The Stanley Cup Playoffs are by far the most physically challenging postseason journey. Teams are playing every other night, all while skating and crashing into each other. The intensity and hitting is amped up because every shift matters. As the teams engage in athletic combat, the respect of the handshake line at the end of a series is the perfect tap of the stick.
As we enter the 2022 tournament, there are so many questions and sub-plots. The Eastern Conference has eight 100 plus point teams, obviously the entire playoff field. Another interesting note is that the 2 division winners aren’t Tampa, Boston, Toronto, New York, Washington or Pittsburgh, they are Florida and Carolina. The Western Conference was not as explosive or dominating from a wins and points perspective. The top seed in the West resides in Denver with the Avalanche. Calgary, Edmonton, Minnesota and 2019 Champion St. Louis also achieved the 100 point plateau. The other 3 playoff teams are Dallas, Nashville and L.A. A noted omission are the Vegas Golden Knights, who missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Lets skate through each conference and the challenges each team is facing.
THE EASTERN CONFERENCE:
The Eastern Conference bracket is going to be extremely grueling. These 8 squads are deep and loaded with experience, but questions remain. The most obvious is centered around the back to back Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Can this veteran squad take their play to a higher level once again and survive the stellar Eastern Conference or will the grind the previous 2 years catch up with them? The next question focuses around their in-state rival and owners of a league leading 122 point campaign, the Florida Panthers. They haven’t experienced much playoff success, so can Jonathan Huberdeau and Alexander Barkov rise to the challenge? Carolina is led by Center Sebastian Aho on the ice and the stat sheet. He leads the team in Points (81), Goals (37), and Assists (44), can Vincent Trocheck, Andrei Svechnikov and Jordan Staal help him? As we skate up the eastern seaboard, the puck drops in Washington with Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. They are the 8 seed based on their 100 points, but considering the talent on the roster, if Ovi gets hot, watch out Panthers.
The Penguins and Sydney Crosby are quietly hanging around and if Jake Guentzel can keep his scoring surge going, they can shock the NY Rangers. The Rangers have a solid squad, but if you ask any fan, they’d say they don’t trust them. Can Igor Shesterkin stand tall between the pipes and maintain his amazing 2.07 goals against average? Artemi Panarin had an amazing 2021-22 campaign with 96 points, 74 being assists, but can Chris Kreider maintain his play that resulted in 52 goals? The hockey crazed fans in Boston are cautiously optimistic about the Bruins and I am too. It feels like David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have been patrolling the ice at T.D. Garden for 20 years. If they can maintain their rugged play and get quality from Taylor Hall, Charlie Coyle and Charlie McAvoy, it could be a fun early summer. Our journey through the East ends north of the border in the home of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Toronto Maple Leafs finished with 115 points and have home ice in their first round pairing with Tampa Bay. This might be the most important playoff in club history given the fact that star Austin Matthews is in his prime. The Leafs had an outstanding season, but the pressure to breakthrough and play for the cup is mounting, much less win it. As we all know, the last Canadian Team to hoist the Cup was the 1993 Montreal Canadiens. That was 29 years ago, not a good look for the official sport of the nation.
THE OPENING ROUND MATCHUPS:
Tampa Bay vs Toronto (Prediction Toronto in 7 Games)
Boston vs Carolina ( Prediction Boston in 6 Games)
Pittsburgh vs NY Rangers (Prediction NY Rangers in 7 Games)
Washington vs Florida (Prediction Florida in 6 Games)
My Prediction to Win the Eastern Conference and the Prince of Wales Trophy: Toronto Maple Leafs
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE:
The Western Conference was owned by Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Nathan Mackinnon and the Colorado Avalanche. They finished the campaign with 119 points and the top seed. The pressure is a mile high for this team, can they scale the mountain and reach the Stanley Cup Finals? Minnesota is the State of Hockey, but can their team; The Minnesota Wild be a champion? That falls on Kirill Kaprizov, incumbent goalie Cam Talbot and newly acquired net minder, Marc-Andre Fleury.. The 2019 Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues and Vladimir Tarasenko want to show that they are still a force on the ice. The Dallas Stars won the Western Conference during the Covid Bubble in 2020, but struggled during the 2020-21 campaign. Can Joe Pavelski, Jason Robertson and Tyler Seguin get them focused and back to precipice of a championship? Playoff hockey at the Bridgestone Arena in SmashVille is an event filled with Country music stars, Tennessee Titans and catfish. Can Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg use that home ice experience to orchestrate a run?
The Pacific Division brings 2 more Canadian franchises into the playoff bracket with division champion Calgary and the Edmonton Oilers. The other playoff team comes from Hollywood in the form of the Los Angeles Kings. In regards to the Oilers, much like Toronto, if not now, then when? They have arguably 2 of the 10 best players in the league on the ice in the form of Connor McDavid (123 points) and Leon Draisaitl (55 goals). Can this team grow up, get physical and navigate the less than ferocious Western Conference? The other Canadian club, the Calgary Flames were on fire all year, massing together 111 points. Will this team burnout during the playoffs? Can Johnny Gaudreau remain on fire and carry the torch of this offense? He finished the 2021-22 season with 115 points, 75 of the assist variety, if his movement of the offense is extinguished, can Matthew Tkachuk shoulder the pressure? The Kings have a tall task in the first round with the Oilers. It might just take a royal decree to give them a fighting chance in this crusade.
THE OPENING ROUND MATCHUPS
LA Kings vs Edmonton (Prediction Edmonton in 5 Games)
St. Louis vs Minnesota (Prediction St. Louis in 7 Games)
Nashville vs Colorado (Prediction Colorado in 6 Games)
Dallas vs Calgary (Prediction Calgary in 7 Games)
My Prediction to Win the Western Conference and hoist the Campbell Bowl: Colorado Avalanche
My Stanley Cup Champion: Colorado Avalanche defeat Toronto in 7 Games
The puck drops on the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 2nd. This tournament will be a spectacle for all the young stars in the game. Buckle up, tighten your skates and get ready for an electric few months.