NHL: Stanley Cup Playoff Eastern Conference Round One Preview with our expert picks

NHL.com

It is that time of year again. The one all hockey fans wait for. It’s Stanley Cup playoff time! Let’s take a look at the matchups schedules and our staff picks for the first round.

(1A) Boston Bruins 65-12-5, 135 points vs. (WC2) Florida Panthers 42-32-8, 92 points

Here is the Schedule

Mon., April 17: Panthers at Bruins, 7:30 p.m. ET

Wed., April 19: Panthers at Bruins, 7:30 p.m. ET

Fri., April 21: Bruins at Panthers, 7:30 p.m. ET

Sun., April 23: Bruins at Panthers, 3:30 p.m. ET

Wed., April 26: Panthers at Bruins, TBA

Fri., April 28: Bruins at Panthers, TBA

Sun., April 30: Panthers at Bruins, TBA

The Boston Bruins put together a historic season, winning more games in the regular season than any other team in NHL history. Their 65 wins topped the 62 put up by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings and 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning, and their 135 points topped the 132 put up by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.

But the Stanley Cup Playoffs have many teams that did not win a championship after unprecedented regular seasons, including the Red Wings, who lost in the Western Conference Final to the Colorado Avalanche, and the Lightning, who were swept in the Eastern Conference First Round by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Bruins will open the playoffs to ensure that does not happen to them.

This season, the Panthers struggled before turning it on at the end, winning six straight games before losing their final two to claim the second wild card in the East.

This will be a huge test for the Panthers, though they have played the Bruins and any other team responsible for two of their 17 losses this season.

It will be a matchup of the past two teams to win the Presidents’ Trophy, with the Panthers claiming it last season before losing to the Lightning in four games in the second round.

Key Players:

Bruins: David Pastrnak scored an NHL career-high 61 goals in 82 games this season. It seemed like Pastrnak, normally a streaky scorer, but he didn’t have an off button this year. He managed a hat trick to reach 60 goals when the Bruins broke the regular-season wins record. He finished the season with the second-most goals in the NHL.

Panthers: Brady Tkachuk helped will the Panthers into the playoffs and, in the process, became a candidate for the Hart Trophy. The forward finished the regular season with 109 points in 79 games, tied for sixth in the NHL. It was a second straight NHL career high in points for a player who has been offensive, tough, and a gritty opponent.

Goaltending:

Bruins: They have the best duo in hockey, with Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman combining to win the William M. Jennings Trophy. Ullmark, the favorite for the Vezina Trophy, leads them. Ullmark finished the season leading the league in most of the goalie categories, going 40-6-1. Swayman finished with a 24-6-4. They lack postseason experience. Ullmark has two postseason starts, and, Swayman has five, but they both have been dominant this season.

Panthers: Alex Lyon has been the goalie down the stretch for the Panthers, the one that got them into the playoffs while Sergei Bobrovsky was sidelined with an illness and while Spencer Knight has been in the NHL/NHLPA employee assistance program. Lyon made the final eight starts of the season, going 6-1-1. Bobrovsky should be an option in the playoffs if Lyon falters; he was 24-20-3 in 50 games this season.

Our Expert picks

R. Lambert, writer for the Avalanche: Bruins in 5

Chris Lavallee, writer for the Bruins: Bruins in 5

Elijah Webb, writer for the Solar Bears (ECHL): Bruins in 5

Lauren, writer for the Maple Leafs: Bruins in 5

Nik, writer for the Penguins: Bruins in 6

This looks like an easy start for the best team in the league ever.

In the second matchup of the Easter Conference, we have:

(2A) Toronto Maple Leafs 50-21-11, 111 points vs. (3A) Tampa Bay Lightning 46-30-6, 98 points

The schedule for this matchup is as follows:

Tue., April 18: Lightning at Maple Leafs, 7:30 p.m. ET

Thu., April 20: Lightning at Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET

Sat., April 22: Maple Leafs at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET

Mon., April 24: Maple Leafs at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET

Thur., April 27: Lightning at Maple Leafs, TBA

Sat., April 29: Maple Leafs at Lightning, TBA

Mon., May 1: Lightning at Maple Leafs, TBA

The Tampa Bay Lightning will look to reach the Stanley Cup Final for a fourth consecutive season, starting with a matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference First Round for the second straight year.

From 2020-22 the Lightning won 11 consecutive postseason series and the Stanley Cup twice, seeing their run end last season when the Colorado Avalanche beat them in the 2022 Final. Tampa Bay is trying to become the first team to reach the Final in four straight seasons since the New York Islanders did it in five consecutive seasons from 1980-84.

The first step is defeating a Maple Leafs team that has not won a postseason series since 2004, and the Lightning beat this team Toronto team in the first round last year as well.

The Maple Leafs feel better equipped to deal with the physicality of the postseason after acquiring forwards Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Sam Lafferty, and defensemen Jake McCabe and Luke Schenn in deals. Each plays a style that should help grind out shifts and initiate physical play as much as absorbing it.

Toronto has improved its depth, but the Maple Leafs will need more from its core: forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly, who have all been part of six consecutive one-and-done postseason eliminations with Toronto.

Key Players:

Maple Leafs: Marner is the lifeblood of the Maple Leafs. He has 99 points. He had 36 power-play points and killed penalties as well) However, for the Maple Leafs to succeed in this series, Marner must improve his postseason stats of 33 points in 39 games.

Lightning: Nikita Kucherov eclipsed the 100-point barrier for the third time in his career, scoring 113 points. It’s the postseason where he really shines. He averages 1.13 points per game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with 154 points in 136 games. Kucherov leads the postseason in scoring the past three seasons with 93 points in 71 games.

Goaltending:

Maple Leafs: Ilya Samsonov is expected to be the starter for Toronto. He’s earned it. With a record of 27-10-5 in 42 games, and beat out Matt Murray for the job. One thing that is concerning is his previous postseason struggles; he’s 1-6 while with the Washington Capitals. Joseph Woll, who played in seven games for Toronto this season, was 6-1-0 and could find himself in net to start the series as the backup if Murray remains sidelined. 

Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best in the business, especially in the postseason. He goaltended the Lightning to back-to-back championships in 2020 and 2021 and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2021. Backup Brian Elliot was 12-8-2 with two shutouts in 22 games this season and has 48 games of postseason experience.

Our Expert picks

R. Lambert, writer for the Avalanche: Lightning in 7

Chris Lavallee, writer for the Bruins: Toronto in 6

Elijah Webb, writer for the Solar Bears (ECHL): Lightning in 6

Lauren, writer for the Maple Leafs: Toronto in 6

Nik, writer for the Penguins: Toronto in 7

Here is the first series we disagree with. A couple of us think the curse is too strong for the Leafs to break through.

On to Matchup number 3

(1M) Carolina Hurricanes 52-21-9, 113 points vs. (WC1) New York Islanders 42-31-9, 93 points

Here is the Schedule

Mon., April 17: Islanders at Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET

Wed., April 19: Islanders at Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET

Fri., April 21: Hurricanes at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET

Sun., April 23: Hurricanes at Islanders, 1 p.m. ET

Tue., April 25: Islanders at Hurricanes, TBA

Fri., April 28: Hurricanes at Islanders, TBA

Sun., April 30: Islanders at Hurricanes, TBA

 

The Carolina Hurricanes’ quest for the Stanley Cup will begin against the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round.

Carolina hasn’t advanced past the second round since sweeping the Islanders in four games to reach the 2019 Eastern Conference Final. So, after finishing first in their division for the third straight season, losing here would be a disappointment.

The Islanders are back in the playoffs after missing out last season and will rely on their experience from reaching the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Semifinals in 2020 and 2021.

The Islanders will have their hands full with the Hurricanes, though; only the Boston Bruins, who set NHL records with 65 wins and 135 points, had more wins and points than Carolina.

Key players:

Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho led Carolina in goals for the sixth straight season with 36 and was second in points with 67 in 75 games. Aho has 46 points in 48 career playoff games. With Andrei Svechnikov out after having season-ending knee surgery, there will be even more focus on Aho.

Islanders: Mathew Barzal’s return from a lower-body injury that sidelined the forward since around Valentine’s Day will be a huge boost for New York. Although the Islanders went 14-7-2 in their final 23 regular-season games without Barzal, he is their most offensive player. He still finished second in points for New York with 51 in just 58 games.

Goaltending:

Hurricanes: It seems likely that Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta will each play in this series. During the regular season, Andersen was 21-11-1 with one shutout. Raanta was 19-3-3 and had four shutouts.

