Air Canada Centre, the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who head to Boston for a Game 7 tomorrow against the Bruins. -Photo courtesy of pixabay.com user "beofonemind"

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are one of the most exciting times on the sports calendar. The long, grueling, 82-game hockey season leaves 16 teams in the final fight to have their names engraved on the prized trophy.

With the ending of the first round, the field is cut down to eight teams. As of right now, the only first round match-up that hasn’t concluded is the Bruins versus Maple Leafs, as the Maple Leafs forced Game 7 back in Boston.

But, around the rest of the league there were plenty of story-lines that intrigued the masses and set up some incredible face-offs in the second round.

The Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s newest expansion team, exceeded all expectations that are usually placed on a newly born franchise and won the Pacific Division title. In the first round, they swept the LA Kings in four games, solidifying Vegas as a serious threat in the West.

Could the Stanley Cup actually go to Sin City?

The San Jose Sharks, underdogs against the Anaheim Ducks, swept their first round series as well. With a second round match-up against Vegas, one of these two undefeated post-season teams is going to have to taste defeat for the first time in the form of a handshake line at the end of what should be an incredible series.

Winnipeg and Nashville advanced and will face each other in the second round. The defending Western Conference champions, the Predators, will not have an easy series against a Jets team that has played excellent hockey all year.

In the East, things have been just as fun.

On their quest to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup, the Penguins were pushed up against the ropes fighting their arch-rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, but won the series in six games. For the Flyers, they head into the off-season knowing they put up a gutsy fight with the team’s leading scorer, Sean Couturier, playing two games with a torn MCL, along with defenseman Ivan Provorov playing Game 6 with essentially one arm.

That right there shows the toughness, grit and determination that hockey players have, especially when it comes to playoff time.

The Capitals became the first team in NHL history to win a series after losing the first two games in overtime at home, winning four straight to stun the Blue Jackets. They now draw the Penguins in the second round for the third consecutive year.

Washington is 1-9 all-time in the playoffs against Pittsburgh. Will they overcome the second round bug that has plagued them since Ovechkin was drafted, or will the
semifinal be their exit once again?

Tampa Bay, one of the heavy favorites to win the Cup this year, easily dispatched a young New Jersey Devils team in five games. They have been at home relaxing and will be well rested when they face the winner of the Boston versus Toronto series.

The first round of the playoffs have given us great action and some surprises that will have hockey fans clamoring for more.

The final eight in the tournament are all teams that are legitimate contenders for the Cup. The second round matchups are going to be hard-hitting and memorable, as it only gets better from there.

This is more than just hockey, folks.

It’s playoff hockey.

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