NHL Playoff Preview
The NHL playoffs begin on April 17th and I thought it would be fun to give my predictions and a quick breakdown of each playoff series from a humble Maple Leafs fan. These predictions will most likely be wrong so please don't consult me for advice on making a bracket or placing a large bet. So, without further ado, here is my playoff preview and predictions.
Carolina Hurricanes (52-21-9) vs. New York Islanders (42-31-9)
The Carolina Hurricanes rolled into the postseason winning a very competitive metropolitan division while the Islanders edged out the Pittsburgh Penguins for one of the final remaining playoff spots (along with the Florida Panthers). The Hurricanes have some key injuries heading into this match-up as they are missing forwards Andrei Svechnikov (23 goals, 55 points in 64 games this season – Knee Injury - LTIR), Max Pacioretty (3 goals in 5 games this season – Achilles injury – LTIR) and Ondrej Kase (1 game this season – Concussion – LTIR). The Hurricanes have an impressive center core with Sebastian Aho, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jordan Staal and Paul Stastny. They also have plenty of offensive talent on the wings with Teuvo Teravainen, Martin Necas, Stefan Noesen and Jesper Fast among others. Defensively the Hurricanes have one of the most impressive top four pairings in the NHL this season with Jaccob Slavin, Brent Burns, Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce. In net they have Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta as their top two with Pyotr Kochetkov as a solid third. Antti Raanta had the best numbers for them this season going 19-3-3 with a 2.23 GAA and a .910 save percentage. As a team they had a save percentage of .907 and a 2.55 GAA which might be concerning if they hope to make a deep run. The Hurricanes went 5-5 down the stretch. They have a strong penalty kill at 84.4% (2nd in NHL) and a powerplay that has struggled at times this season going 19.76% (20th in NHL). The New York Islanders had to battle this season to make the playoffs and they only finished 5-4-1 in their final ten games. The Islanders are healthy heading into the playoffs with some lingering injuries but forward Oliver Wahlstrom (7 goals, 16 points in 35 games – LTIR – Lower Body) seems to be the only player missing extended time. The addition of Bo Harvat gives them a good top line of Anders Lee, Bo Horvat and Matthew Barzal. They have one of the hardest working fourth lines in the league with Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin. The middle six has some solid players with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri. Defensively the Islanders are slightly underrated with a top four group of Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, Sebastian Aho and Scott Mayfield. In goal, Ilya Sorokin (31-22-7, 2.34 GAA, .924 SV%) has the ability to steal games and he is backed-up by veteran goalkeeper Semyon Varlamov. The Islanders have one of the worst power-plays in the league at 15.77% (30th in the NHL). Their penalty kill is good at 82.19% (9th in NHL) but the Canes still have the advantage. A glaring statistic in this match-up is the Hurricanes are 24-11-6 on the road (59% winning percentage) while the Islanders are 17-18-6 (41% winning percentage).
Prediction: Carolina in 5 games. The Islanders are a good team and I believe they will take a game at home but the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC has become a tough place to play and the depth offensively for Carolina with their top four defenseman is just too much to handle for the Islanders.
Boston Bruins (65-12-5) vs. Florida Panthers (42-32-8)
The Boston Bruins had a historic season winning 65 games on the way too winning the Presidents Trophy by a ridiculous 22 points. They are also 9-1-0 in their final ten games and were practically unbeatable at home going 34-4-3 (83% winning percentage). They have two players on LTIR entering the playoffs with forward Nick Foligno (10 goals, 26 points in 60 games – Lower Body) and defenseman Derek Forbort (12 points in 54 games – Lower Body). Patrice Bergeron is also day-to-day with an injury but should be expected to play in the postseason. The team has offensive firepower with David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Pavel Zacha, Jake DeBrusk, Tyler Bertuzzi, Taylor Hall and Charlie Coyle among others. Defensively they are loaded with Dmitry Orlov, Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Carlo. Linus Ullmark has been a Vezina caliber goalkeeper this season with a 40-6-1 record, 1.89 GAA and a .938 save percentage. This, however, will be his first big test of postseason action after spending many years in Buffalo. The Bruins have the best Penalty Kill in the NHL at 87.28% and their power-play is at 22.22% (12th in the NHL). The Florida Panthers barely made the postseason with a strong push over the final two months to finish one point above Buffalo and Pittsburgh. They struggled on the road at times this season going 19-19-3 (46% winning percentage) but the biggest issue has been goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky went 24-20-3 with a 3.07 GAA and a .901 save percentage. Spencer Knight went 9-8-3 with a 3.18 GAA and a .901 save percentage. The Panthers turned towards third string Alex Lyon who went 9-4-2 with a 2.89 GAA and a .914 save percentage. The Panthers should try to start Sergei Bobrovsky considering his $10 million dollar Salary Cap but I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn towards Alex Lyon. The Panthers have offensive talent with Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov, Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Reinhart too cause havoc for the Bruins. Defensively this team is outmatched but they still have some solid players like Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montour and Radko Gudas. The Panthers have a good power-play at 22.83% (10th in NHL) but a below average penalty kill at 75.95% (23rd in NHL).
