The 2021-2022 NHL Playoffs are upon us. Sixteen teams have earned a chance to compete one last time. Grinding out every shift, fighting for the puck along the boards, and celebrating every goal scored to achieve one thing in mind. Becoming a Stanley Cup champion and raising Lord Stanley. There is no better feeling in sports than raising the thirty-five-pound silver cup. All your blood, sweat, and tears for one defying moment in your life.
For the most part this year, the Stanley Cup Champion frontrunners have been switching teams every other week. All eight teams in the Eastern Conference have surpassed the 100-point mark and is the first time this has happened in the history of the NHL. Not only that but goaltending has been a big question mark for a large part of the year and goals per game have been up significantly as a result. Averaging 6.3 goals per game which is the highest in the past 26 years. On top of all that, we have 8 players with 100 or more points on the year. With that being said, here is how I see the first round of the NHL Playoffs going.
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A1 Florida Panthers vs WC2 Washington Capitals
C/O to jaspersrink.com
The Panthers have been so fun to watch this year. The President’s Trophy team is leading the league in goals per game with 4.16. That the highest GF since the 1996 Pittsburgh Penguins and since they have acquired both former Flyers captain Claude Giroux and the former Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot the team has been 15-5. Is that good? I mean this team has been built to dominate this year. The Panthers are being led by Jonathan Huberdeau who has a staggering 115 points on the season and has the most assists (85) by a left winger in the history of the NHL. Oh, and by the way, Sergei Bobrovsky is back to his top 10 goaltender status putting up .913 SV% and 2.67 GAA.
Washington Capitals have been interesting. Their core, outside of the ageless wonder Alex Ovechkin, has gotten a lot older and have not been themselves because of it. The TJ Oshie that we all know and love has been moved down to the third line, Nicklas Backstrom has struggled to stay healthy this year, and their goaltending has been pathetic to put it lightly. Ilya Samsonov is not the prospect that they thought he would be, and Vitek Vanecek has been spotty this year despite his good numbers in net. With the elderly people on the ice, it means that the Capitals don’t have a lot of speed threats on the ice and rely on timing their attacks on line changes and catching the opposing team off-guard.
If by some miracle, these Washington Capitals pull off a 2019 Columbus Blue Jackets, the Panthers will have no problem at all. Bring out the brooms because the Panthers are taking this series in 4 games. One thing to note, the last President’s Cup team to win the Stanley was the 2009 Detroit Red Wings so keep that in mind going forward in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
A2 Toronto Maple Leafs vs A3 Tampa Bay Lightning
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This series is life or death for the Leafs here. The Leafs have been cursed as they haven’t made it out of the first round since 2013 in the Conference Finals against the Bruins and haven’t hoisted the cup up since 1967 against the Montreal Canadiens (before the conferences changed). The Leafs have one of the best lines in hockey with Bunting—Matthews—Marner. Marner with 97 points on the season, Matthews with not only 106 points, but 60 goals this year (making him the FIRST American born player to do so) along with being the frontrunner for the Hart Trophy, and Bunting is making his case for the Calder Trophy in his 63-point season.
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The Maple Leafs have also been the best team when comes to dump and chase entries this year as well as holding the crown for the best power play in the league with a 27.2% success rate. With every team, there are flaws as the Maple Leafs have STRUGGLED to have good goaltending on a consistent basis this year. Jack Campbell had his hot streaks in January and was left out on the table for too long and has cooled off drastically since.
Meanwhile, you have to face the back-to-back reigning Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning who are finding their stride at right time as they just put up eight goals against the leading point team in the Florida Panthers. The Lightning have always been that team from the top line all the way down that forechecks heavily, enters the zone with speed, and gets in front of the net with ease. Nothing else needs to be said about Tampa’s studs in Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. But their third line of Killorn—Cirelli—Hagel is what needs to be praised more. Fighting for every puck battle along the board and getting scrapy too. All around a very solid team.
