Image Credit: (Perry Nelson /USA Today Sports)
The NHL Playoffs are almost here and my goodness it came quick. You know what they say, there is nothing like playoff hockey. The competitive edge, the stakes, and the level of skill couldn’t be higher. So does your favorite team have what it takes? My fellow writer Nicholas Mullick and I decided to write predictions for this year’s first-round matchups. Let’s break down our picks to see which teams will advance and which teams’ Stanley Cup dreams will be cut short.
Carolina Hurricanes v Boston Bruins
Maeve’s pick: Hurricanes in 6
The Hurricanes really have it all. They have solid scoring depth, a great d-core, a top-three goalie this year, and grit. However, the Hurricanes’ playoff futures hinge on whether Frederik Andersen is healthy and whether we see the return of playoffs Andersen. For the Toronto Maple Leafs in previous seasons, Andersen couldn’t get it done in the playoffs, but now he is on a new team, ready for a fresh start. The Bruins are a good team that plays a style of hockey that lends itself to playoff success. If Andersen doesn’t show up in this series or is too injured to play, the Bruins could take this series, but if everything continues as it was in the regular season, the Hurricanes will come out of it.
Nick’s Pick: Bruins in 7
I don’t know how they do it, but the Boston Bruins have continuously fought back to keep their cup dreams alive. They will have a tough test in Carolina. Luckily for Boston, the Hurricanes’ goaltending is a big concern. Frederik Andersen’s ongoing injury concerns are a big problem for the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Leafs warned you guys. Speaking of which, wasn’t Raanta also injured? He is. Welp, let’s dive into the prospect pool and have Pyotr Kochetkov in net. He is a solid prospect, but he is extremely raw in the net and might not be ready for a playoff push. This will be a close one, but with Carolina’s issues in the net, I have to give this victory to the Boston Bruins.
New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Maeve’s pick: Rangers in 6
The Penguins are an older team and are missing key pieces to injury ahead of the playoffs. Their goalie, Tristan Jarry, had a bounce-back season this year but was injured with what was rumored to be a broken foot shortly before the playoffs. The 2022 Penguins lack the depth of the old Penguins; while they still have Crosby, Malkin, and Letang, their lineup leaves much to be desired. They have always been a good systems team that seems to find a way to win, despite injuries, but whether that will work in the playoffs is debatable.
The Rangers, before the deadline, were a few promising young pieces on the up and the best goalie in the league this season, Igor Shesterkin. However, they made some big moves to bring in-depth at the deadline, and they were successful. Andrew Copp has been a tremendous offensive acquisition for the Rangers. The Rangers’ power play is fourth in the league and converts at a 25%, which is incredibly dangerous. With Chris Kreider coming off a career year and all of the Rangers’ top-tier talent generating, the Penguins’ situation in net becomes even more jarring. Shesterkin can prevent the Pens from scoring, and the Rangers have the firepower to light up a goalie like Casey DeSmith, who is a serviceable backup but not an NHL-quality starter.
The quicker this series is, the better it looks for the Rangers, so I am picking the Rangers in 6.
Nick’s picks New York Rangers in 6
There are two words that I immediately think about with the New York Rangers, Igor Shesterkin. He has been one of the best goaltenders I have legit seen in a while. Along with Alexandar Georgiev, this is easily the best Goaltender group in the playoffs. Henrik Lundqvist must be proud (Man, I wish that man got a ring before he retired). The Rangers are also the first team that have been successful after focusing on bringing on more grit players, instead of amassing high-skill players. But one player that has been fantastic is Chris Kreider, who is coming off his best year in his career. Plus, with Artemi Panarin doing his usual thing with the Rangers, along with Adam Fox, who absolutely should be a Norris Trophy Contender, the Rangers also have no shortage of high-caliber skill. They should take care of business and beat an injured and old team in the Pittsburgh Penguins. Good luck trying to replace Tristen Jarry, who is likely not playing for a while. By the way, it is weird seeing Evgeni Making turn into one of the dirtiest players of the game now with the shenanigans he pulled Borowiecki against Nashville. Anyway no matter what Malkin decides to pull, the Rangers will win this series in 6.
