It's the most wonderful time of the year.
Sixteen teams begin a pursuit of the most prestigious trophy in all of sports this week, as the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs get under way with three games Wednesday night.
The postseason begins with one of the fiercest rivalries in the sport, as the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Philadelphia Flyers at the Consol Energy Center. A healthy Sidney Crosby (37 points in 22 regular-season games) leads the Pens, who have home-ice advantage as the No. 4 seed after finishing five points ahead of the Flyers in the standings.
Crosby missed 60 games during the regular season due to post-concussion syndrome. However, No. 87 returned to action on March 15 and recorded at least a point in 10 of 14 games to help Pittsburgh secure fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
The puck is set to drop in Pittsburgh at 7:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC Sports Network in the United States and both TSN and RDS in Canada.
Nashville, picked by some experts to go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final this year, begin their first-round series with the always-dangerous Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night. The teams split six regular-season showdowns in 2011-12, but it's the Predators who have home-ice advantage in what should be an intense seven-game series.
Bridgestone Arena -- one of the loudest facilities in the League -- will surely be rocking for the opening faceoff, which is slated for 8 p.m. ET and can be seen on CNBC in the U.S. and both CBC and RDS2 in Canada.
In Wednesday's final matchup, the Vancouver Canucks, who needed the final day of the regular season to clinch the Presidents' Trophy, will host the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers Arena. Los Angeles finished eighth in the Western Conference after falling to the San Jose Sharks in overtime of the NHL's final regular-season game Saturday night.
It is expected Roberto Luongo will get the nod in Game 1 for the Canucks, but the pressure will be on the goaltender to produce. Vancouver's backup, Cory Schneider, won 20 games during the regular season while boasting a 1.96 goals-against average and .937 save percentage.
The Canucks and Kings are scheduled to get under way at 10:30 p.m. ET in a game that can be seen on NBCSN in the U.S., as well as CBC and RDS in Canada.
The Boston Bruins, who hoisted Lord Stanley in Vancouver last June after erasing a 3-2 series deficit, begin their chase of a second straight championship on Thursday night against the Washington Capitals. The Bruins are aiming to become the League's first back-to-back champion since Detroit accomplished the feat in 1997 and 1998.