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The 2022 NHL Playoffs - First Round Breakdown and Predictions

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

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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

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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

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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