Florida Panthers v Washington Capitals
Maeve’s pick: Panthers in 5
The Panthers are probably the only team in the playoffs that can outscore their problems. Their goaltending is hot and cold, and they have had to come back a ridiculous amount of times this season, but they always manage to bounce back. Washington has a solid offense and the best goal scorer in a generation, Alexander Ovechkin. However, they are a very old team, and their team cannot match the speed of the Panthers. The Capitals’ goaltending is also extremely mediocre and doesn’t stand a chance against the Panthers’ offense. The Capitals may steal a game, but the Panthers will undoubtedly come out of this series.
Nick’s Pick: Panthers in 4
Dear Florida Panthers, please don’t blow this series and choke like you always do and fail to live up to expectations. This is your last chance as you heavily bought at the deadline. The Panthers’ offense has been outstanding this year, but I got to ask, are the goaltenders going to play a little more, you know, consistent? Bobrovsky with his yucky 10 million dollar per year contract has not been it. I mean, he’s been fine, but not worth the money this team has been paying him, and his contract is going to be a heavy anchor. The President Trophy curse could follow Florida. As for Washington, well, at least you’re here somehow. The Capitals are an extremely old team, and I would honestly blow it up after this season. I love Ovechkin, but I doubt he will be 100% in this series, and their goaltending has been abysmal this season. Florida should sweep the Capitals.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Maeve’s pick: Lightning in 7
This Leafs team is in 4th place in the NHL. It has the top power play in the league and a top ten penalty kill. It is the best Leafs team I have ever seen, but this depressed Leafs fan cannot justify trusting this team enough to win a round, let alone against the defending back-to-back Cup champions. Tampa Bay has what it takes to win the cup, and they’ve shown it twice. They also have the best goalie in the league, Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Leafs are an outstanding team, but as a Leafs fan who’s experienced first-round heartbreak after first-round heartbreak, this team won’t make me believe until they finally win a round.
Nick’s pick: Tampa Bay Lightning In 6
Talk about a tough spot for the Toronto Maples Leafs in this matchup. They have been an excellent team that should have a deep playoff push, and oh wait, they’re facing a dynasty in the Tampa Bay Lighting. Yep, this is going to be a disaster for the Maple Leafs. Another issue for the Maple Leafs is the goaltending, and yeah, with no Petr Mrazek, most likely, the goaltending will be mediocre for them. Jack Campbell is not terrible, but I would not be completely confident in him. I just feel the Lightning are the better team. I do have to ask, though, Why is John Taveres still here? Like, I get he is a solid depth piece and has good leadership, but he has suffered from a lot of regression and the right time to get out of his contract was during the deadline.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Nashville Predators
Nicks picks: Colorado Avalanche in 5
This one is a super easy one for me to pick, as while the Avalanche are dealing with injuries, still, at least their top goaltender is not out for the entire series. Hey Nashville, remember Jusse Saros, the best goaltender they have had since Pekka Rinne (I wish he got a ring before he retired)? Well, looks like he will not be playing this series due to a back injury. Well, Nashville, you’re screwed. At least getting to the playoffs earns extra team revenue, and it is a step in the right direction. You know what, because I am nice, I will give one win to Nashville, but this series no question goes to Colorado.
Maeve’s pick: The Avalanche in 5
Nashville may have won the season series versus the Avalanche, but their lights-out goaltender Juuse Saros is injured and looking like he won’t be playing for the first round. Nashville has some offensive talent and their performances against the Avalanche in the regular season is why I’ll give them one game. However, the Avalanche will dominate this series; they are loaded with talent from the first line to in net. They are fast, offensively creative, dynamic, and play well on all 200ft of the ice. Nothing can stop them, and it is cup or bust for them this year. They will demolish Nashville regardless of what the season series says.
Minnesota Wild vs. St Louis Blues:
Maeve’s pick: Wild in 7
The Minnesota Wild have a top goaltending tandem in the league. Both Marc-Andre Fleury, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, and Cam Talbot, both posting over .900 save percentages down the stretch. The Wild have top-tier offensive talents in Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala. They also have a solid defense core in front of their goaltending. Saint Louis’s goaltender, Ville Husso, is untested in the playoffs, and their play in the back half of the season has left much to be desired. Neither of these teams is particularly deep, but the Wild have better goalie depth, and I am placing my bets with the Wild ahead of the playoffs.