Prediction: Bruins in 4 games. This is a series not to overthink. The Bruins are better in every aspect of the game this season. Biggest area of concern for both teams is goaltending as Linus Ullmark has a lot of pressure in his first postseason test while the Panthers need Bobrovsky to return to greatness if they stand a chance of beating Boston.
Dallas Stars (47-21-14) vs. Minnesota Wild (46-25-11)
Only five points separated these two Central division teams this season and it really was the strong 8-2-0 finish that Dallas had to close out the year that helped separate them from Minnesota. The Dallas Stars are about as healthy as a team can be entering the postseason with no IR players. They have a great mix of youth and veterans in their forward core with Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, Evgenii Dadonov, Tyler Seguin, Max Domi and Mason Marchment. I love the top pairing defensively for Dallas with Ryan Suter and Miro Heiskanen. In goal, Jake Oettinger has had a great season with a 37-11-11 record, .919 save percentage and a 2.37 GAA. The 24 year old also was great last season in the playoffs going 3-4 with a .954 save percentage and a 1.82 GAA. Dallas has a great penalty kill at 83.47% (3rd in NHL) and a strong power-play at 25% (5th in NHL). They also won more games on the road then at home this season. The Minnesota Wild are extremely underrated heading into this postseason and I don’t think Dean Evason gets enough credit for the work he has done with this team. They have a good forward core of Kirill Kaprizov, Ryan Hartman, Mats Zuccarello, Marcus Johansson, Matthew Boldy, Marcus Foligno and Sam Steel among others. Defensively this team is very solid with Jacob Middleton, Jared Spurgeon, Matthew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Jon Merrill. John Klingberg is struggling with an injury but he should be back for some games this postseason. In goal the Wild have a tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury (24-16-4, .908 SV%, 2.85 GAA) and Filip Gustavsson (22-9-7, .931 SV%, 2.10 GAA). Their power-play is average at 21.43% (15th in NHL) and they have a good penalty kill at 82.03% (10th in NHL).
Prediction: Minnesota in 7 games. This is about as close as it gets for me. The Stars are a popular pick to make a deep run this year with incredible talent on the roster but the Wild are flying under the radar and I have confidence that either Gustavsson or Fleury will step up while John Klingberg will put a dagger into the heart of Stars fans.
Edmonton Oilers (50-23-9) vs. Los Angeles Kings (47-25-10)
The Edmonton Oilers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL as they finished the season going 9-0-1 in their final ten games. The Oilers had three 100-point scorers this season with Connor McDavid leading the way alongside Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Oilers also have some scoring depth with Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, Kailer Yamamoto, Nick Bjugstad and Mattias Janmark. Defensively this team made a great deadline acquisition for Mattias Ekholm and he is alongside Darnell Nurse, Cody Ceci and Evan Bouchard. Stuart Skinner is the starter for the Oilers as he went 29-14-5 this season with a 2.75 GAA and a .914 SV% while Jack Campbell struggled heavily in his first season with Edmonton going 21-9-4 with a 3.41 GAA and a .888 SV%. The Oilers have the best Power-play in the NHL going 32.36% while their penalty kill is average at 76.98% (20th in NHL). The Los Angeles Kings are a tough team to play as they head back to rematch Edmonton from last seasons game seven loss in the first round. Anze Kopitar, Quinton Byfield, Adrian Kempe, Trevor Moore, Phillip Danault, Viktor Arvidsson, Alex Iafallo, Kevin Fiala make up a solid forward core. Defensively they have Mikey Anderson, Drew Doughty, Vladislav Gavrikov, Sean Durzi and Alexander Edler. Goaltending has been solid from Joonas Korpisalo since he came over with a 7-3-1 record, 2.13 GAA and a .921 SV%. The Kings also have Phoenix Copley who is 24-6-3 with a 2.64 GAA and a .903 SV%. They have a below average Penalty-kill at 75.84% (24th in NHL) and a strong power-play at 25.28% (4th in NHL).
