from a first-round series.

Western Conference Playoff Teams

While we don’t know the playoff matchups yet, all eight Western Conference postseason berths are locked down.

The Vegas Golden Knights will try to keep the Edmonton Oilers from claiming the Pacific Division title and West top pace. Whoever wins will get home ice advantage in the Western Conference portion for the Stanley Cup Playoffs 2023.

The Los Angeles Kings are set as the Pacific’s third seed. The Winnipeg Jets, as the second West wild card seed, will play whoever wins in the Pacific.

The Dallas Stars are in a battle with the Colorado Avalanche for the Central Division title. Dallas won its last game to reach 108 (39 wins in regulation), while Colorado has just one more game (Friday, against Nashville). Colorado currently has 107 points and 35 regulation wins, so it’s pretty simple: the Avs need to beat the Predators to win the Central.

The team who fails will have to play the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division. While the Central Division Winner is set to play the Seattle Kraken as they hold the West’s first wild-card.

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