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Playoff Buzz: Let the games begin

Five series get underway, including defending champion Penguins hosting Blue Jackets

NHL.com @NHL

Welcome to the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, your daily look at the stories impacting the 2016-17 postseason. The playoffs begin Wednesday with five games on the schedule. NHL.com writers covering each of the eight series will be checking in throughout the day to give you latest news from the rinks right up to puck drop. Here is the playoff news for Wednesday:

 
6 p.m.
Drop the puck

It's been a long day, but we're finally ready to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There are five Game 1s on Wednesday to keep you on the edge of your seat deep into the night (or early morning, if you live on the East Coast). Here's a look at the storylines for each game.

New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG) -- Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty will play Game 1after being hit in the face by a stick at practice Tuesday. The news has Canadiens fans literally dancing in the street.

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports2, NESN)  -- Look for rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy to make his NHL debut for the Bruins, and see some ice time with captain Zdeno Chara. Oh, and defenseman Erik Karlsson is healthy and ready to go for the Senators.

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVA Sports 3, ROOT, FS-O) -- It feels like Wednesday to Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey, who is trying to soft-sell his emotions entering his first Stanley Cup Playoff game in 14 NHL seasons. Columbus rookie defenseman Zach Werenski, the player that's most important to the Blue Jackets besides goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, will be in the lineup for Game 1.

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports 2, FS-MW, FS-N)  -- St. Louis coach Mike Yeo goes up against the team that fired him last season. Oh, he also has Vladamir Tarasenko on his side. 

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers (10 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports, NBCS CA) -- Joe Thornton and Logan Couture will be game-time decisions, but in or out Sharks coach Peter DeBoer has confidence in the healthy players. "We've played without significant players at different points over the last two years and managed to stay competitive, and that's the plan." 

 

5:12 p.m. ET
Thornton, Couture remain questionable

After all the speculation, San Jose Sharks centers Joe Thornton and Logan Couture appeared on the ice at Rogers Place in Edmonton for an optional morning skate ahead of Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports, NBCS CA).

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said each player will be a game-time decision, and neither Thornton nor Couture declared themselves in for Game 1 when interviewed after the skate.

The Oilers are preparing for their first playoff game in 11 years. That postseason gap means they have far less playoff experience than the Sharks, who brought back most of the key players that helped them advance to the Stanley Cup Final last year. Correspondent Derek Van Diest covers that in his Five Keys to Game 1.

-- Tim Campbell

 

2:53 p.m.
Defense, defense, defense

It's all about the defensemen here in Ottawa, as the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators get set for their Eastern Conference First Round matchup Wednesday in Ottawa (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports2, NESN).

For the Senators, the questions surround the health of their top defensive pair, Marc Methot and Erik Karlsson. On Karlsson, who looked uncomfortable during the morning skate, coach Guy Boucher said that he needed to readjust his tape and that he was "150 percent" ready. But Boucher said there would be two game-time decisions, one on a forward and one on a defenseman, which could be Methot. "If it was Game 7, he'd be playing," Boucher said. Methot sustained a lacerated finger on a slash by the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby on March 23. Both are covered in our 5 Keys to Game 1.

For the Bruins, the buzz is all around Charlie McAvoy, who will be making his NHL debut in Game 1. He will start the game paired with Kevan Miller, but, coach Bruce Cassidy said that could change as the game went on, meaning that he could see time with rookie defenseman whisperer Zdeno Chara.

Forward Brad Marchand will also make his return to the Bruins lineup, after serving a two-game suspension for spearing defenseman Jake Dotchin of the Tampa Bay Lightning. There's an edge to Marchand's game, and likely always will be, but he's infinitely more settled the past two seasons, after getting married and starting a family, and that has been reflected in his play.

-- Amalie Benjamin

 

2:11 p.m. ET
Hainsey trying to hide excitement for playoff debut

At long last Ron Hainsey's time has arrived. The Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, who turned 36 years old March 24, finally will get a chance to play in his first Stanley Cup Playoff game Wednesday after 907 regular-season games spanning 14 seasons. But after the Penguins' morning skate at PPG Paints Arena, he wasn't showing much emotion. "It feels like Wednesday," he said.

