The Stanley Cup Playoffs is often called the best and most exciting postseason in all of sports. The high-intensity, pulse-pounding action is something that can be appreciated by all, and worth tuning into even if you've missed any of games 1 to 82.
Still, we understand that for most, it's impossible to commit to watching every game of every series on the postseason schedule. With that in mind, and with the playoffs underway on Wednesday night, we ranked all eight first-round matchups based on which have the potential to be the most fun and enjoyable wire-to-wire.
Sergei BelskiSergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ottawa Senators - Boston Bruins
If you don't have something invested in this series, this might be one you want to skip.
Ottawa and Boston met four times in the regular season, with the Senators taking all four games — three in regulation, one in a shootout. Regardless of that outcome, this should be a pretty tight, hard-fought series.
That doesn't necessarily mean it will be good hockey, though. These are two of the least impressive teams in the playoff bracket: The Senators are the only playoff team with a negative goal differential (-2), and the Bruins limped into their playoff spot.
Don't expect beautiful play, either — this could be a relatively boring, messy slog through most of the contests, so the best bet is to just hope for exciting finishes.
Bob DeChiaraBob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Wild - St. Louis Blues
There's a nice little narrative built into this matchup: St. Louis head coach Mike Yeo, who took over midway through the season, was previously fired by the Wild.
Both teams are also known for having some playoff demons that they're looking to shake off. Neat!
Under Yeo, the Blues turned their porous defense (and goaltending) around and went 21-8-2 to close out the year. That's even after having to sell top defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline.
But Minnesota was one of the West's top teams until they took a slide in March, when they were overtaken by the Blackhawks. The Wild finished with the league's second-best offense (behind only Pittsburgh) and will put St. Louis' defense to the test.
Blues goalie Jake Allen struggled at the beginning of the year and has had his share of postseason issues, so a high-powered Wild offense may be able to rattle him if they pounce early.
Billy HurstBilly Hurst-USA TODAY Sports
Anaheim Ducks - Calgary Flames
The Ducks are heading into this series as the Pacific's No. 1 seed, but there's not a whole lot of separation in that division.
The Flames are very strong at the top of their lineup and have some genuinely exciting young playmakers in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk. They also may have the best defensive pairing in all of hockey in Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton.
But Calgary's downfall will eventually be their lack of depth, which often becomes a key factor in a playoff series. Anaheim is a bit deeper, but being without top defenseman Cam Fowler will be a huge blow.
That loss could also stir a bit of bad blood between the two teams: Anaheim lost Fowler in their final matchup against the Flames, thanks to a knee-to-knee hit by Calgary's Giordano at the end of the regular season.
The playoffs always bring heightened emotions, and with noted agitators like Tkachuk and Corey Perry in the rink, we could be looking at series full of contempt and shenanigans, which is always fun to see play out on the ice.
Sergei BelskiSergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Capitals - Toronto Maple Leafs
The Capitals are Presidents' Trophy winners for the second year in a row and are largely considered to be the best team in the league this year. The Maple Leafs just managed to sneak into that eighth spot in the playoff picture.
And while this has the potential to be a quick series, it should be a lot of fun nonetheless.
Not only does Washington bring a deep, well-rounded team with plenty of firepower, Toronto also has some thrilling weapons of their own ... and none of them are old enough to buy beer south of Canada's border.
Auston Matthews (19 years old), Mitch Marner (19) and William Nylander (20) led the offensive charge for the Leafs this year and each finished in the top four in rookie scoring. Matthews will ultimately be this year's Calder-winner after scoring the most goals by a rookie since ... Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who is arguably the best goal-scorer of this generation.
This is a series that has potential for plenty of run-and-gun offense, which is as exciting as anything you'll see in hockey.
Ultimately, Washington is the much better team and they could make quick work of Toronto. But anything can happen in the playoffs — especially when the Capitals are involved. Either way, you should make time to watch this one.
Dan HamiltonDan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Edmonton Oilers - San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are the reigning Western Conference champs, but Edmonton has Connor McDavid — the Art Ross and inevitable Hart winner and the only player in the league with 100 points to his name this year.
McDavid is the main reason the Oilers — led by former Sharks coach Todd McLellan — are back in the playoff picture for the first time in a decade. But Edmonton has plenty of other young talent worth keeping an eye on, including Leon Draisaitl.
The Sharks have plenty of talent, but they're older and more dinged up (Joe Thornton and Logan Couture are question marks heading into the series), and slid late in the year. And while San Jose also has more playoff experience under their belts, it's debatable how much weight that actually holds.
What's not debatable, however, is getting to see Connor McDavid — heir apparent to Sidney Crosby — in his first playoff series. That alone makes this one worth watching.
Perry NelsonPerry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Montreal Canadiens - New York Rangers
This is a rematch of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final, during which Montreal goalie Carey Price was run and injured by Chris Kreider, ending his series in Game 1. The Rangers went on to win the series and advance to the Cup Final that year.
That collision is still the source of some bad blood between the two teams and their respective fanbases, so this could turn into a very feisty and intense first-round matchup.
The Habs finished atop the Atlantic Division and swept the Rangers, who grabbed the first Wild Card spot out of the ultra-tough Metro, in three regular season meetings this year.
But despite the gap head-to-head, the Rangers lucked out with their seeding. The two teams were only separated by a single point during the regular season and the Rangers managed to sneak into a less-daunting Atlantic bracket.
The two teams also pose an interesting matchup with opposite strengths to their name: The Canadiens are an average offensive team that relies on shutting down opponents through defense and goaltending, while the Rangers bring a strong offensive attack with a defense that can be a liability.
Great defense often tends to overshadow great offense during playoff hockey, so we'll see if the Habs continue to have success against New York. A lot hinges on Price, who may find a little extra motivation in this matchup.
Andy MarlinAndy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Blackhawks - Nashville Predators
The Blackhawks tend to bring exciting, enjoyable playoff action whether they win or lose (though they're pretty good at the former), and this year shouldn't be much different.
Chicago comes out of the regular season as the West's top team, but the conference seems to be pretty wide open.
The Blackhawks impress with headliners including Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa.
But Nashville isn't too shabby, either: The Preds are deep on defense with blue line that features Roman Josi and P.K. Subban, and they have firepower up front with Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg.
Though it's important to consider the Predators have the worst road record of any team in the playoffs, while the Blackhawks had the second-most road wins during the regular season. With the series starting in Chicago, that could be a huge factor in grabbing momentum.
The 'Hawks also have a recent history filled with playoff success, and Nashville has never made it past the second round.
That being said, the start of every playoffs is a great chance to wipe the slate clean. Nashville taking down Chicago in round one would be a dramatic and emphatic way to hit the reset button on their postseason woes.
But regardless of who advances, this should definitely be a series with a lot of skill and speed going both ways.
Christopher HanewinckelChristopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Penguins - Columbus Blue Jackets
The Penguins are reigning Stanley Cup champs and still have supreme talent and marquee names like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel in the lineup, so they're always going to be fun to watch.
The Blue Jackets had an impressive regular season — especially in the first half, when they ripped off 16 wins in a row — but they didn't finish strong, and some think they still have to prove they're for real.
This will certainly be a test to do just that.
Losing top defenseman Kris Letang, who was huge for PIT during their run last year, definitely hurts. But the Pens still have the league's top offense, as well as home ice advantage in this series.
The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, finished with the league's second-best goals against average and have Sergei Bobrovsky, this year's likely Vezina winner, in net.