2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Race To The Cup Begins Wednesday

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin on Wednesday, April 11. There's plenty of story lines to go around -- aren't there always in the Cup playoffs? -- as a couple of big underdogs going into the season have picked up high seeds including the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes. Neither of those teams have ever won a Stanley Cup but with home ice they could get their first big shots.

Of course, the old powers are still sticking around like the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins. As we all know, anything can happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs so you never know who will emerge from the scrap to make the second round. The race to the Cup begins begins on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET when the Flyers and Penguins face off in Pittsburgh.

Here's all of the match ups for the first round of the playoffs:

Western Conference

No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Kings
The Canucks won the Western Conference after destroying for most of the year, had a bit of a lackadaisical spell for a while and then promptly turned the heat back on before the playoffs began. The Kings barely scraped into the playoffs in a multi-team race that included the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche.

No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 7 San Jose Sharks
Very few people expected the Blues to explode to the top spot in the Central division, but they did it and did it with style. Brian Elliot finally seems to have evolved into the goaltender that Ottawa thought he had the potential to and their offense and defense look great.

No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks
This is probably the most likely upset special in the first round for the West. After their cup win in 2010, the Blackhawks lost some key players but still have their solid and talented core. Phoenix are getting hot at the right time though.

No. 4 Nashville Predators vs. No. 5 Detroit Red Wings
Detroit should probably be much higher in the standings after setting the NHL record for most home wins in a row this season, but had an awful March filled with injury that doomed them to the fifth seed. With a pretty bad road record recently, they could have trouble with Nashville getting home ice.

Eastern Conference

No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 8 Ottawa Senators
The Rangers surprised a lot of people by getting 109 points in the regular season, but did lose two straight going into the playoffs. Ottawa has gotten decent goaltending from Craig Anderson en route to their playoff berth along with a very spread out team game otherwise.

No. 2 Boston Bruins vs. No. 7 Washington Capitals
The defending cup champs still have one of the best goalies in the league in Tim Thomas along with their stifling defense and efficient offense. Washington have something to prove after a disappointing year, but they'll need to be at their best if they want to show the world they're better than they showed in the regular season.

No. 3 Florida Panthers vs. No. 6 New Jersey Devils
Florida came very close to suffering a late season collapse and missing their division title, but managed to hang on and should be a team to watch out for in the playoffs with their underrated offense. Of course, New Jersey is full of guys who have been here before.

No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers
The Penguins may be a four seed, but they got Sidney Crosby back and that can't be understated. Crosby helped lead the Pens to a cup a few years ago and he can do it again if he gets hot at the right time. The Flyers are one of the most complete teams in the league but need Ilya Bryzgalov to look like the Bryz of old if they want to make a run.

For more on the National Hockey League playoffs, head over to the SB Nation NHL hub.

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