TNT analysts playoffs Matthews Marchand

When the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway Saturday, the competition to decide this season’s champion will be wide open.

“There are at least 10 teams you could sit there and make an unbelievable case that they will win the Stanley Cup,” television analyst and former NHL forward Eddie Olczyk said during a virtual media session to promote TNT’s coverage of the playoffs. “I don’t know if you could say that back when I broke into the League way back in the early ‘80s. … I don’t think there’s that separation. I think there are eight or nine or 10 teams, like I said, that I really feel can win the Stanley Cup, and I think that does speak to the competitive balance.”

Olczyk and TNT studio analysts Anson Carter and Paul Bissonnette are expecting an exciting spring following a compelling NHL regular season Bissonnette believes has been one of the best in recent history.

“At least in the last 15-20 years, you would be hard pressed to find a more entertaining regular season,” Bissonnette said.

Bissonette points to New York Rangers (55-23-4) prevailing over the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars in the tight race for the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top team during the regular season, the battle for the final two playoff berths in the Eastern Conference -- claimed when the New York Islanders clinched third in Metropolitan Division on Monday and the Washington Capitals clinched the second wild card on Tuesday -- along with a host of historic individual performances.

Those include Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews’ quest to become the first player to score 70 goals since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny each scored 76 in 1992-93, and Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid becoming the fourth player to have 100 assists, with Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov one away from becoming the fifth.

“I just think that from front to back, it’s really delivered. I think the League is thriving,” Bissonnette said. “It’s great to see, and I hope that kind of continues into the playoffs.”

Although three matchups in the Western Conference First Round have yet to be finalized, the four best-of-7 series in the Eastern Conference First Round are set with the Rangers facing the Capitals, the Hurricanes playing the Islanders, the Florida Panthers taking on the Lightning and the Boston Bruins facing the Maple Leafs.

Olczyk thinks the series between Boston and Toronto, longtime Original Six rivals who have met 16 times previously in the playoffs, could propel the winner to a long run and have ramifications for the loser.

“Whoever ends up standing will maybe be able to survive and continue on, obviously, playing wise,” Olczyk said. “But it goes hand-in-hand, I think, not only the on-ice series, but what could be the carnage player-wise, coach-wise, everything that comes with it. … I think it’s going to be a [heck] of a series.”

Carter said the intrastate series between the Panthers and Lightning, who will meet the postseason for the third time in four seasons, also has potential to be special. Florida reached the Stanley Cup Final last season before losing to the Vegas Golden Knights but will have to get past Tampa Bay for the first time in the playoffs to have a chance to go on another run.

“I can’t wait for this series,” Carter said. “… As hard and as physical as the Panthers play, I really think it’s going to come down to discipline. You can’t allow [Kucherov] to get off on that power play. I think that will be a real game changer in that series. So, that’s something I’m going to look for to see if Florida can be disciplined and keep that series 5-on-5 as much as possible to give themselves a chance.”

The Western series are still to be determined, but Carter, Bissonnette and Olczyk see potential for them to be just as competitive. The Golden Knights, who are trying to old off the Los Angeles Kings for third in the Pacific Division, remain a formidable foe.

The Stars have already locked up first the Central Division and can clinch first in the Western Conference, ahead of the Vancouver Canucks, who have clinched first in the Pacific, with a point against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; MAX, truTV, TNT).

“If Dallas got to the conference finals, Stanley Cup Final, I don’t see a reason why they couldn’t win it all,” Carter said. “I think that you could say that about a number of teams. I think that’s what makes our postseason so exciting.”