The NHL Playoffs are here! Who do the boys at Marty’s Illegal Stick Hockey Podcast think will win each first-round matchup?
After a full eighty-two game regular season, the NHL Playoffs are set to begin on Monday, May 2nd. The field consists of eight teams each in the Eastern and Western Conferences, with the first round consisting of matchups featuring the first-place teams from each division facing the wildcard entrants, while the second and third-place teams from each division will square off. With sixteen teams vying to be the one to lift the Stanley Cup in June, how do the first-round matchups look, and who will be crowned the 2022 NHL champion?
League ranks in each category will be in italics.
Matchup #1: Nashville Predators vs Colorado Avalanche.
- Record: 45-30-7, 97 points – sixteenth overall in the NHL. Wildcard #2.
- Goals For: 262 – twelfth in the NHL.
- Goals Against: 250 – seventeenth in the NHL.
- Power Play: 24.4% – sixth in the NHL.
- Penalty Kill: 79.2% – eighteenth in the NHL.
- Record: 56-19-7, 119 points – second overall, number one in the Western Conference.
- Goals For: 308 – fourth in the NHL.
- Goals Against: 232 – tenth in the NHL.
- Power Play:
- Penalty Kill:
There are times when a matchup looks like a mismatch on paper, but in reality, is much closer. This is not one of those times. The Avalanche have been a dominant team all season long and this series should be no different. The Predators will rely on the physical brand of hockey they play to slow the Avs down but will be without goaltender Jude Saros for at least the first two games – which will be problematic considering he started in about 80% of the Predator’s game this season. It looks like there will be a sad song being played in Music City.
Prediction: Avalanche in five games.
Matchup #2: Dallas Stars vs Calgary Flames.
- Record: 46-30-6, 98 points – fifteenth overall in the NHL. Wildcard #1.
- Goals For: 233 – twenty-first in the NHL.
- Goals Against: 244 – fifteenth in the NHL.
- Power Play: 22.4% – eleventh in the NHL.
- Penalty Kill: 79.0% – nineteenth in the NHL.
- Record: 50-21-11, 111 points – sixth overall in the NHL. First place in the Pacific Division.
- Goals For: 291 – sixth in the NHL.
- Goals Against: 206 – third in the NHL.
- Power Play: 22.9% – tenth in the NHL.
- Penalty Kill: 83.2% – sixth in the NHL.
The Calgary Flames came out of nowhere to win the Pacific Division with strong play in all facets of the game. Led by career years from Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Jacob Markstrom, coach Daryl Sutter’s team took control of the division early on in the season and never looked back. The Dallas Stars battled through several injuries and a down year from captain Jamie Benn but also found they have a budding star in goaltender Jake Oettinger. He will have to stand on his head for the Stars to have a chance, but unfortunately for the fans in “Big D”, the Flames will bring too much heat.
Prediction: Flames in five games.
Matchup #3: St. Louis Blues vs Minnesota Wild.
- Record: 49-22-11, 109 points – ninth overall in the NHL. Third Place in the Central Division.
- Goals For: 309 – third in the NHL.
- Goals Against: 239 – eleventh in the NHL.
- Power Play: 27.0% – second in the NHL.
- Penalty Kill: 84.1% – fifth in the NHL.
- Record: 53-22-7, 113 points – fifth overall in the NHL. Second place in the Central Division.
- Goals For: 305 – fifth in the NHL.
- Goals Against: 249 – sixteenth in the NHL.
- Power Play: 20.5% – eighteenth in the NHL.
- Penalty Kill: 76.1% – twenty-fifth in the NHL.
The St. Louis Blues are only three seasons removed from their first Stanley Cup win in franchise history. The Minnesota Wild acquired goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline who himself is a three-time cup winner and is four seasons removed from leading the Vegas Golden Knights on an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final. Both teams have explosive offenses with the Wild perhaps having the most explosive player between the two teams in Kirill Kaprizov. It should be a hard-fought battle between two bitter divisional rivals, but the Blues are much better on both the power play and penalty kill – and that will be the difference.
Prediction: Blues in seven games.
Matchup #4: LA Kings vs Edmonton Oilers.
- Record: 44-27-11, 99 points – fourteenth overall in the NHL. Third place in the Pacific Divison.
- Goals For: 235 – twentieth in the NHL.
- Goals Against: 232 – ninth in the NHL.
- Power Play: 16.1% – twenty-seventh in the NHL.
- Penalty Kill: 76.7% – twenty-second in the NHL.
- Record: 49-27-6, 104 points – eleventh overall in the NHL. Second place in the Pacific Division.
- Goals For: 285 – tied for seventh in the NHL.
- Goals Against: 251 – eighteenth in the NHL.
- Power Play: 26.0% – third in the NHL.
- Penalty Kill: 79.4% – seventeenth in the NHL.
The Oilers have two of the best players on the planet in the form of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, creating matchup nightmares for just about every team they face. The Kings are able to do what a lot of other teams can not, and that’s counter Edmonton’s dynamic duo with one of their own in Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault. If the Kings shut down McDavid and Draisaitl, the southern Californians have a better bottom-six forward group than their counterparts from the north. With the defense corps on both teams being about even, LA has the advantage in goal with Jonathan Quick seemingly regaining the form that led the Kings to the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014. An upset in the Pacific Division is waiting to happen.
Prediction: Kings in six games.
The road through the Western Conference playoffs will go through either Colorado or Calgary. The Colorado Avalanche are considered by many to be the front runner to skate away with the Clarence Campbell Bowl as champions of the Western Conference, but the Flames’ overall game is built for the playoffs. Ultimately it will be Calgary that emerges from the Western Conference to face the Florida Panthers, but they will come up just short as the Panthers are my choice to raise hockey’s most revered trophy in June.