Prediction: Edmonton in 6 games. I think the Oilers definitely have weaknesses that the Kings can exploit but I have more confidence in the Oilers defensively than the Kings ability to stop Connor McDavid for a full series.
New Jersey Devils (52-22-8) vs. New York Rangers (47-22-13)
This will be a fantastic series as the up and coming New Jersey Devils take on a Rangers team that nearly made the Cup Finals last season. Head coach Lindy Ruff has done a great job with the Devils and his team is fairly healthy heading into the postseason with only really Timo Meier struggling with a lingering injury. The forward core for the Devils has Tomas Tatar, Nico Hischier, Dawson Mercer, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Ondrej Palat, Erik Haula, Timo Meier and Yegor Sharangovich making up a ridiculous top nine. Defensively they have Jonas Siegenthaler, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Graves, John Marion and Damon Severson. Goaltending they have 27 year old Vitek Vanecek (33-11-4, 2.45 GAA, .911 SV%) being backed-up by Mackenzie Blackwood. The Devils have a good power-play at 21.88% (13th in NHL) and a great penalty kill at 82.61% (4th in NHL). The Devils were also terrific on the road this season going 28-9-4. The Rangers are in a win-now mode with some great deadline additions to push towards a Cup chase. The top six of New York might be the best in the NHL with Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and Vladimir Tarasenko. They also have a “Kid Line” of talented players Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. Defensively Adam Fox is one of the best in the league and he is alongside Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba. Goaltending for the Rangers is not a question with Igor Shesterkin (37-13-8, 2.48 GAA, .916 SV%). The penalty kill is good at 81.17% (13th in NHL) and their power-play is great at 24.08% (7th in NHL). The Rangers much like New Jersey were very good on the road this season going 24-9-8.
Prediction: New York in 7 games. This is probably going to be the best series of the first round as both teams have high-powered offenses with some question marks defensively. I think the biggest difference is the experience of the Rangers and the goaltending of Igor Shesterkin.
Toronto Maple Leafs (50-21-11) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (46-30-6)
The rematch from last season where the Lightning managed to win in a close Game 7 in Toronto. The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t made it to the second round since 2004 while the Lightning have been to three straight Cup Finals with two victories and they also won the Stanley Cup in 2004. This is a "do or die" season for Toronto and their fans as they have really put a lot of work this season into building a playoff ready team. The Maple Leafs have Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, Ryan O’Reilly, Michael Bunting, Calle Jarnkrok and some solid bottom six players in their forward group. Defensively they have Jake McCabe, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Justin Holl, Morgan Rielly, Luke Schenn in their starting six but they also have Timothy Liljegren and Erik Gustafsson as two other options. Goaltending for Toronto is always a question mark it seems and they have Ilya Samsonov this season who is 27-10-5 with a 2.33 GAA and a .919 SV%. The back-up is Joseph Woll. Toronto has the second best power play this season at 26.02% while their penalty kill is good at 81.85% (12th in NHL). The Tampa Bay Lightning struggled down the stretch going 4-6 to close out the regular season and they enter the post-season without forward Tanner Jeannot. Offensively they have Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, Brandon Hagel and a very solid bottom six. Defensively they have Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak and Nicklaus Perbix. Goaltending will be the big talking point as the Lightning have Andrei Vasilevskiy (34-22-4, 2.65 GAA, .915 SV%). The Lightning were great at home this season but struggled on the road going 18-22-1. They have an average penalty kill at 79.69% (15th in NHL) and they have a great power-play at 25.36% (3rd in NHL).
Prediction: Toronto in 6 games. On paper and ignoring the history of the Maple Leafs since 2004, they should be favored in this match-up and should win. The Leafs have a stronger roster and have played better down the stretch than Tampa Bay. Goaltending and Experience from the Lightning could be an issue but I think Toronto takes it in 6 games.
