The long and excruciating wait is over for NHL Fans around the country.
Five months after the last competitive action, 24 teams will return to the ice looking to lift the Stanley Cup by summer's end. 10 games take place this weekend in Toronto and Edmonton respectively with qualifying round series and round robin seeding tournaments both occurring.
Both Saturday and Sunday will see five games taking place with the Philadelphia Flyers' date with the Boston Bruins the headliner. Alain Vigneault's team saw its nine-game winning run snapped by the Bruins in the last competitive action for both teams back in February. Boston finished the regular season with the most points in the NHL (100) and will be a major favorite to claim the title later this summer.
Eight qualifying round series begin this weekend as well with all 16 teams seeking a strong start. Hosts Toronto and Edmonton will face tough opponents in the best-of-five series and cannot afford to let up on home ice.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators, and Vancouver Canucks headline the top teams in the qualifying round.
Fox Sports The Gambler Flyers and NHL analyst Larry Henry Jr gives his best plays for the opening weekend of games. As always, our odds come courtesy from DraftKings SportsBook.
Onto the picks!
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Boston Bruins
The Philadelphia Flyers face off with the Boston Bruins on Sunday, coming in as underdogs in Toronto.
Alain Vigneault's team were 3-2 against the Bruins this regular season, picking up one of those victories in overtime. Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux lead the attack for the Flyers while Carter Hart will get the nod in goal.
Boston has owned this rivalry in the past, picking up 43 wins compared to 26 losses. MVP snub David Pastrnak eclipsed 45 goals and 90 points this regular season and will be key to the B's offense.
The Flyers may be underdogs, but overall has more depth offensively than the Bruins. These meetings have averaged 5.6 combined goals per game, another play I like on Sunday.
Pick: Flyers (+112), Over 5.5 goals (+177)
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers
The Chicago Blackhawks snuck into the playoffs due to the expanded format and ultimately have a daunting task in the qualifying round.
Chicago will look to pull the upset on hosts Edmonton, despite relying on plenty of veteran players on both ends of the ice. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith remain valuable pieces of the Blackhawks roster and will need to have strong opening games to set the tone early and avoid an early hole.
Edmonton is lead by the star power of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, who both put in masterclass regular seasons. Both players are young and ready for the spotlight the playoffs bring and should have plenty to prove on home ice.
Chicago won both of the head-to-head meetings this season, but I gotta go with the home team who are miles better.
Pick: Oilers (-148)
Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames
One of the more intriguing series is the only battle between two Canadian teams.
Winnipeg and Calgary were neck-and-neck in the regular season, finishing only one point from each other. The Jets are +110 to the series, but pose one of the league's top offensive units. Kyle Connor (38 goals), Mark Scheifele (29 goals), and Patrik Laine (28 goals) are just three members of a deep forward group, who all can carry the load in the playoffs.
Calgary is led by some young talent as well with Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, and Johnny Gaudreau being the marquee names. All three had over 50 points in the regular season and will be keen to do more of the same in the playoffs.
While Calgary has been a nice sight this season, my money is with Winnipeg to get an early jump on this series. Connor Hellebyuck is a top goaltender in the NHL and is more reliable than Cam Talbot or David Rittich.
Pick: Jets (-104)
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
It is a David vs. Goliath matchup in the Eastern Conference with the Pittsburgh Penguins facing off with the Montreal Canadiens.
Pittsburgh bring plenty of playoff experience to the table with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang remaining from past cup successes. Added to the mix is star forward Jake Guentzel who is back to full health after a major injury this season and young defender John Marino. Mike Sullivan will have a tough decision to make in goal though with Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray both earning 20 wins in the regular season.
Montreal is a team who also snuck into the playoffs due to the new format, but will have a tough time with the Penguins. Tomas Tatar is the lone star in the Canadiens attack, while Shea Weber is a key veteran on the backend. Carey Price may have a busy series in goal for the Habs, who are major underdogs in this series.
My money is with the Pens to start strong in Toronto.
Pick: Penguins (-162)
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
For the Toronto Maple Leafs to advance into the next round, they will have to get the better of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Led by Coach of the Year finalist John Tortorella, Columbus made the most of their regular season which saw star forward Cam Atkinson miss plenty of time due to injury. Atkinson is back for the Jackets and looking to lead his team past the Eastern Conference hosts.
My eyes will be on Toronto though with Auston Matthews having a first crack to add to an impressive season. Matthews scored 47 goals in the regular season and is easily the top player on the Maple Leafs offense.
With the extra edge of being on home ice, I like Toronto to claim Game No. 1
Pick: Maple Leafs (-152)