Hainsey's debut is just one of many storylines going into the first-round series between the Penguins and Blue Jackets, which starts Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVA Sports 3, ROOT, FS-O). Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is back after missing the last 13 games of the regular season because of an upper-body injury and Blue Jackets rookie defenseman Zach Werenski will play after missing the last four games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. Our correspondent with a famous last name but no relation, Wes Crosby, hits the high notes and includes the projected lineups in his five keys to Game 1.

-- Dan Rosen

 

12:58 p.m.
Pacioretty is OK

The Montreal Canadiens breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday when they began their optional morning skate and their captain was on the ice.

Max Pacioretty came out wearing his usual half visor a day after he was forced to leave practice when he took a high stick from teammate Michael McCarron, sending shockwaves of panic throughout the city of Montreal and the hearts of Canadiens fans.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien confirmed Wednesday that Pacioretty will be in the lineup for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG).

The game will kick off the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with four more games on the schedule to follow. There are a number of storylines, as correspondent Sean Farrell writes about in his five keys to Game 1.

-- Arpon Basu

 

9:17 a.m.
Let the games begin!

The most wonderful time of the year begins in mere hours, when the first puck is dropped to start the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The two-month march to win the greatest prize in hockey begins in five series Wednesday. Let's take a look at the latest news for all 10 teams.

New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG) -- Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber, who missed the final four games of the regular season because of a lower-body injury, will be in the lineup for Game 1 at Bell Centre.

For more on the series you can check out correspondent Kevin Woodley's comparison of goalies Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist and LNH.com Managing Editor Arpon Basu's look at how the Canadiens have benefitted from the coaching change to Claude Julien.

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports2, NESN) --  The Bruins could have rookie Charlie McAvoy make his NHL debut in Game 1 at Canadian Tire Centre on Wednesday. And he could be paired with "big brother" Zdeno Chara, according to staff writer Amalie Benjamin. Meanwhile the Senators are expected to have their top defenseman, Erik Karlsson, on the ice for Game 1.

For more on the series, here's one writer's opinion on why the Senators will win the Stanley Cup, and another's on why the Bruins will win it.

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVA Sports 3, ROOT, FS-O) -- The Penguins will their two all-world centers in the lineup for Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena, with Evgeni Malkin saying he's ready to play after missing the final 13 games of the regular season because of an upper-body injury. Thek Blue Jackets will have one of their most important players ready for Game 1, with rookie defenseman Zach Werenski cleared to play after missing the last four games.

For more on the series, you can check out a graphical look at the matchup between goalies Matt Murray and Sergei Bobrovsky, and how winning the Stanley Cup for a third time, not any perceived legacy, drives Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports 2, FS-MW, FS-N) -- New Blues coach Mike Yeo returns to Xcel Energy Center, the place he used to coach, but staff writer Louie Korac writes how for Yeo,the playoffs are "way bigger in my eyes than a little revenge here."

For more on the series, you can check out the series preview and go behind the numbers with correspondent Rob Vollman.

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers (10 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports, NBCS CA) --  Oilers teammates talked to staff writer Tim Campbell about captain Connor McDavid as he prepares for his playoff debut. Meanwhile the Sharks could be without centers Joe Thornton and Logan Couture for Game 1 as they attempt to return to the Stanley Cup Final.

For more on the series, check out correspondent Rob Vollman going inside the numbers on the series, and how the Alberta hockey teams returning to the playoffs has energized the region.

Three more Game 1s will be played Thursday. Here is the first-round schedule and playoff bracket

If you haven't done so already, there still is time to enter the NHL Bracket Challenge.

Not only can you fill out your bracket, you also can join or create leagues. What better way to show your friends you are the true king of the bracket.

And if you want to know how some hockey experts feel the first round will go, check out the predictions by staff members from NHL Network and NHL.com.

Good luck and enjoy the playoffs.

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