The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are behind us and there are a set of new battles ready to kick off this week.
Even if you didn't keep up with the regular season or the opening-round's action, it's still not too late to get in on the high-intensity, high-stakes action of the NHL postseason — one of the best playoff experiences in all of sports.
Forthwith, a ranking of all four second-round matchups based on which have the potential to be the most fun and enjoyable wire-to-wire.
New York Rangers - Ottawa Senators
To close off what is arguably the weakest section of the playoff bracket, the Rangers and Senators will compete for a spot in the Eastern Conference Final.
Ottawa won the season series 2-1-0 but enters the second round with the worst odds of any remaining team. (New York has the second-worst.)
The Senators went to six games with a heavily-depleted Bruins team while the Rangers did the same with the Atlantic-winning Canadiens.
And while the Rangers have depth and a fearsome offense up front, their defense is suspect once again, so goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will have to carry over his great play from the opening round.
But the question remains whether or not the Senators are strong enough offensively to take advantage of the Rangers' weakness. Ottawa finished the regular season 22nd in total offense, but had some sticks get hot at the right time in round one. Erik Karlsson was a monster despite two hairline fractures in his foot and he'll likely need to be great for the Sens to have a chance.
Expect to hear more from Ottawa's Derick Brassard and New York's Mika Zibanejad. The two forwards were traded for each other last offseason and have been excellent for their new squads, especially this postseason.
Marc DesRosiersMarc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Anaheim Ducks - Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers advanced, despite having a relatively quiet series offensively against the Sharks. But they'll have to get the most out of their young guns like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl if they expect to get anywhere in round two.
The Ducks swept the Flames in round one and looked impressive in the process. They're better than Edmonton on the back end and are expected to have a full defensive lineup with Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen returning from injury. That should be huge as Anaheim looks to suppress Edmonton's explosive attack.
I'd also expect a veteran Ducks team may try to agitate and get under the skin of younger players like McDavid in an effort to throw them off their game. Don't be surprised if Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler bring some extra physicality and are active after whistles. (It goes without saying that you should probably monitor Corey Perry's shenanigans.)
One thing to keep an eye on is whether there is a separation of goaltending: Both teams are heading into the series carrying a starting goaltender with 10 or less playoff games under his belt. Anaheim's John Gibson played well in round one (.926 S percentage, 2.60 GAA), as did Edmonton's Cam Talbot (.927 S percentage, 2.03 GAA). Sustaining that type of performance between the pipes will be crucial for both clubs.
Edmonton took the season series three games to two, but two of those Oilers wins also needed overtime. This should be a fun matchup.
Perry NelsonPerry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators - St. Louis Blues
This is a matchup that few saw coming. Even fewer saw it come in the way that it did.
The Predators made quick work of the Blackhawks — regular season champions of the West — in a humiliating four-game sweep. The Blues handed Minnesota (the conference's second-best team) another postseason disappointment in just five games.
This series could be a defensive battle, especially with both teams getting great goaltending through the first round. St. Louis head coach Mike Yeo has done a great job turning their team around — the Blues allowed the least goals against in the league after he took over as head coach midway through the season.
Meanwhile, the Predators — who won the season series 3-2-0 — have an excellent defensive unit that includes plenty of firepower from the blue line, including Roman Josi and P.K. Subban.
St. Louis is a little deeper up front on offense, but the Predators have a fearsome of top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. They'll need that trio to have a big series.
While this shouldn't be the highest-scoring series here, it should be a competitive one.
Christopher HanewinckelChristopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Penguins - Washington Capitals
Does this series even need any hype?
Even casual fans may be drawn in by the Alex Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby matchup, but there's a lot more to this series than that.
The Capitals were regular season champs for the second consecutive season. They're loaded, and this may be the best team that they'll have for a while. They're absolutely desperate for a deep playoff run.
Meanwhile, the Penguins are reigning Cup champs and — fresh off a five-game gentleman's sweep of the Blue Jackets — they're favored to repeat.
Washington is going to have to beat the best if they want to be the best, and there's a good chance this may be the toughest test they'll see this spring. There's a bit of a revenge factor at play here as well: Pittsburgh eliminated the Capitals in the second round last year.
These are arguably the two deepest and most talented teams in the bracket, so it almost seems wrong that they're going head-to-head in just the second round.
It could go either way — they split their four-game season series, though both Penguins' wins needed an extra frame. But it's definitely going to be must-see action. If you can only watch one series all playoffs, this is the one you should make time for.