For the first time in their respective NHL careers Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid will compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and NBC Sports Group is eager to see how the storyline develops.
Entering its sixth year covering the playoffs, NBC welcomes the opportunity to showcase two of the NHL's brightest young stars.
"It's going to be fun to see how they perform on the big stage, which adds a whole new dynamic to the game of hockey when you have to play with the kind of pressure that goes on in the Stanley Cup Playoffs," NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said.
Video: PIT@TOR: Matthews seals crucial win with empty-netter
Matthews and the Maple Leafs open their best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports). Matthews became the fourth rookie in League history to score 40 goals before his 20th birthday, helping the Maple Leafs reach the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and second since 2004.
McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy after leading the League in scoring with 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists). The Oilers' Western Conference First Round series against the San Jose Sharks begins at Rogers Place on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports).
"Whether our game in Pittsburgh on opening night winds up going one or two overtimes or whether it ends in regulation, I'm going to be right across the street and watch Connor McDavid in that initial game that he has for Edmonton on Wednesday," said NBC play-by-play announcer Mike Emrick, who with analysts Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire will call the series between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins starting Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN 360, TVA Sports). "It's fun as a fan to get to see all of these games and have a chance to watch them all."
Led by McDavid, who in his second NHL season finished with a 14-game point streak to become the only player to reach 100 points, the Oilers are in the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2006.
Video: VAN@EDM: Draisaitl pots McDavid's 100th point
"He's going to get his chances because the guy is an incredible athlete and he's shown to be the MVP," Olczyk said. "Look, Todd McLellan to me is the Coach of the Year in the National Hockey League. Obviously, when you have the Most Valuable Player in the National Hockey League, it goes hand in hand. But he's going to get his chances. So I think that for San Jose, if they can identify where he is on the ice and let somebody else be the guy carrying that puck ... the one thing that [McDavid] can do is he can cause separation as well as any player in the League."
The Sharks, who reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their history last season, could be without forwards Joe Thornton (knee) and Logan Couture (mouth) in Game 1. They went 4-9-0 in their final 13 regular-season games.
"I think the Sharks pretty much stumbled coming into the playoffs for good reason," analyst Jeremy Roenick said. "It's very, very difficult to lose two of your most important players, and especially down the middle. Not having [Thornton] 100 percent really diminishes the Sharks' chances against a team like the Edmonton Oilers, who are going to be absolutely flying on excitement, on their youth, their adrenaline, having a Connor McDavid leading the way."