2022 NHL Playoff Preview

Giuseppe Oliveri, Staff Writer

In perhaps the most lopsided matchup of the first round, the Florida Panthers take on the Washington Capitals. The Panthers closed out the season red hot, posting a franchise record 13-game win streak, just adding to their historic season as they also took home the Presidents’ Trophy, which is awarded to the team with the most points. The Capitals, on the other hand, have had a rocky season despite reaching the century mark in points with exactly 100. Washington, who won the Stanley Cup in 2018, have been familiar faces in the playoffs, but may be seeing the end of the line sooner than they think. With a struggling defense, less than stellar goaltending, and aging core, the Capitals have been declining for the past few years. With Florida on the rise being Stanley Cup favorites, the aging Capitals have a tough task ahead of them and this series will be an uphill battle for the team representing the nation’s Capital. 

With the Eastern Conference being extremely competitive this year, the two most neck-and-neck teams meet yet again in the playoffs. The New York Rangers are set to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers, coming fresh off their rebuild, are in the postseason for the first time since 2017. This Rangers team is completely revamped since last time they were in contention, having a new general manager, coach, and roster. The Rangers have completely revamped themselves, adding grit and veteran experience and becoming a very well rounded out team with good depth, which is something they had been lacking these past few years. On the other side of the coin is the complete opposite. The Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves back in the playoffs for the 16th consecutive year, which is the longest active playoff streak in all of sports. The Penguins, led by Coach Mike Sullivan, still have most of their core roster that helped them bring back-to-back Stanley Cups to Pittsburgh. These two teams have played each other in very even games that for the most part, could have gone either way. The games have been chippy and fast-paced and the playoffs should be no different. Although the Rangers finished with 110 points and Penguins finished with 103, this series should come down to the wire.

The Tampa Bay Lightning vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs is arguably the series with the most star power this year. The back-to-back Stanley Cup Champs are looking to three-peat for the first time since the New York Islanders did so, winning four straight cups from 1979-1983. Against them is one of the most explosive teams in recent history. The Maple Leafs, led by 60-goal scorer Auston Mathews, have had one of the best offensive seasons in team history, lighting the lamp night in and night out. However, when it comes to the playoffs, Toronto has had no luck, from devastating game 7 losses to blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens last year. Toronto is looking to make it past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Bolts are no stranger to losing, as they were on the wrong side of the biggest upset in NHL playoff history, being swept by the 8 seed Columbus Blue Jackets. That being said, it seems the Lightning have shaken those ways with their recent success finding themselves lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup for consecutive years. Can the Maple Leafs break the curse and move past the first round? Can the Lightning start off hot in their quest for a third straight championship? 

The final series in the east is an intriguing one that has gone under the radar: the Carolina Hurricanes vs. the Boston Bruins. A team of great success against a team on the rise. Starting with Carolina, the Hurricanes came close to the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2019 before eventually being swept by Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, so these teams have history. The Canes, finishing first in the Metro with 116 points, have one of the best built all-around teams in the league with a fast-paced offense combined with a shut down defensive core and a resurgence of Freddy Anderson between the pipes. The Bruins situation is far more intriguing as their core is seeing the end of their stint together as they have been dominating the league for the past decade. Their problem has been finding the depth to compete in the playoffs as their “perfection line” can only make up for so much of the offense, leaving the other three lines needing to do their part. Boston has given Carolina problems in the regular season, however, and this series should be far more competitive than most think. This is the Hurricanes’ time to make a statement this postseason and show why they belong amongst the class of the East. On the other hand, they are playing an almost desperate Boston Bruins team with the most to lose out of anyone. 

The Best in the West vs. the Ultimate Underdogs, the Colorado Avalanche vs. the Nashville Predators. The Avs have now put up several seasons of pure dominance and seem to get better each year. With premiere goal scorer Nathan Mackinnon and Norris Trophy finalist Cale Makar, Colorado’s future is in good hands. As clear favorites in the West this year, Colorado looks to get over that hump of the second round they have yet to win. This appears to be a make or break year for the Avs to truly see where they stand in terms of readiness to take that next step. On the flip side, the Nashville Predators fought all year to make it to the playoffs, only punching their ticket to the dance in the finals days of the season. Smashville is no stranger to this position, however. Back in 2017 the Preds, who entered the playoffs as the 8 seed, swept the top team Chicago Blackhawks, going on a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to Pittsburgh. However, the Avalanche appear to be far more talented than that Blackhawks team and should have a fairly easy series against Nashville.

2019 Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues vs. the star-studded Minnesota Wild. Gloria vs Hockeytown, a series that will be fast, hard hitting hockey. This matchup is the most exciting out of the first round. The Blues have bounced back greatly after a slow 2020 season and have shown that they are still a team to be taken seriously that can make noise. These two teams have one major factor in common, that is they have the most to prove as both these teams had been written off a couple years ago and have had strong comebacks, both putting up over 100 points as Minnesota hit 113 and St. Louis reached 109. The Wild have had a very strong season from second year player Kirill Kaprizov, who has taken the league by storm and put the West on notice. On the other hand the Blues have seen contributions from fan favorite Vladimir Tarasenko, newcomer Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas and so many more. This series is as even as they are going to come and there is a great possibility it will take all seven games to decide a victor. The series is a flip of a coin and should be a fun one from start to finish.

Oilers vs Kings is a very interesting series to say the least. Starting with Oil country, Edmonton has arguably the best player in the league right now in Connor McDavid who once again led the league in points with 123, scoring 44 goals in the campaign. Complemententing McDavid is Leon Draisaitl who has posted 110 points of his own, making for a great duo. The Los Angeles Kings are a fun team to talk about. This is a young scrappy team who has shown flashes of what they could be these past couple of years, but this year they took a jump not many were expecting to happen so early. Backed by storied goaltender Johnathan Quick, the Kings have been the biggest surprise of the regular season and have a big statement series ahead of them. The Kings are playing with nothing to lose and this year seems to just be a year these kids can get their feet wet and get a taste of the postseason. For the Oilers, however, they have everything to lose as this is the year they need to make it past the first round. They have not been consistent when it comes to making it to the playoffs, but when they do they lose in the first round. A big reason is Connor McDavid getting cold when the time comes. This series should be fun and can determine these teams, future, and not just for the short term.

The final matchup of the first round is the Calgary Flames vs. the Dallas Stars. The Stars, being one of the teams that scratched and clawed their way into the playoffs, have an interesting stat that does not bode well for them. They are the only team to have a negative +/- being at -3 headed into the postseason. This means they have been scored on more times than they have actually scored themselves. To put it into perspective the highest +/- belongs to the Florida Panthers at +94. That being said, the Stars offense is nothing to be taken lightly; they will come at you fast and remain explosive for all three periods of the game as long as you let them. Seemingly the complete opposite from them are the Calgary Flames who have had no trouble finding the back of the net and who have been backed up by elite goaltending this year from Jacob Markstrom. Markstrom has posted up a save percentage of .922 and GAA of 2.22. In doing so, he has recorded 9 shutouts and is riding a hot hand going into the playoffs. The one thing Dallas has over Calgary is experience, but will it be enough to best the Flames?