New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The Stanley Cup playoffs will open next week with a new NHL champion to be crowned after the annual two-month odyssey.
The Los Angeles Kings won last year's title, but won't be around for a crack at another celebratory skate after being eliminated from postseason contention in the Western Conference earlier this week.
Four first-round openers will be played Wednesday, followed by four more on Thursday.
This year's top overall seed for the playoffs will be the New York Rangers, who won the Presidents' Trophy for the first time since winning their last Cup title in the spring of 1994. The Blueshirts will start their quest for the title on Thursday at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who squeezed into the playoffs on the final day of the season as the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
The other Eastern Conference first-round matchups will feature Atlantic Division champion Montreal against Ottawa, Detroit against Tampa Bay and Washington against the New York Islanders.
Ottawa also earned its way into the playoffs on the final day of the season and captured the first wild card. The Senators will open against their Canadian rivals on Wednesday in Montreal.
Tampa Bay finished second in the Atlantic Division and will have home-ice advantage against Detroit. Game 1 is set for Thursday in Florida.
Washington and the New York Islanders will renew hostilities in a matchup of former Patrick Division playoff rivals. The Capitals earned home-ice advantage in the series on Saturday and will host the opener on Wednesday.
Anaheim secured the top seed in the Western Conference on Saturday with a victory over Arizona and will meet Winnipeg in the first round. The city of Winnipeg will see playoff action for the first time since the original Jets left for the Arizona desert in 1996. Game 1 is set for Thursday in Anaheim.
St. Louis could have had the top seed if the Ducks had lost Saturday, but the Blues will be the second seed in the West and will take on Minnesota, which earned the top wild card. The teams met in the regular-season finale on Saturday and will see each other again on Thursday in St. Louis for Game 1.
Nashville and Chicago finished 2-3 in the Central Division and will open their series Wednesday in the Music City. The other Wednesday opener in the West will take place in Vancouver, as the Canucks battle the Calgary Flames.