In clash of playoff styles, which one will reign supreme?
Catch-me-if-you-can speed, heavy pressure and frustrating grinding hockey will all collide in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The 16 teams that open the playoffs run the gamut of styles and the one that comes out on top in June will again set a blueprint for the rest of the NHL to follow.
It's a copycat league that tends to follow the last winner, even as the pendulum swings from year to year.
If the Chicago Blackhawks win their fourth Cup in seven years or Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers shock the league to win their first since 1990, speed will continue to be in vogue.
But if someone such as the Boston Bruins or Montreal Canadiens raises the trophy, maybe size and strength is back to being the recipe for winning.
''In playoff hockey it's about all the little things: It's battles on the wall, in front of the net,'' New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said.
''All that stuff becomes magnified and there's no small plays out there. A team that can compete and win those types of battles usually has a good chance of success.''
How to win those battles and dictate the style of a game or series varies drastically. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Cup last year relying on their depth that will again be tested in the absence of top defenseman Kris Letang, beating the bigger but still deep San Jose Sharks, who will try to shake off late-season struggles to return to the final and break through.
Also trying to break through for the first title in franchise history are the Washington Capitals, who are built a little bit like the 2012 and 2014 Cup champion Los Angeles Kings who forechecked hard and used their size.
But the Capitals have skill from Alex Ovechkin on down and speed throughout the lineup to play just about every kind of game out there.
''We have a blend,'' Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. ''I think our skilled guys are, generally speaking, a little bit bigger. We have good goaltending and without the puck, if we have to, with the system we play, we can lock it down pretty well defensively, but we also have enough creative guys and speed guys that if the game turns into an up-and-down rushes type game, we have guys that can do that, as well.''
On the way to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, the Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning showed that speed and skill can win even though playoff hockey has the reputation as a haven for mucking and grinding and low-scoring games.
But even those teams could lock down defensively, something any championship contender must be able to do.
''We emphasize defense first all the time,'' said Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, in the playoffs for the ninth time with his third team.
''That's our whole emphasis. ... I don't know about my style. I got to believe whoever we play, they're going to fear us as much as we fear them.''
Almost as much as running into a hot goaltender, the fear of facing a bad matchup is real in the playoffs even for the most talented teams.
The Columbus Blue Jackets play coach John Tortorella's structured playoff hockey that has bred success for his previous teams, but it's the Ottawa Senators' suffocating style that could prove the most frustrating for skilled opponents.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy called the Senators ''not fun'' to play against.
Under coach Guy Boucher, they clog up the neutral zone, slow things down and annoy the daylights out of teams, which winger Bobby Ryan said has ''worked all year and it's driven teams crazy.''
''I think we're built for playoff hockey,'' Ottawa defenseman Mark Borowiecki said. ''If I was a team in the Eastern Conference, I don't think I'd want to be playing us in the first round. When we're on our game, we're tight, we don't give up a lot and we're tough to play against.''
Ryan called the Senators' brand ''patient and boring,'' but being tough to play against doesn't have to be that way.
The Capitals finished atop the standings for the second year in a row by throwing line after line at opponents, and that depth and adaptability makes them the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference.
''It starts with a hard-checking game, and from that things start opening up and then our offense takes over,'' Washington 30-goal scorer T.J. Oshie said.
''In this league you can't start with the open-ice offense first. It's just not how it works. You have to kind of earn that open ice by playing physical, playing fast, putting pucks behind them. Then after that they get on their heels and that's when the plays are in front of them.''
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, Sports Writers Pat Graham in Denver, Tom Canavan in Newark, New Jersey, and Josh Dubow in San Jose, California, contributed.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno.