The regular season is wrapped up and playoff hockey is here. Can’t you feel the hatred brewing? It truly is the most wonderful time of year. This postseason bracket is promising an entertaining first round.
The hockey writers at Back Sports Page have constructed a list of educated predictions of how the opening round will play out.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Seattle Kraken
Avalanche in 5
The Seattle Kraken are coming off an impressive season as they are making their first appearance in the postseason in franchise history. Despite this, they are heavily considered the underdog in this upcoming series.
The Colorado Avalanche are coming off a monster finish after boasting 23-5-2 record in their last 30 games. It is important to note that they are doing this without the services of their star forward Gabriel Landeskog.
Overall, the Avalanche have more superstar power. The Kraken would have to shut down forwards Nathan MacKinnon (69 assists, 111 points), Mikko Rantanen (55 goals, 105 points) and defenseman Cale Makar (49 assists, 66 points in 60 games). Additionally, the Avs are top 10 in goals for and goals against in the season. This will be a very tough first hurdle that Seattle would have to jump if they want to advance into the second round.
Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild
Stars in 5
The Dallas Stars are going into the playoffs with a 6-game winning streak, and a healthy roster. That alone already makes them a formidable opponent. Also, the Stars have one of the best top 9 lines in the NHL. They’re going to be a tough out indeed.
Although the Stars are heavily favored in this series, the Wild goaltending duo has been decent this year. Between Marc-Andre Fleury’s experience and Filip Gustavsson play, they could possibly keep Dallas at bay.
On paper, the statistics heavily favor the Dallas Stars. I tend to agree with the analytics in this aspect. The Stars have a perfect mix of youth and veteran presence along with the budding superstar starter of Jake Oettinger. The Wild would have to out-defend Miro Heiskanen while shutting down the speed of Roope Hintz and the shot of Jason Robertson. Contending against the resurging Jamie Benn, and the ageless Joe Pavelski would be no easy feat as well.
Winnipeg Jets vs Vegas Golden Knights
Jets in 6
Rick Bowness’s Winnipeg Jets are heading into the playoffs with a hot Connor Hellebuyck, who posted a 37-25-2 record, a 2.49 goals-against average, and a .920 save percentage in 64 games this season. Although they don’t have the best offense in the league, they do have one of the better defensive systems in the league by having a top-10 goals against average in the NHL.
The Knights have had an exceptional finish to the regular season, closing out the year with a 16-3-3 record in their last 22 games. This would earn them the first seed in the western conference. That alone makes them a team worth keeping an eye out for.
This is a series that is hard to predict. I expect it to be a hard-fought series with many headlining moments. However, I believe the defense and goaltending of the Winnipeg Jets will win this series against Vegas. On paper, Vegas is an average team that found ways to win. They were upper mid pack in their goals against and goals for but they still found ways to win. This mediocrity on paper may catch up with the Golden Knights in the first round.
Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings
Oilers in 6
The Oilers are led by the dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. These two men are arguably the best players on the planet right now. This automatically gives the Oilers an advantage on offense.
The Kings are coming into the postseason with a wounded roster. Without Kevin Fiala and Gabriel Vilardi their chances of winning are questionable. Additionally the Kings doesn’t have great depth which could become a potential problem.
I expect the Kings to put up a good fight if Fiala and Vilardi are in the lineup. However, I believe that the Conner McDavid and Leon Draisaitl duet will be too much for the Kings to handle. The Oilers could be another team to beat in the West.
Boston Bruins vs. Florida Panthers
Boston in 5
The 2023 Boston Bruins are a historical team. They have had a legendary season by setting the record for the statistically the best season in NHL history. But will this success transfer to the playoffs? Only time will tell.
The Panthers are a surprise entry to these playoffs. Throughout the season they have been a sleepy mediocre a lower bubble team. Then suddenly, they began to win. A lot. They’re now a playoff team with a steep hill to climb with the Boston Bruins. On the bright side, the Panthers have beat the Bruins earlier this year. Perhaps they see a crack in their armor?
Although, I predict that Boston will win in 5, I don’t believe it will be an easy series. The Panthers have a lot of character, with an example being the recent Panthers vs Hurricanes game where the Kitty Cats scored multiple 6-on-5 goals in a gutty attempt to come back. The Bruins will have to earn every inch of ice they get. These games will be close.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lighting
Leafs in 7
Will the Maple Leafs finally break the streak? Or will it be another heartbreak? They have a good chance this year. The Leafs had a fabulous regular season, as they would earn the NHL’s fourth-best record and securing home ice advantage. But will that translate to the playoffs?
The Bolts are always a tough contestant. They are relying on another great playoff performance from goaltender Andre Vasilevskiy. The Bolts defense has not had a great season. Over the years, the Bolts have had some salary cap issues that has tested the depth of their back end. On the plus side, the Bolt forwards are still very formidable.
I expect this series to go back and forth. Tampa will probably have to rely on Vasilevskiy to steal a 7-game series in order to win. This means shutting down Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares which will be no easy feat. I believe this series will give Toronto fans a few scares, but this year might be the year that they break the curse.
Carolina Hurricanes vs New York Islanders
Hurricanes in 6
Carolina is arguably one of the strongest teams coming into the playoffs. Like the Stars, the Canes have a good balance of experience and youth. Additionally the Canes are led by one of the best coaches in the league, Rod Brind ’Amor.
Although the Canes have one of the stronger all-around teams in the postseason, the Islanders have Ilya Sorokin. Sorokin is one of the best goalies in the NHL and he has the ability to steal a series and cause a major upset singlehandedly.
Many analysts are predicting that this will be an easy win for Carolina. I find that doubtful. The possibility of the Canes being frustrated by Sorokin is very likely. However, I don’t believe that the Islander goalie can win it by himself. The Islanders will give Carolina a scare, but ultimately the Carolina offense will prove be too much.
New Jersey Devils vs New York Rangers
Rangers in 7
The Devils’ regular season success was a surprise to many. This team is filled with young talent that are coming off career season highs. This team is built on overwhelming you with offense. Additionally, they’ve gotten a decent season in goal as Vítek Vaněček posted a 33-11-0 record this year, as well as a .911 save percentage and a 2.45 goals-against average in 52 appearances this season.
The 2023 New York Rangers have a very high-profile roster stacked with names like Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko on an already dangerous lineup. Seeing the Rangers win this series wouldn’t exactly be the upset of the century. Additionally, they have Igor Shesterkin who can be a brick wall in net.
I am looking forward to this series. I expect this to be hard fought and nasty. Overall, I expect the Rangers to squeak out a win over the youthful Devils. The Rangers’ experience could trump the Devils’ youth. Additionally, Igor Shesterkin may possibly be the deciding factor in this series.
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