(WVUE) - It has been 15 years since New Orleans saw professional hockey in town and while that drought has no end in sight, there is plenty to be excited for on the ice as the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs crank up Wednesday night. Here's a rundown of the top five storylines to watch for:
Age Is Just A Number
The league's youth movement will be on full display as the first overall draft picks from the last two seasons make their postseason debuts in the Oilers' Connor McDavid from 2015 and Toronto's Auston Matthews from 2016. While the duo of 1997 birth dates will provide a breath of fresh air to the playoffs, it's league statesman Alexander Ovechkin who is under significant pressure to finally raise the Stanley Cup. The 12-year veteran played in all 82 games for the third time in his career but notched just 16 regular-strength goals, tied for the lowest tally of his career.
President's Cup Pressure
Ovechkin and the Capitals have been under a microscope all season after their 2015-16 campaign ended in the second round against the eventual-champions, Pittsburgh, despite Washington setting multiple records en route to the President's Cup recognition for the most points in the regular season. Coach Barry Trotz's team has once again paced the league so while home ice throughout the postseason is advantageous, it also amplifies the expectations, as evidenced by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook making the Caps 3-1 favorites to win it all.
Penguins' Mired March
The defending champions finished the regular season with 108 points, second best in the league, behind only Washington but unfortunately for Pittsburgh, their first round matchup is against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who had the fourth best record in the league. This trio duked it out all year in the Metropolitan Division and if the Capitals take care of business against Toronto, there will be another Metro showdown in the second round. Between the Penguins and Blue Jackets, the series was split, each winning a game in overtime and a game in regulation, headlined by Columbus' 7-1 victory in December. The ominous news for the Blue Jackets is that they have never made it out of the first round.
Quenneville's Coaching Consistency
Ever since the Chicago Blackhawks drafted Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in back-to-back summers, the franchise has been a model of consistency and through much of that, Joel Quenneville has been manning the bench. He has now reached the playoffs in all nine of his seasons with the team, including three Stanley Cup titles. He is the only coach in the playoffs with more than four seasons with his current team and one of just four who has been in place for at least two seasons. The Blackhawks have 5-1 odds to hoist the hardware, second best behind Washington, and just slightly better than their main competition in the Western Conference, the Minnesota Wild (6-1).
Canada Crashes The Party
After being shut out of the 2016 field, Canada is back in the postseason with five teams. According to the betting analytics service, Sports Insights, only two of the Canadian teams are favored to advance; Montreal over the Rangers and Edmonton over San Jose. The Leafs have the worst odds to advance, followed by Ottawa against Boston and Calgary against Anaheim. The country had five representatives in 2015 but three were eliminated in the first round and the remaining two were eliminated immediately afterward.
New York Rangers vs Montreal Canadiens- Wednesday, 6 PM
Boston Bruins vs Ottawa Senators - Wednesday, 6 PM
Columbus Blue Jackets vs Pittsburgh Penguins - Wednesday, 6:30 PM
St. Louis Blue vs Minnesota Wild - Wednesday, 8:30 PM
San Jose Sharks vs Edmonton Oilers - Wednesday, 9 PM
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Washington Capitals - Thursday, 6 PM
Nashville Predators vs Chicago Blackhawks - Thursday, 7 PM
Calgary Flames vs Anaheim Ducks - Thursday, 9:30 PM