Nick’s pick: Blues in 7
I got to be honest, this was probably the toughest series in the 1st round for me to pick because I think the Blues are a lot better than what many others believe. I think the Blues have the better offense, and their defense is not terrible. I think a big debate is whether Jordan Binnington or Ville Husso will be the guy in the net for the playoffs. For the Wild, it is clear where their strength is in net, with Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot. However, both at the end of the season were in a bit of a slump. The Wild have solid defense, but they lack serious depth in the center position, and their penalty kill is terrible. They better do well before they get into serious dead cap hell as both Parise and Sutter’s buyouts hit next year. Good luck in keeping Kevin Fiala for next season, by the way. But yeah, this series is going to 7 games, and I feel the Blues take the series as they have the more complete team.
Calgary Flames vs Dallas Star
Maeve: The Flames in 5
The Stars have a goaltender and a few players who can score. Their coach makes nonsensical moves, and they struggle to score most times. Jason Robertson and Joe Pavelski are probably the biggest x-factors for the Stars since they generate most of the offense. The Flames have it all; their top line is full of forty-goal and 100-point scorers; their defense is shut down, and their goaltender leads the league in shutouts. They also are a grueling team to play against that will outwork and outfight you while outscoring you. The Stars barely can score on teams that aren’t as stacked as the Flames. The Stars might scrap out one game, but this year looks like the best shot Calgary has had in a while to get to the cup final in a few years.
Nick pick Calgary Flames in 5
You see what happens when you start to kind of overhaul your aging core Calgary? Man, they looked a lot better than they were last season. Johnny Gaudreau is having a fantastic year and will likely get the big bucks in the offseason. The defense has looked better, and their offense is extremely top-heavy. Jacob Markstrom has been performing well also in the net. The only real negative I see here for Calgary is Sean Monahan, as he will likely be bought out after Calgary overpaid him; as you guessed it, he suffered an injury. For Dallas, well at least they’re there. Thank the Vegas Golden Knights for that, and ohh we will get to them in an article in the future, don’t worry (Whoops spoilers). The Stars are a team I don’t see going deep, especially with their offense being their weak point. I just wish Joe Pavelski got his ring in 2020, and I don’t see them getting past Calgary.
Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings
Maeve’s pick: The Oilers in 6
I have been critical of Edmonton in the past. There is a lot to be critical of when it comes to the Oilers. Their team is essentially two top ten talents and sometimes a goalie, and they haven’t built a team to support those top-tier talents. Since they brought in Jay Woodcroft, the team has become better, but still, they are the biggest pretenders of all the playoff teams. That being said, they have absolutely no business losing this series. The Los Angeles Kings are a team ahead in their rebuild, and while that is great for the Kings, it doesn’t mean they are the caliber to win a playoff series yet. The Kings are also missing their top defenseman, Drew Doughty. So, the Oilers should be able to pull off a win in this series, and if they don’t, it will be a huge embarrassment for the entire organization. If the Oilers lose this series, Ken Holland should be fired immediately, and McDavid or Draisaitl should consider asking out.
Nick pick: LA Kings in 7
Is it a bad thing that I want the Edmonton Oilers to be eliminated in the 1st round? You can’t blame me, as we are witnessing two of the best players I have ever seen in Connor McDavid and Leon Drasital’s careers being wasted in Edmonton. That is all Edmonton is, McDavid, Drasital, a goalie in Mike Smith, and the cancer known as Evander Kane. I will say since the Oilers brought in Woodcroft, this team has gotten a lot better. What about the defense? That has been a position the Oilers have ignored for a while now. Yes, the Kings have issues, and it has shown when Drew Doughty suffered his season-ending injury. They may be ahead of schedule, but you know what? I am rooting for LA in this matchup as the Oilers organization does not deserve a deep playoff push until they come to their senses and build the team right. You know what, I have been saying this for years, and they have refused to do it. Please just free McDavid and Drasital by trading them to real franchises. Also, I kind of want to see Dustin Brown go off on a high note by getting to the second round. As he will be retiring from the NHL after 18 long seasons.