Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Matchups, Schedule and More

NHL Playoffs for the Stanley Cup are on ESPN and ABC

If you’re new to playoff hockey, allow me to extend an excited, heartfelt “Welcome!” We’re so glad you’ve decided to hop on the bandwagon of the coolest game on Earth. 

16 teams begin the NHL’s postseason, yet only 1 will stand atop the mountain, glory-clad, hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. With just a few hours left before puck drop, let’s give a brief preview of the 8 first-round matchups and why you should be excited for each one.

Provided below is a guide on who to watch in each matchup. You can watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs on TBS/ TNT, ESPN/ESPN2, and ABC. And now, after 82 regular-season games, without any further adieu, let’s begin:


Boston Bruins vs Florida Panthers

Boston is, in a word, good. Their 65-12-5 regular-season record has set new NHL highs for wins and points (135). They’re entering the playoffs on an 8-game win streak. Superstar David Pastrnak is second in the league in goals (61) behind only the otherworldly Connor McDavid (64). Linus Ullmark is a shoo-in for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. And yet … despite Boston’s perceived invincibility, Florida is 1 of only 2 teams to nab multiple wins off of the Bruins in the regular season. Will they prove to be the Kryptonite to Boston’s Superman?

Mon., April 17: Panthers at Bruins, 7:30 p.m. ESPN

Wed., April 19: Panthers at Bruins, 7:30 p.m. ESPN

Fri., April 21: Bruins at Panthers, 7:30 p.m. TNT

Sun., April 23: Bruins at Panthers, 3:30 p.m. TNT

Wed., April 26: Panthers at Bruins, TBA

Fri., April 28: Bruins at Panthers, TBA

Sun., April 30: Panthers at Bruins, TBA


Tampa Bay Lightning vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Deja vu all over again, isn’t it? Tampa Bay is seeking their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but if they’re to make it back to the promised land, they’ll have to get through Toronto for the second year in a row. Much to the chagrin of Leafs fans everywhere, their skilled young core of Austin Matthews, Willian Nylander & Mitch Marner has been a part of 6 straight one-and-done playoff runs — the Leafs have not won a playoff series since 2004. This Tampa team looks far more human than incarnations past, but if Toronto underestimates the veteran wiles of captain Steven Stamkos, sniper Nikita Kucherov & Vezina-winning Andrei Vasilevskiy, it may be a 7th straight early exit for the much-maligned franchise.

Tue., April 18: Lightning at Maple Leafs, 7:30 p.m. ESPN

Thu., April 20: Lightning at Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ESPN

Sat., April 22: Maple Leafs at Lightning, 7 p.m. TBS

Mon., April 24: Maple Leafs at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. TBS

Thur., April 27: Lightning at Maple Leafs, TBA

Sat., April 29: Maple Leafs at Lightning, TBA

Mon., May 1: Lightning at Maple Leafs, TBA


Carolina Hurricanes vs New York Islanders

Carolina is the higher-rated seed, yet recent playoff success favors the Islanders. A late-season injury to the mercurial Andrei Svechnikov has stymied the Hurricane offense dramatically as the Canes limp into the playoffs. Grizzly bear-bearded Brent Burns and slick-handed Sebastian Aho are perfectly capable of embarassing league-average goaltending, but stalwart Ilya Sorokin is elite beyond measure, and any success the Islanders muster will rest squarely on his shoulders.

Mon., April 17: Islanders at Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ESPN2

Wed., April 19: Islanders at Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ESPN2

Fri., April 21: Hurricanes at Islanders, 7 p.m. TBS

Sun., April 23: Hurricanes at Islanders, 1 p.m. TNT

Tue., April 25: Islanders at Hurricanes, TBA

Fri., April 28: Hurricanes at Islanders, TBA

Sun., April 30: Islanders at Hurricanes, TBA


New Jersey Devils vs New York Rangers

The Hudson River Rivalry renewed! Perhaps the juiciest first-round matchup in terms of animosity and offense. Combined, 7 skaters have 70+ points: Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt & Dougie Hamilton for New Jersey; Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibnejad & Adam Fox for New York. New Jersey triumphed in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals the last time these two met in the playoffs — can we expect similar results, or will Igor Shesterkin, possibly the world’s best goaltender on his day, neutralize the sizzling Devils offense?

Tue., April 18: Rangers at Devils, 7 p.m. TBS

Thu., April 20: Rangers at Devils, 7:30 p.m. TBS

Sat., April 22: Devils at Rangers, 8 p.m. ABC, ESPN+

Mon., April 24: Devils at Rangers, 7 p.m. ESPN

Thur., April 27: Rangers at Devils, TBA

Sat., April 29: Devils at Rangers, TBA

Mon., May 1: Rangers at Devils, TBA


Colorado Avalanche vs Seattle Kraken

The reigning champs look to defend their title against playoff debutante Seattle. In only their second year of existence, Seattle has emerged as a highly competent club with four solid lines that score by committee. If you’re soft-hearted for Cinderella stories, you’ve found your club. As for the Avs, if they’re to repeat, they’ll have to do it without the services of captain Gabriel Landeskog, who has been ruled out of the playoffs with a knee injury, and potentially a hindered Cale Makar, who has struggled with injuries all season long. Beyond the unkind injuries, Seattle should feel emboldened by the success of Vegas in their inaugural season of 2017-18 when the fledgling franchise reached the Stanley Cup Finals.

Tue., April 18: Kraken at Avalanche, 10 p.m. ESPN

Thu., April 20: Kraken at Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ESPN, FX

Sat., April 22: Avalanche at Kraken. 10 p.m. TBS

Mon., April 24: Avalanche at Kraken, 10 p.m. TBS

Wed., April 26: Kraken at Avalanche, TBA

Fri., April 28: Avalanche at Kraken, TBA

Sun., April 30: Kraken at Avalanche, TBA


Dallas Stars vs Minnesota Wild

This series seems to be slipping under the radar, but we assure you, it’s going to be an absolute barnburner. Dallas’ Jason Roberston and Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov are game-breaking left wingers who should share a lot of ice time this series. Beyond the first line, Minnesota also boasts emerging star Matt Boldy who established himself as dynamic scorer in Kaprizov’s absence, while Dallas gets to lean on the veteran leadership of hardened captain Jamie Benn and comeback kid Tyler Seguin. If offense isn’t really your style, goaltenders Jake Oettinger (DAL) and Filip Gustavsson (MIN) have had stellar seasons for their respective clubs. Don’t sleep on this Central Time Zone slobberknocker — it has all the gritty and glitzy ingredients for a superb playoff series.

Mon., April 17: Wild at Stars, 9:30 p.m. ESPN2

Wed., April 19: Wild at Stars, 9:30 p.m. ESPN2

Fri., April 21: Stars at Wild, 9:30 p.m. TBS

Sun., April 23: Stars at Wild, 6:30 p.m. TBS

Tue., April 25: Wild at Stars, TBA

Fri., April 28: Stars at Wild, TBA

Sun., April 30: Wild at Stars, TBA


Vegas Golden Knights vs Winnipeg Jets

What to make of Winnipeg? The Jets started red hot, went ice cold and now have solid momentum headed into the second season. Vegas, on the other hand, held off the Oilers and Avalanche to secure top spot in the West after a steady but hardly dazzling 51-win season. Perhaps the most interesting matchup in the series will be the one that takes place in between the pipes. Winnipeg boasts Connor Hellebuyck, arguably the best goalie in the game today with the least to show for it. And his opposite is Laurent Brossoit, a 30-year old journeyman who backed up Hellebuyck last season and is having a renaissance season with Vegas. Which netminder will emerge victorious? 

Tue., April 18: Jets at Golden Knights, 9:30 p.m. ESPN2

Thu., April 20: Jets at Golden Knights, 10 p.m. TBS

Sat., April 22: Golden Knights at Jets, 4 p.m. TBS

Mon., April 24: Golden Knights at Jets, 9:30 p.m. ESPN

Thu., April 27: Jets at Golden Knights, TBA

Sat., April 29: Golden Knights at Jets, TBA

Mon., May 1: Jets at Golden Knights, TBA


Edmonton Oilers vs Los Angeles Kings

Edmonton enters the second season on a 9-game winning streak spearheaded by the league’s greatest superstar, Connor McDavid. McDavid’s 153 points are the 15th-highest total in NHL history, and 4th amongt unique players (Gretzky, Lemieux, Shanahan). If the Kings hope to have a shot, it’s imperative that they stay out of the penalty box — Edmonton set a modern-day NHL record for power play efficiency by capitalizing at a 32.4% rate. Will the power play opportunities present themselves during a time when referees are known to “let the players play?” McDavid and his firebrands sure hope so. Kings goaltenders Joonas Korpisalo & Pheonix Copley? Not so much.

Mon., April 17: Kings at Oilers, 10 p.m. ESPN

Wed., April 19: Kings at Oilers, 10 p.m. ESPN

Fri., April 21: Oilers at Kings, 10 p.m. TNT

Sun., April 23: Oilers at Kings, 9 p.m. TBS

Tue., April 25: Kings at Oilers, TBA

Sat., April 29: Oilers at Kings, TBA

Mon., May 1: Kings at Oilers, TBA


To watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs on DISH, click this link to browse our packages and find the right one for you!