I see this series going one way. And that is the Toronto Maple Leafs will extend their.... drought for a longer time as they won’t get past the top-5 goalie in Vasy, as they will go down in 5 games. This will be a high-intensity first round matchup without a doubt.
M1 Carolina Hurricanes vs WC1 Boston Bruins
C/O to masslive.com
The Hurricane are a scary team. They have a bunch of jerks who love to play hockey under the best coach in hockey. The Hurricanes made a nice trade-off after in signing Tony DeAngelo to a 1YR/$1M deal after losing Dougie Hamilton to the New Jersey Devils in free agency. I’d take that any day of the year for a defenseman who is putting up 51 points this season. Freddy Andersen is making the Toronto Maple Leafs regret not signing him this offseason and it was probably for the better for him. Freddy Andersen is a good contender for the Vezina award with a 2.17 GAA and a .922 SV%. But unfortunately, he will not be starting due to a lower body injury so the Canes have to rely on Antti Raanta. My only issue with this team is that they need a superstar player for playoffs. You NEED to rely on at least one person to be a game changer out on the ice and I don’t see one player for this Carolina team.
Speaking of star power, let’s look at the Boston Bruins. I could go all day about this team. The Bruins 'usual suspects' have had a great year so far. Bergeron being a top candidate for the Selke, Pastrnak doing his thing on the second line with the former Hart trophy winner Taylor Hall, McAvoy has been doing a great job holding his ground in the backend for the black and gold, and Marchand has looked good for most of the year despite his latest 11 game goalless streak. One of the bigger surprises in the back half of the season has been the emergence of Erik Haula as the team’s second line center. Haula has been playing a lot better since being up from the third line in replacement of teammate Charlie Coyle. One flaw I see with this Bruins team is their power play. The Bruins went on a 0-for-29 streak just recently with Pastrnak being out of the lineup during the most of that time. But if you rely on one player to generate shots on net for your offense on the power play *cough cough Capitals* then you need to re design your system.
This is a tough decision but I’m gonna go with the Bruins fighting it out in 7 games. The fact that they have a reliance on one of their 4 stars to go off in a single game makes all the difference over the Hurricanes. This is the matchup the Bruins wanted as they decided to rest their star players against the Toronto Maple Leafs last Friday in an opportunity to play against them yet again in the playoffs.
M2 New York Rangers vs M3 Pittsburgh Penguins
C/O to Pensburgh.com
The best team in New York is here and are looking to do some damage in this playoff run. Igor Shesterkin has been one of a kind this year. I mean just look at his WAR back on April 24th
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I mean the guy is playing on another planet. At one point this season, he was on watch to break the single season save percentage record that is currently held by Jacques Plante in the 1970-71 season. Without him in net, I don’t think this team makes the playoffs as their defenseman pairings have been weak in the defensive zone. One player that the media isn’t talking about much is the left winger of Artemi Panarin. The 30-year-old with silky mitts has provided the team with 22G-74A-96P in the 75 games he has played. Somehow in a big market team, some can hear crickets about him playing at such a high level. The Rangers have had bad blood recently with the Penguins and even saw Igor Shesterkin show a little bit of his personality when he waved the Penguins off the ice after a 3-0 shutout win on April 7th.
But the Penguins have been a notorious team to do well in the playoffs. The team has won 3 Stanley Cups since Sidney Crosby has come into the league. There are rumors flying around with the way the cap situation is for the Pittsburgh Penguins that this might be the last run of the big 3 in Crosby, Malkin, and Letang. Both Letang and Malkin are set to be unrestricted free agents this summer and are expected to get big time money. As usual the Penguins loaded up on their forward lines by adding Rickard Rakell from the Anaheim Ducks. The one big surprise player for the Penguins has been Evan Rodrigues. The 28-year-old right hand shot undrafted center has grinded out his career in Buffalo before signing yet another 1YR/$1M contract this year has exceeded expectations. Potting 18 goals, which is double his career high, and 24 assists. He’s my X-factor in this series for the Penguins.
