NHL Playoffs Primer – Eastern Conference Edition

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?

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Eastern Conference.

League ranks in each category will be in italics.

Matchup #1: Washington Capitals vs Florida Panthers.

Washington Capitals

  • Record: 44-26-12, 100 points – thirteenth overall in the NHL. Wildcard #2.
  • Goals For: 270 – tenth in the NHL.
  • Goals Against: 242 – twelfth in the NHL.
  • Power Play: 18.8% – twenty-third in the NHL.
  • Penalty Kill: 80.4% – twelfth in the NHL.

Florida Panthers

  • Record: 58-18-6, 122 points – first overall in the NHL.
  • Goals For: 337 – first in the NHL.
  • Goals Against: 242 – thirteenth in the NHL.
  • Power Play: 24.4% – fifth in the NHL.
  • Penalty Kill: 79.5% – sixteenth in the NHL.

At first glance, most would think the President’s Trophy-winning Florida Panthers would roll through the first round. On closer inspection, they have a tougher draw than expected, as the Washington Capitals put together a 100-point season themselves and still have the core of a team that won the Stanley Cup just four years ago. Still, the high-flying Panthers and especially goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky enter these playoffs with something to prove, and the Capitals don’t have the goaltending to steal this series.

Prediction: Florida in six games.

Matchup #2: Boston Bruins vs Carolina Hurricanes.

Boston Bruins

  • Record: 51-26-5, 107 points – thirteenth overall in the NHL, wild card #1
  • Goals For: 253 – fifteenth in the NHL.
  • Goals Against: 218 – fourth in the NHL.
  • Power Play: 21.2% – fifteenth in the NHL.
  • Penalty Kill: 81.3% – ninth in the NHL.

Carolina Hurricanes

  • Record: 54-20-8, 116 points – third overall in the NHL. First place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Goals For: 277 – ninth in the NHL.
  • Goals Against: 200 – first in the NHL.
  • Power Play: 22.0% – thirteenth in the NHL.
  • Penalty Kill: 88.0% – first in the NHL.

Like the Capitals vs Panthers series, the first glance at this one would suggest Carolina wins it handily. The Hurricanes, however, have a big problem in that their star goaltender Frederik Andersen is out with an injury. His backup, Antti Raanta, is no slouch but Andersen is the Hurricane’s undisputed starting goaltender. Boston coach Bruce Cassidy has a knack for getting the absolute most out of his players, and this series should be more of the same as far as that goes. Upset alert!

Prediction: Boston in seven games.

Mohawk Valley Hockey Club Seeks Its Own Rink

Matchup #3: Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Rangers.

Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Record: 46-25-11, 103 points – twelfth overall in the NHL. Third place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Goals For: 269 – eleventh in the NHL.
  • Goals Against: 222 – fifth in the NHL.
  • Power Play: 20.2% – nineteenth in the NHL.
  • Penalty Kill: 84.4% – third in the NHL.

New York Rangers

  • 52-24-6, 110 points – seventh overall in the NHL. Second place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Goals For: 250 – sixteenth in the NHL.
  • Goals Against: 204 – second in the NHL.
  • Power Play: 25.2% – fourth in the NHL.
  • Penalty Kill: 82.3% – seventh in the NHL.

A long-time rivalry is renewed as the Penguins and the Rangers meet once again in the playoffs. The Penguins are a veteran-laden team that is loaded with Stanley Cup experience, while the Rangers are a young team bursting with young talents like defenseman Adam Fox and this season’s potential Hart Trophy winner goaltender Igor Shesterkin. It’s risky to bet against proven winners like Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Jeff Carter, and Evgeni Malkin, but this series will come down to special teams and goaltending. Pittsburgh goaltender Tristian Jarry will not start the series as he is out with an injury, which makes it that much more difficult for the Penguins to slow down the explosive Rangers power play. Although he has only one playoff game played in his career, Igor Shesterkin will slam the door on the Penguin’s dreams of a Stanley Cup championship in 2022.

Prediction: Rangers in six games.

Matchup #4: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Toronto Maple Leafs.

Tampa Bay Lightning

  • Record: 51-23-8, 110 points – seventh overall in the NHL. Third place in the Atlantic Division.
  • Goals For: 285 – seventh in the NHL.
  • Goals Against: 228 – sixth in the NHL.
  • Power Play: 23.9% – eighth in the NHL.
  • Penalty Kill: 80.6% – eleventh in the NHL.

Toronto Maple Leafs

  • Record: 54-21-7, 115 points – fourth overall in the NHL. Second place in the Atlantic Division.
  • Goals For: 312 – second in the NHL.
  • Goals Against: 252 – nineteenth in the NHL.
  • Power Play: 27.3% – first in the NHL.
  • Penalty Kill: 82.1% – eighth in the NHL.

Another matchup featuring the established guard (Tampa Bay) against the young up and comers (Toronto). After winning the Stanley Cup the past two seasons, the Lightning watched the explosive young Maple Leafs finish ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division standings. Nobody knows better than Tampa Bay however that the playoffs are a completely different animal than the regular season. This series will come down to who would you rather have in goal in a series-deciding game, Jack Campbell or Andrei Vasilevskiy? The Maple Leafs have a very bright future ahead of them, but it’s like Ric Flair once said, “to be the man, you have to beat the man.”

Prediction: Tampa Bay in seven games.

The Eastern Conference will be an absolute gauntlet to get through this playoff season. All eight teams in the field finished with at least 100 points, and there isn’t a single team that “does not belong” so to speak. The Florida Panthers weathered an early-season coaching change and have been consistently excellent all season, and will now be getting defenseman Aaron Ekblad back as well. Not only will the Panthers make it through the Eastern Conference, but the Stanley Cup will also stay in the Sunshine State – although this time it will reside in south Florida.

Episode #74 is the Marty’s Illegal Stick Hockey Podcast NHL Playoff preview show!

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