Patrick Kane is back for Chicago. Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are back in the playoffs after a one-year break. And the Montreal Canadiens feel as if they’ve been in this position before against Ottawa, and it’s not a good memory for the Habs.
Welcome to the opening night of the NHL playoffs.
The postseason kicks off Wednesday night with Kane set to return from a broken collarbone as the Blackhawks try to go from third in the Central Division to a third Stanley Cup championship in six seasons.
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”So it’s almost like it’s a new season for me, and I’m sure a lot of guys feel that way in here,” Kane said Tuesday. ”It’s definitely exciting to get back and do something that I love, do something that is enjoyable for me to do, is go out and play hockey.”
Kane missed the final 21 games of the season, and the All-Star still finished second on the team with 27 goals and 64 points.
Montreal remembers only too well how it was eliminated by Ottawa in five games in the first round in 2013, and the Canadiens dropped three of their four games against Senators this season.
”If you’re not learning from your past experiences, you’re not going to get better,” Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher said.
A look at what’s happening as the NHL playoffs begin Wednesday night:
Islanders at Capitals, Game 1, 7 p.m., TV: USA Network
DIFFERENT TEAM: Ovechkin’s Capitals are in the playoffs for the seventh time in the past eight seasons, but they’ve never been past the second round in that span. To a man, they’re convinced things will be different this time around, in part because of new coach Barry Trotz’s more structured and physical style. ”We’re optimistic that the style we play is more suited toward the playoffs than we ever (had) in the past,” first-year general manager Brian MacLellan said.
KEY D-MEN: Islanders center John Tavares finished second in the NHL in points and could see a lot of two experienced defensemen brought in by Washington for more than $65 million on the first day of free agency. Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik were with the Penguins in 2013, when they eliminated New York in Tavares’ first career playoff series. ”We never really had that huge veteran presence on `D,”’ Capitals defenseman John Carlson said.
Senators at Canadiens, Game 1, 7 p.m., NHL Network
HOME COOKING: Two of the NHL’s best home teams begin their series in Montreal. The Canadiens went 26-9-6 at home with a big thanks to Carey Price, who led the league with 44 wins, a .933 save percentage and a 1.96 goals-against average.
THE HAMBURGLAR: Much of the credit for Ottawa’s surge into a playoff spot goes to goalie Andrew Hammond, who helped the Senators go 23-4-4 down the stretch. He went 20-1-2 with a .941 save percentage in 24 games.
Blackhawks at Predators, Game 1, 8:30 p.m., NBCSN
MULLET’S BACK: The Blackhawks are a popular pick to win the Stanley Cup, and they will have Kane and his mullet in postseason shape for Game 1 in a rematch of a 2010 series that Chicago won 4-2. ”Yeah, I think it’s kind of like one of those things I have to do for playoffs now, not just for myself, but for the team,” Kane said of his usual postseason haircut. ”It seems like a lot of different people enjoy it.”
PROTECTING HOME ICE: The Predators tried to limit the number of Chicago fans that make it into their building by selling tickets only locally for this first-round series. They also have a couple other tricks, asking fans to sing the national anthem while hoping to drown out the Blackhawks faithful. Nashville needs a strong start to tap into the best home advantage in the Western Conference at 28-9-4.
Flames at Canucks, Game 1, 10 p.m., USA Network
WAITING FOR GIORDANO: The Flames went 12-6-3 without captain Mark Giordano, who tore his left bicep on March 4. The defenseman is skating again, but Calgary’s first playoff berth in six years will depend on how it survives without him.
RESTED EDDIE: Canucks coach Willie Desjardins isn’t saying that Eddie Lack will be in net against the Flames, but he has played 22 of the past 23 games for Vancouver. The game that he missed was the regular-season finale, giving the 27-year-old Swede some of the best rest he’s had yet. Vancouver also might get back forward Brad Richardson, who has played only twice since mid-January, from an injured foot.
AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich in Arlington, Va., contributed to this report.