This series is a no brainer for me. As I mentioned earlier, goaltending has been the biggest question mark of the year. Especially with the season Igor is having between the pipes, it would be an awkward offseason for the Rangers if they don't win. As much as I respect Crosby, the Penguins will lose in 6 games.
C1 Colorado Avalanche vs WC2 Nashville Predators
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Now it’s time for the best in the West. The Colorado Avalanche are still the team to beat in the Western Conference. The first line has been doing it’s job for the most part this season for them but Nazem Kadri elevates this team to another level as the best second line center in the league. Darcy Kuemper is playing even better now that he is on a competent team compared to the dumpster fire that he had to deal with in Arizona. The highlight reel himself, Cale Makar, moves around on the ice like no other. His ability to gain speed and change directions with his edges puts him on another pedestal of defenseman like himself in the league. This team is picture perfect when it comes to cycling the puck in the offensive zone. 5v5 or power play, it is so fun to watch this team communicate so well in their zone and put one in the back of the net.
The Nashville Predators won’t be the happiest campers with this matchup. After recently losing Juuse Saros to a high ankle sprain, the Preds must rely on their backup of David Rittich who hasn’t performed the greatest this year. In the 17 games he has appeared in, he has put up a 3.57 GAA and a .886 SV%. Not ideal from your backup goalie. But the forwards for the Preds have been amazing. Filip Forsberg is playing great. 42 goals–41 assists–82 points with a 19% shooting percentage. Unreal stuff coming from the Swedish born player. Matt Duchene is doing what he was paid to do back in 2019. The centerman has 86 points on the season and loves to score goals as well. The main event of the Nashville Predators team is playing like nothing we’ve seen in a while. Roman Josi is the first defenseman since Ray Bourque back in 1993 to have 90 points in a single season. His point production has slowed down a bit but I don’t see him going into a slump in their playoff run.
Despite a great year by the Nashville Predators, I see them losing this playoff series in 6 games. With a healthy Saros, this would’ve been a tough series to pick. One thing the Preds need to do in this series is let their rookie forward Tanner Jeannot get in Kadri’s head. Kadri is known for getting into extracurricular activities out on the ice and leads to suspensions when a team needs him the most so watch out for that. That could be the turning point in this series if they can get that done.
C2 Minnesota Wild vs C3 St. Louis Blues
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Man is this another good matchup on our hands here. These guys have been going at each other’s throats every game they play against each other. The Blues have won all three games against the Wild this year which includes two OT wins and a 6-4 win in Target Field for this years’ Winter Classic. The Wild are being led by the Krill Kaprizov who is the first Wild player to surpass 100 points in the franchise’s history. Since acquiring Marc Andre-Fleury from the Chicago Blackhawks, the Wild have arguably the best 1-2 goaltenders in the league. They have been flipping back and forth between the two goalies and has been working out perfectly for them. I feel as though Cam Talbot will get the nod for Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues.
Blues, like the Lightning, have been streaking at the right time. The St. Louis team has gone 14-1-2 in their last 17 games. There isn’t a bonafide star player on this Blues team, yet their chemistry is great and they’re getting the job done. Vlad Tarasenko been carrying the point total for the majority of the season, but Robert Thomas has been lightened the load for him as of lately totaling 8G-21A-29P in his last 17 games played. The power play is fantastic as they are the #2 to the Maple Leafs with a 26.5% success rate. Goaltending has looked great for them as Ville Husso has sprung up out of nowhere this year to be the Blues #1 goaltender as Jordan Binnington has struggled so far this year.
When it comes to who will win this series, is a big coin flip. You can see it going both ways but if I were to pick one, I gotta go with the Minnesota Wild in 7 games. The Wild can bank on which goaltender is seeing the puck better. The Wild are a better 5v5 team both offensively and defensively compared to the Blues. Like I said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Blues go out and win this series as well.
