NHL Playoffs: Five Things to Look Forward to as the Race for the Stanley Cup Begins

The Pittsburgh Penguins watch their 2017 Stanley Cup Championship banner rise to the rafters behind the Stanley Cup prior to a game against the St. Louis Blues at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 4, 2017 in Pittsburgh. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have officially arrived. After a regular season full of surprising trades, jaw-dropping debuts and dubious referee decisions, the Stanley Cup playoffs are finally upon us.

Newsweek has picked out five things to keep an eye on between now and June.

A Golden post-season debut?

The Golden Knights' first season in the NHL could hardly have gone any better. Las Vegas is the first team to make the playoffs in its inaugural campaign since the Edmonton Oilers and Hartford Whalers in the 1979-80 season and has done so by winning the Pacific division and setting the record for most points by an expansion team in its inaugural campaign.

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The series against the Los Angeles Kings has the potential to be thrilling. The Kings have averaged 2.89 goals a game this season—a figure which rises to 3.10 per game since Jeff Carter returned from injury in late February.

Names of the 58 victims of the October 1, 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas are projected on the ice as the Vegas Golden Knights hang a banner in the rafters with 58 stars at T-Mobile Arena on March 31, 2018. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Vegas, on the other hand, has found the net 2.73 times per game and has six players who have scored 20 or more goals this season.

The Golden Knights have already exceeded expectations this season but don't expect them to be satisfied with their achievements. Vegas has home advantage after going 29-10-2 at the T-Mobile Arena this season and a spot in the second round—against either the Anaheim Ducks or the San Jose Sharks—is a real possibility.

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Goals and lots of them

The Tampa Bay Lightning arrive into the playoffs, having scored 290 goals in the regular season, the fifth most in a season by a team in the post-lockout era, while another six teams—Nashville, Winnipeg, Boston, Vegas, Toronto and Pittsburgh—have scored over 260 goals.

By contrast, only the latter, Washington and Minnesota had breached the threshold last season, with Dallas the only team to do so in the 2015-16 season and nobody managing it in the previous campaign.

Whether the free-scoring approach will be translated into the post-season remains to be seen but fans could be treated to some high-octane offense in the playoffs.

The elusive three-peat

No team has won the Stanley Cup three times in a row since the New York Islanders lifted the trophy for four consecutive years between 1980 and 1983. The Pittsburgh Penguins are the first franchise to have the opportunity of clinching a three-peat since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 and arrive into the playoffs after a season of two halves.

The 22nd best-team in the NHL at the turn of the year, the Penguins turned a 19-18-3 record into a 47-29-6 record and finished second in the Metropolitan division, earning a first round match-up against Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh has won all four games against the Flyers this season, keeping Philadelphia to just five goals in the process and will look to avenge the defeat it suffered in the corresponding matchup in 2012.

In an epic series which featured 56 goals over six games, the Flyers emerged 4-2 winners and with four of the top 10 scorers in the league on ice, this series promises to be fascinating.

The Presidents Trophy curse

Is it a curse or is it just simple coincidence? Whatever your take on it, only eight teams have won the Stanley Cup after winning the Presidents Trophy, since the latter was introduced in the 1985-86 season.

The Chicago Blackhawks were the last to do so in the 2012-13 campaign and in the four intervening season the Presidents Trophy holders have never even made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Nashville Predators, however, look well set to buck the trend after finishing with 117 points and a 53-18-11 record.

The Predators have a Vezina Trophy contender in Pekka Rinne and the seventh best offense in the league and it wouldn't be surprising to see them still in action in June.

NHL Assistant Commissioner Bill Daly presents the President's Trophy to the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on April 7, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Capital punishment?

Alexander Ovechkin has broken all sorts of records this season, becoming only the 20th player in NHL history to score 600 goals en route to become only the second player in history to be awarded the NHL goalscoring title seven times.

The Russian became the Capitals' all-time leader in terms of career hat-tricks and the first player in to play 1,000 games for the Capitals. However, while records continue to tumble, the Stanley Cup has continued to elude the Russian.

Washington faces Columbus in the first round with a potential mouth-watering match-up against either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia on the horizon, as they look to atone for the early exits of the last two years when they fell in the second round despite having the best regular season record in both occasions.

Could more disappointment force Ovechkin, who will turn 33 in September, to look elsewhere for Stanley Cup glory?

NHL Playoffs: Five Things to Look Forward to as the Race for the Stanley Cup Begins | Sports