Boston Bruins vs Florida Panthers
This matchup sees the top seed in the Eastern Conference and best overall team in the league, the Boston Bruins, take on the second wild card seed Florida Panthers. Florida will be heavy underdogs as Boston just put together the greatest regular season in NHL history setting the record for most wins and points with 65 and 135, respectively. They’ve been led by first-year head coach Jim Montgomery and superstars David Pastrnak (61 goals, 52 assists) and goaltender Linus Ullmark (40-6-1, 1.89 GAA). Boston has dealt with injury issues all season but looks to be at full strength for the playoffs. However, Florida is playing great hockey and went 8-2 in their last 10 contests to secure a playoff spot. Matthew Tkachuk (40 goals, 69 assists) has been phenomenal in his first season with the team, and Carter Verhaeghe (42 goals, 31 assists) has been an offensive powerhouse as well for the Panthers. The two teams split their season series 2-2.
Prediction: Boston in 5
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lightning
This rematch of last year’s first round is one of the most highly anticipated series of the year. Last year, Tampa Bay won game seven in Toronto on their path to the Stanley Cup Final. Toronto is looking to win a playoff series for the first time since 2004 and GM Kyle Dubas has gone all in this season to do so. They added key pieces at the trade deadline in Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari and Luke Schenn. Tampa Bay, while not as strong as in previous years, will be no easy out for Toronto. The trio of Nikita Kucherov (30 goals, 83 assists), Brayden Point (51 goals, 44 assists) and Steven Stamkos (34 goals, 50 assists) are all proven playoff players. The Lightning will have a massive advantage in goal as Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the best goaltenders in the league. Toronto won the season series 2-1.
Prediction Toronto in 7
Carolina Hurricanes vs New York Islanders
The Hurricanes won the Metropolitan Division for the second season in a row and will face the top wild card seed New York Islanders. The Hurricanes put together another great season as they won 52 games. Rod Brind’Amour’s squad was led by Sebastian Aho (36 goals, 31 assists) and Martin Necas (28 goals, 43 assists). They unfortunately will be without star forward Andrei Svechnikov, who suffered a torn ACL. Their opponent, the Islanders, prevailed as the top team in a heavily contested wild card race. New York has been led by Brock Nelson (36 goals, 39 assists) and Mathew Barzal (14 goals, 37 assists) who will be returning from an injury that has kept him out since February. Mid-season acquisition Bo Horvat (38 goals, 32 assists) looks to bring an offensive spark to the defensive minded Islanders. Goaltender Ilya Sorokin (31 wins, .924 save %) has been one of the best goaltenders in the league this season. Carolina won the season series 3-1.
Prediction: Carolina in 6
New Jersey Devils vs New York Rangers
These two rivals will face-off in the playoffs for the first time since 2012 as New Jersey is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2018. The Devils are a young team with not much playoff experience, but they’ve been a strong team all season long. Jack Hughes (43 goals, 56 assists) and Dougie Hamilton (22 goals, 52 assists) have led the charge all season. 2021 No. 4 overall pick Luke Hughes just recently signed out of the University of Michigan and has looked strong in his first two NHL games. The Rangers are going all in this season as they brought in two superstars, Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko, to complement their trio of Artemi Panarin (29 goals, 63 assists), Mika Zibanejad (39 goals, 52 assists) and Adam Fox (12 goals, 60 assists). New York will have a big advantage in goal as the reigning Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin won 37 games this season and looks poised for a deep playoff run. The Devils won the season series 3-1 and will have home-ice advantage.
Prediction: New York in 7
Vegas Golden Knights vs Winnipeg Jets
Vegas and their first-year head coach Bruce Cassidy earned the top seed in the West after missing the playoffs last season. In his first full season with the team, Jack Eichel (27 goals, 39 assists) did not disappoint. The Golden Knights have some decisions to make as captain Mark Stone and All-Star goaltender Logan Thompson are nearing a return after nursing long-term injuries. Thompson won’t be ready yet so Cassidy will have to decide between Laurent Brossoit and mid-season acquisition Jonathan Quick in net. Winnipeg finds themselves in the top wildcard spot after falling out of the top three in the central division. Kyle Connor (31 goals, 49 assists) and Josh Morrisey (16 goals, 60 assists) both had strong seasons for Winnipeg. The Jets will have a big advantage in net as Connor Hellebuyck is a top five goaltender and played in 64 games this season. Vegas swept the season series 3-0 but it will be no easy task, as Winnipeg is a tough environment to play in during the playoffs.
Prediction: Vegas in 6
Edmonton Oilers vs LA Kings
Edmonton and LA will battle again in the first round after the Oilers overcame a 3-2 series deficit to knock the Kings out in game seven last season. The Oilers have been led by the best player on the planet, Connor McDavid (153 pts in 82 games) and Leon Draisaitl (128 pts in 80 games). Stuart Skinner looks to be the game one starter for Edmonton. Edmonton ended the regular season by going 9-0-1 in their last ten games. Kevin Fiala (23 goals, 49 assists) has been great in his first season in LA and captain Anze Kopitar (28 goals, 46 assists) continues to be a pillar of consistency for the franchise. Phoenix Copley seems to have emerged as the starter in goal for the playoffs and will be making his playoff debut. The teams split their season series two apiece.
Prediction: Edmonton in 6
Colorado Avalanche vs Seattle Kraken
This playoff series will see the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Avs, take on a franchise making their playoff debut in their second season in the Kraken. Colorado won the Central Division and finished the season with 51 wins despite dealing with injuries to key players. Superstars Nathan MacKinnon (107 pts in 70 games), 2022 Norris trophy and Conn Smythe winner Cale Makar (17 goals, 49 assists) and Mikko Rantanen (55 goals, 48 assists) have been as advertised all year as they look to repeat as champions. Colorado will have to make their playoff run without captain Gabriel Landeskog who has missed the entire regular season due to injury and will be unavailable for the playoffs. Seattle just had the best improvement for a franchise in league history. They won 19 more games and had 40 more points than they did last season. Jared McCann (40 goals, 30 assists), Calder trophy favorite Matty Beniers (24 goals, 33 assists) and Vince Dunn (14 goals, 50 assists) have been key parts of the Kraken’s major improvement. Seattle won the season series 2-1 but will be underdogs in this series.
Prediction: Colorado in 4
Dallas Stars vs Minnesota Wild
To round out the first round, the Dallas Stars will take on the Minnesota Wild. Dallas just narrowly lost the Central Division to the Avalanche and looks poised to make a run in the West. Their stars have been Jason Robertson (46 goals, 63 assists), Jamie Benn (33 goals, 45 assists) and goaltender Jake Oettinger (37-11-11, 2.35 GAA). Forward Max Domi (20 goals, 36 assists) looks to provide a spark after being brought in at the trade deadline. Minnesota is in the playoffs for the fourth season in a row. They’ve been led by Mats Zuccarello (22 goals, 45 assists), Matt Boldy (31 goals,32 assists) and superstar Kirill Kaprizov (40 goals, 35 assists) who just recently returned from injury. Goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson will be a strong tandem in net. Dallas won the season series 2-2 and will have home-ice advantage.
Prediction: Dallas in 6