P1 Calgary Flames vs WC1 Dallas Stars
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Now onto the Calgary Flames. The Flames are a very solid team top to bottom. The goaltending tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar were fantastic this year. Markstrom was a strong candidate for the Vezina early on this season and has died down since then. He leads the league in shutouts with 9 and is enjoying a wonderful .922SV% in between the pipes this year. The talk of the town hasn’t even been him this year. It has been Johnny Hockey and Matthew Tkachuk as they are the only other duo with 100+ points on the year (McDavid and Draisaitl). It also helps to have guys like Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane to light the lamp for the Flames. The defensive pairing of Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson have been ridiculous as they are second on minutes spent together on the ice this year with 1235.5 according to MoneyPuck.com and love to snap it around to their teammates putting up 84 total assists this year. I like this team a lot and they something real special going on in Alberta.
The Dallas Stars are an intriguing team to watch in general. The Stars seem to be in opposite day in a matter of points to average annual value in contract money. The young stars in Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz have been a big to the team on offensive front. In Jason Robertson’s first 100 NHL games, he put up 97 points. Roope Hintz was big factor in the Stars team when they made their cup run just 2 years ago. Yet the vets like Seguin and Benn were underwhelming for point production this year. Putting up a combined 94 points on the year. Not what you want from the management when they are taking up $19M of your cap space. They have a young goalie in Jake Oettinger who shows so much potential to have a good career in the NHL. The 6'5" young gun is putting up 2.54 GAA with a .915SV%. And who could forget about everyone’s favorite, Captain America, Joe Pavelski. He's showing that his age is not affecting his point production of 81 points and his hand-eye coordination in front of the net.
I see the Calgary Flames beating the Stars in 5 games. The Flames high flying offense will be no match for the Stars to keep up with. I also expect them to make a big push in their playoff run this year.
P2 Edmonton Oilers vs P3 Los Angeles Kings
C/O to oilersnation.com
If you had to name one team that has had a roller coaster of a season, it would be the Edmonton Oilers without a second thought. Starting out hot at the beginning of the year, picking up only 2 wins in a 19-game stretch, getting pushed out of a playoff spot, firing their coach midseason, goes on a winning streak, signing Evander Kane, and then ending up with the second seed of the Pacific Division. On top of all that, they have two of the top five players on their roster. Jay Woodcroft has done a fantastic job taking care of this team on such short notice and looks a lot better systematically compared to when the team was under Dave Tippet’s control. Mike Smith has been battling injuries all year for the Oilers and has gotten to play a lot more consistently as of lately. The 40-year-old goaltender has shown flashes of his younger self. The second all-time save percentage goalie will look to bring him team out of a first-round slump as they haven’t made it past the first round since the 2017 playoffs.
The Los Angeles Kings have been the biggest shock this year for me. Seeing as though they do not have a single player above 70 points and one player to meet the 30 goal mark this year (Adrian Kempe). There is not much to talk about this team. The Kings lost their best player, Drew Doughty, to a wrist surgery back in early April. Both the LA Kings legend of Jonathan Quick and rising star goaltender of Cal Petersen have not had good years to say the least. Quick putting up a .909SV% and a 2.58 GAA while Cal is putting up a .895SV% and 2.90 GAA. The Kings have some good prospects in Arthur Kaliyev and Quinton Byfield. You also have the LA great Dustin Brown announcing his retirement after the conclusion of this playoff run by the Kings.
Overall, I see the Oilers dominating this series over the Kings. I do think they will give up a game or two due the Oilers shaky goaltending this year. In that case, Oilers in 6. This now means that we could have a Battle of Alberta in the Conference finals and I don’t think anyone is against that.
And there you have it. That is a glimpse of my thought process when it comes to the first round of this year’s NHL Playoffs. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. So kick back, relax, and let’s do that hockey!
- Cameron Martin