Islanders: Ilya Sorokin enters the playoffs as a No. 1 goalie for the first time in his career after he was 31-22-7 with six shutouts during the regular season. Backup Semyon Varlamov, the Islanders starting goalie the last time it reached the playoffs in 2021, was 11-9-2 and had two shutouts this season.

Our Expert picks:

R. Lambert, writer for the Avalanche: Carolina in 6

Chris Lavallee, writer for the Bruins: Carolina in 6

Elijah Webb, writer for the Solar Bears (ECHL): Carolina in 6

Lauren, writer for the Maple Leafs: Carolina in 6

Nik, writer for the Penguins: Carolina in 5

From the experts, it looks like the Islanders will be no match for the Gale force wind that is the Hurricanes.

Now on to the final matchup

(2M) New Jersey Devils 52-22-8, 112 points vs. (3M) New York Rangers 47-22-13, 107 points

Here is the schedule of games

Tue., April 18: Rangers at Devils, 7 p.m. ET

Thu., April 20: Rangers at Devils, 7:30 p.m. ET

Sat., April 22: Devils at Rangers, 8 p.m. ET

Mon., April 24: Devils at Rangers, 7 p.m. ET

Thur., April 27: Rangers at Devils, TBA

Sat., April 29: Devils at Rangers, TBA

Mon., May 1: Rangers at Devils, TBA

The “Hudson River Rivalry” is back on in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 11 years.

The New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers will face off in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh time when they face each other in the Eastern Conference First Round. 

It’s New Jersey’s first trip back to the postseason since 2018, which was its only appearance since 2012.

The Devils got back to the playoffs by setting single-season team records for wins and points. It was an improvement of 25 wins and 49 points from last season.

The Rangers are back in the playoffs after reaching Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final last season when the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated them.

Key Players:

Devils: Jack Hughes, New Jersey’s No. 1 center, set a team record for points in a single season with 99 in 78 games. He will be playing in the playoffs for the first time after New Jersey failed to make it in his first three seasons with the Devils. He closed the regular season on an eight-game point streak. He is the most explosive player on the Devils and has become one of their most reliable points-getters.

Rangers: New York is loaded with potential game-breakers, but it’s still Mika Zibanejad, their No. 1 center, which could be the most dangerous of them all. Zibanejad led the Rangers with 39 goals and 91 points and was second on the team behind Artemi Panarin with 92. Zibanejad finished the season on a six-game point streak and with points in 13 of the final 16 games. He plays in all situations too, even strength, penalty kills, and power play. He led the Rangers with 20 goals and 39 points on the power play. Zibanejad is everywhere and can do everything. He’s the Rangers most dangerous weapon.

Goaltending:

Devils: Vitek Vanecek had a breakout season in his first season with the Devils. He set NHL career highs across the board for games played, starts, wins, goals-against average, save percentage, and shutouts. When healthy, Mackenzie Blackwood was the primary backup to Vanecek, but his numbers weren’t as strong as Akira Schmid’s. Blackwood was 10-6-2, while Schmid went 9-5-2 in 18 games. 

Rangers: The best news for the Rangers going into the playoffs is that Igor Shesterkin’s last two months were his best months. He started 16 of the Rangers’ last 23 games and was 12-3-1 with two shutouts. Shesterkin rounded into form at just the right time to finish 37-13-8 and three shutouts in 58 games this season after winning the Vezina Trophy last season. Jaroslav Halak was Shesterkin’s backup all season and went 10-9-5 with a 2.72 GAA and .903 save percentage in 25 games.

Our Expert picks

R. Lambert, writer for the Avalanche: Devils in 6

Chris Lavallee, writer for the Bruins: Rangers in 7

Elijah Webb, writer for the Solar Bears (ECHL): Devils in 7

Lauren, writer for the Maple Leafs: Devils in 7

Nik, writer for the Penguins: Devils in 6

It looks like this one has the Devils coming out on top of a hard-fought series.

If our experts are correct, It looks like a Bruins, Leafs, Hurricanes, and Devils in the second round.

Stanley Cup Aspirations Cue’ the Duck Boats Pod

The boys are back after a long break but have plenty to talk about as the playoffs are in full swing. We go series by series, looking at how teams have fared so far and who will come out on top. Thanks for listening! Please rate and review our show on your favorite listening platform. Check out our partner's website at www.insidetherink.com for all your latest hockey news.
  1. Stanley Cup Aspirations
  2. The Final Countdown
  3. Here Come the Playoffs
  4. Home Stretch
  5. Kevy Cooks

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