Here's a look at 10 things to watch when the NHL playoffs begin Wednesday with a new format, some stars returning from injuries and renewed rivalries:
NEW LOOK: Forget what you knew about how teams matched up in the playoffs. When the league went from having six divisions to four this season as part of its realignment, the plan for postseason was also altered. Two wild cards were added in each conference and at least half the first-round series were guaranteed to have teams face division opponents.
IN THE EAST: The Atlantic Division-winning and defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins will face the wild card Detroit Red Wings in the opening round. The team that advances will face the division's second place Tampa Bay Lightning or third place Montreal Canadiens. The Metropolitan Division-champion Pittsburgh Penguins will play the wild card Columbus Blue Jackets and the winner moves on to face the division's second or third-place teams, the New York Rangers or Philadelphia Flyers.
OUT WEST: The Pacific Division-champion Anaheim Ducks are set to match up with the wild card Dallas Stars, the fifth team in from the Central, in the only interdivision series. The winner will play the Pacific's second place San Jose Sharks or Los Angeles Kings. The Central champion Colorado Avalanche face the wild card Minnesota Wild and the team that advances will match up with the division's second- or third-place teams, the St. Louis Blues or defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks.
ON THE MEND: The Blackhawks expect to have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the lineup when they play at St. Louis on Thursday after each had long layoffs to heal injuries. Kane has been out since hurting his left knee March 19 — against the hard-hitting Blues. Tampa Bay might have to get to the second round to have goaltender Ben Bishop on the ice. Bishop has been out since last week with an upper-body injury and isn't going to be re-evaluated until early next week. "It's unfortunate, not just for our team, but for Ben," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He's had a great run with us this year." Tampa Bay has to hope Anders Lindback, who has played in one playoff game previously, makes the most of his opportunity to play in net.
BUCKLE UP: One of the many intriguing matchups in the opening round has the 2012 Stanley Cup champion Kings against the Sharks for the third time in four postseasons. The Kings eliminated the Sharks in Game 7 of the second round last year after being eliminated by them in Game 6 of an opening-round series in 2011. Los Angeles and San Jose have played 22 times the last three years, including the playoffs, and each has won 11 of those games. "We figured we were going to see them at some point," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. The Rangers and Flyers, whose arenas are about 100 miles apart, have met many times in the playoffs in the past, but not since 1997 when Philadelphia got past New York in five games and went on to lose in the Stanley Cup finals.