Vegas Golden Knights (51-22-9) vs. Winnipeg Jets (46-33-3)
Las Vegas are back in a big way after missing the 2022 playoffs as they won 51 games this season finished first place in the Western Conference. The forward core consists of Ivan Barbashev, Jack Eichel, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, Phil Kessel and Mark Stone (who is struggling with injury). Defensively this team has Alec Martinez, Alex Pietrangelo, Brayden McNabb and Shea Theodore for one of the best top four groups in the NHL. Goaltending is a question mark for Vegas as Logan Thompson (21-13-3, 2.65 GAA, .915 SV%) is struggling with injury, Jonathan Quick (5-2-2, 3.13 GAA, .901 SV%) has been below average since joining Vegas and Laurent Brossoit (7-0-3, 2.17 GAA, .927 SV%) is inexperienced in the playoffs. Vegas has an average powerplay at 20.29% (18th in NHL) and an average penalty kill at 77.55% (19th in NHL). The Golden Knights were terrific on the road this season going 26-7-8. The Winnipeg Jets barely made the playoffs ahead of Nashville and Calgary but they are back and hoping to make some noise. The forward core consists of Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Mark Scheifele, Nino Niederreiter, Vladislav Namestnikov, Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers. Defensively they have Josh Morrissey, Dylan DeMelo, Brenden Dillon and Neal Pionk in their top four group. The Jets do have one of the best goalies in the NHL with Connor Hellebuyck (37-25-2, 2.49 GAA , .920 SV%) and he can definitely steal some games for Winnipeg. The Jets have a good penalty kill at 82.43% (7th in NHL) and a below average power play at 19.26% (23rd in NHL).
Prediction: Vegas in 6 games. This will be a very close series as the Golden Knights have question marks in net and they haven’t been particularly good on special teams. I do think however that the Knights have more experience and a better defensive core to push them past Winnipeg.
Colorado Avalanche (51-24-7) vs. Seattle Kraken (46-28-8)
The Colorado Avalanche are looking to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions while the Seattle Kraken have qualified for their first postseason in only their second season. The Avalanche are struggling with injuries entering this postseason as captain Gabriel Landeskog missed the entire season and is now ruled out of the playoffs with a knee injury. Forwards Darren Helm and Andrew Cogliano are struggling with lingering injuries while defenseman Josh Manson and Cale Makar also have lingering injuries. The forward group without Landeskog still has Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, JT Compher, Valeri Nichushkin, Lars Eller and Evan Rodrigues. The defensive core is lead by Cale Makar and Josh Manson but it is loaded with Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, Bowen Byram and Erik Johnson rounding out the top six. Goaltending this season has been solid with Alexander Georgiev (40-16-6, 2.53 GAA and a .919 SV%). The Avalanche have a very good powerplay at 24.52% (6th in NHL) and an average penalty kill at 79.03% (17th in NHL). The Avalanche were also stellar on the road this season at 29-11-1 and they closed out the regular season going 8-1-1 in their final ten games. The Seattle Kraken battled their way into a playoff position this season with an impressive 46 victories. They currently have forwards Andre Burakovsky (39 points in 49 games) and Joonas Donskoi (missed entire season) on injured reserve entering the playoffs. The forward group for this postseason run is Matthew Beniers, Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, Jaden Schwartz, Alexander Wennberg, Morgan Geekie, Eeli Tolvanen, Yanni Gourde and Oliver Bjorkstrand. What really stands out for Seattle is their scoring depth but they will run into teams like Colorado that have the bigger stars up front. Defensively the Kraken are lead by Vince Dunn, Adam Larsson and Jamie Oleksiak. Goaltending is interesting as they have Martin Jones (27-13-3, 2.99 GAA, .887 SV%) and Philipp Grubauer (17-14-4, 2.85 GAA, .895 SV%) and neither keeper has had an impressive season. Seattle has a below average penalty kill at 76.69% (21st in NHL) and a struggling power play at 19.75% (21st in NHL).
Prediction: Colorado in 5 games. It’s looking more likely that Cale Makar and Josh Manson will play during this series and that just adds to an already big advantage on the defensive side of the rink for Colorado. The Kraken will sneak one game but goaltending and problems on special teams will plague them in this series.