NHL Opening Round Preview

Story posted May 1, 2022 in Sports, CommRadio by Josh Bartosik

After 82 grueling games from October to April, the NHL Playoffs are finally just around the corner. This year brings a plethora of excitement and action, as nearly every team that made the playoffs has a case to bring home Lord Stanley.

Let’s take a look at the first round matchups.

Florida Panthers vs. Washington Capitals

The Florida Panthers were arguably the best team in hockey this past season, and they have the hardware to prove it after clinching the Presidents’ Trophy earlier this week.

The Panthers are looking to become the first President’s Trophy winner to appear in the Stanley Cup Final since Chicago in 2013 and the first to win it all since Detroit in 2008.

The Panthers will look to break the curse with the help from Hart Trophy candidate Jonathan Huberdeau, whose 115 points were a career-best and good for second in the league this season.

Going against the Washington Capitals should be a relatively easy task for Florida, as Washington has struggled down the stretch. The Sunshine State should win this series by a mile, but anything is possible in the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Maple Leafs have been desperately trying to win their first Stanley Cup since 1967.  Before that, they still need to win their first playoff series since 2004, and things are looking bleak in that regard with the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions standing in their way.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have recently been one of the most feared teams when it comes to playoff time, with the likes of Nikita Kucherov torching opposing defenses as well as having the best goaltender in the world in Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Even though Auston Matthews has made history with his 60-goal season, the Maple Leafs cannot match up man-for-man against the Lightning, especially when Jack Campell and Petr Mrázek have struggled to stay consistent in goal.

Carolina Hurricanes vs. Boston Bruins

The Carolina Hurricanes are coming off their second division title in as many years and are looking to make a deep run, but a familiar foe stands in their way.

The Boston Bruins have beaten the Canes in two of the last three Stanley Cup Playoffs, first sweeping them in 2019 in the Eastern Conference Final, then again in 5 games in 2020.

The Bruins will look for notable playoff performers Brad Marchand and David Pastrňák to light a spark along with a new tandem in goal with Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman.

The Hurricanes have a new tandem in goal as well, and a stellar one at that. Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta won the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals all season. Carolina is looking for more of the same from those two if they have any hope of overcoming a familiar obstacle.

New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins.

Two of the league’s most storied franchises face off next week in what should be a thrilling matchup.

The New York Rangers finished second in the Metropolitan Division after sensational performances from goaltender Igor Shesterkin as well as a 52-goal season from Chris Kreider.

The Penguins surprised a lot of teams by finishing third in the Metro, especially when stars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin didn’t play the entire season.

The main question for both of these teams is goaltending. Shesterkin did a lot of the heavy lifting for the Rangers this season and has potential to burn out.

For Pittsburgh, their normal starter, Tristian Jarry, is out week-to-week with a lower body injury, so Casey DeSmith will take the reins.

Both netminders will look to prove themselves in this interconference matchup, and it’s sure to be a doozy.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Nashville Predators

The Avalanche have been one of the best teams in the league the last three seasons, but have failed to make it past the second round in each one. This could be their best chance, as they have the deepest lineup out of any team in the league.

The Predators enter the playoffs in large part due to a Norris caliber season from Roman Josi, who became the first defenseman since 1993 to hit 90 points.

However, Nashville is going to be without star goaltender Juuse Saros, who is out for at least the next month. Without a true number one in net, it is going to be virtually impossible for the Predators to win this series.

Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues

Both the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues have had a remarkable season and will face off in probably the best first round matchup.

The Wild have a young superstar in Kirill Kaprizov as well as one of the hottest players in the league right now in Kevin Fiala, who had 24 points in April.

Minnesota also has noted Stanley Cup Winner Marc-André Fleury in net, a trade deadline acquisition that has gone a long way.

St. Louis has stellar young pieces as well, with guys like Robert Thomas scoring 77 points in 72 games this season. They also have a two headed dragon in net with Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso.

This series will be one for the ages and will most likely go to seven, with neither team willing to give an inch.

Calgary Flames vs. Dallas Stars

In a rematch from the 2020 bubble, the Flames and Stars will face off once again in the playoffs.

The Flames will be looking for revenge, specifically Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, two players with over 100 points on the season, and a Vezina worthy season from Jacob Markstrom.

The Stars are looking to play spoiler once again, most likely with the help of Jason Robertson, whose 41 goals were best on the team. Jake Oettinger has also cemented himself as a bonafide starter for the green and black.

Edmonton Oilers vs Los Angeles Kings

The Oilers and Kings are two teams on completely different sides of the spectrum.

The Oilers are a team that everyone expected to be here, with their high powered offense led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. However, defense and goaltending has always been a major concern for them, with aging vets like Duncan Keith and Mike Smith leading the way on the back end.

For the Kings, they surprised everyone by finding a way into the playoffs in the middle of a rebuild. They don’t have any superstar players that stand out, but they have a perfect mix of youth and veteran leadership that most teams strive for in the playoffs.

Most experts think this could be Edmonton’s year, but you can never count out the Kings.

These playoffs should be some of the best in recent memory, with so much talent spread throughout both conferences. Who will get the right to hoist Lord Stanley in June? Only time will tell.

Joshua Bartosik is a first year student majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email joshbartosik13@gmail.com.