The best time of the year is finally upon us! The 2021-22 Stanley Cup Playoffs are here, and there is no shortage of exciting matchups ahead of us in the first round. The playoffs officially kickoff tonight when the Boston Bruins take on the Carolina Hurricanes in game one at 7 PM on ESPN.
Matchup 1: Boston Bruins (WC1) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (M1)
The Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes squared off three times during the regular season, where Carolina shut Boston out in two of those three games, outscoring them 16-1. The regular season series was very lopsided in Carolina's favor this year, but the Bruins won't go down without a fight.
Since the last February 10th meeting between these two teams, the Bruins racked up 52 points, the fifth most in the NHL in that time span. That being said, I can't really see Boston being much of a threat to Carolina here in the postseason.
Prediction: Hurricanes in 5
Matchup 2: Tampa Bay Lightning (A3) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (A2)
Behind the New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins series, this is the matchup that I am most excited for. The Toronto Maple Leafs haven't advanced past the first round since 2004, and haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967. Toronto has been notorious postseason chokers over the last 18 years, but people seem to think that this year is different. So was last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, so on and so forth, but I digress.
Like I said, though, there is a strong speculation out there that this Leafs team is built different. Can 60 goal scorer Auston Matthews and team captain John Tavares lead the Leafs to their first Stanley Cup in 55 years? Before any of that can happen, they need to go up against their greatest foe: the first round.
The eyes of the hockey world will be on Toronto this postseason. They have the weight of the world on their shoulders, will they fold under the pressure?
Their opponent obviously isn't some team to just sneeze at. The Tampa Bay Lightning are the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions and are still as stacked as a team can be. The last time these two division rivals met in the regular season, it was a 8-1 Tampa Bay victory with plenty of fights, ejections, and all around high emotions. Buckle in, this one will be very, very fun.
Sorry Leafs fans, while I will be rooting for your team, Tampa Bay has shut me up one too many times over the last two years. I won't let them get the better of me this time around.
Prediction: Lightning in 7
Matchup 3: Pittsburgh Penguins (M3) vs. New York Rangers (M2)
Here it is, my team. The New York Rangers are back in the playoffs and I couldn't be happier. Playing Pittsburgh in the first round is just an added extra bonus, as an opening series matchup between the bitter division rivals surely will not disappoint.
The Rangers got the better of the Penguins in their regular season series, including three victories in the span of just about two weeks from March 25th to April 7th. The last time these two teams met, Igor Shesterkin and the Rangers shut the Penguins out on national television, and the likely-Vezina Trophy winner left Pittsburgh with a bitter taste in their mouths as he waved goodbye to them as they skated off the ice.
Sorry for the bias, but let's go Rangers.
Prediction: Rangers in 5
Matchup 4: Washington Capitals (WC2) vs. Florida Panthers (A1)
I'm trying to give Washington as much credit as I can here, but I'm just not sure about this one. The Florida Panthers are the 2021-22 Presidents Trophy winners as the best team in the league, and went on an incredible 12-3 run in the month of April to end the season strong.
As far as I'm concerned, the only thing that the Capitals might be able to lean on in the first round is their playoff experience. Much of this Washington Capitals roster features veterans that were on the 2018 Stanley Cup Championship team. Florida hasn't won a playoff series since 1996. Pulling off a sweep in any sport is incredibly difficult, which is why my prediction is the way that it is. Other than that, I think this'll be a pretty breezy first round for Florida.
Prediction: Panthers in 5
Matchup 1: St. Louis Blues (C3) vs. Minnesota Wild (C2)
Had you asked me pre-NHL trade deadline about this series, I'd probably have said that St. Louis wins this one. But I think that the Wild have the edge in this series, and the x-factor is newly acquired goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury is a postseason warrior, and one could make a strong argument that he might be the greatest postseason goalie of all time. Don't forget that Minnesota also features 108 point scorer, superstar Kirill Kaprizov.
St. Louis isn't to be taken lightly, however. We all learned that in 2019 when they went of a dominant surprise run to hoist the Stanley Cup. Ryan O'Reilly, Vlad Tarasenko, Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou and company could easily lift the Blues over the Wild, which is why I think this series will go the distance.
Prediction: Wild in 7
Matchup 2: Los Angeles Kings (P3) vs. Edmonton Oilers (P2)
You only have to go back a few short months to find me (and most of the hockey world) absolutely tearing the Edmonton Oilers to shreds. The Oilers roster features the greatest hockey player on the face of the Earth, Connor McDavid, and his teammate who is easily a top 3 hockey player in the world, Leon Draisaitl.
What was seemingly tanking Edmonton midway through the season was their weak goaltending. The Oilers clearly got that all figured out, as they scratched and clawed their way back in playoff contention, ending the season in second place in the Pacific Division.
The Los Angeles Kings are a team that boasts a strong mixture of young and exciting talent, combined with grizzled veteran leadership that know what it takes to win multiple Stanley Cups in LA. Much like our Minnesota vs. St. Louis matchup, I think this one almost goes the distance.
Prediction: Oilers in 6
Matchup 3: Nashville Predators (WC2) vs. Colorado Avalanche (C1)
I'm going to refer to my preview of Florida vs. Washington for this one, because I feel like this series is going to end very similarly. As I've stated several times in the past, the Colorado Avalanche are the heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup this year. I think that they are easily the most stacked team in the league, even more so than the league best Florida Panthers. For a majority of the regular season it seemed as if the Avalanche would be the Presidents Trophy winners, and if not for Florida's near perfect finish to the season, they would have been.
Standings be damned, I still think the Colorado is the best team in the league.
Sorry, Nashville fans, but as I stated a few months ago, you guys had a good run, but unfortunately it's just not meant to be this year. Keep building around guys like Juuse Saros and Roman Josi, make sure you re-sign Filip Forsberg, and you guys could be there in no time.
This is a David vs. Goliath type meeting, but this time, I don't think David comes out on top. Give me the sweep!
Prediction: Avalanche in 4
Matchup 4: Dallas Stars (WC1) vs. Calgary Flames (P1)
Surprisingly enough, I've been seeing a lot of people picking Calgary to come out of the West this year, even over Colorado. Now, while I personally don't think so, I did tweet out a month or so ago that I believe if there is any team in the West that can take Colorado the distance, it'll be Calgary.
The Dallas Stars are everyone's favorite team right now, as they were the squad that put the final nail in the coffin of the Vegas Golden Knights' playoff hopes in their 3-2 victory on April 26th. Dallas, you guys had a good run and I think you have the majority of United States hockey fans backing you in this series, but I'm going to keep this rooted in reality.
Plus, if my predictions come true and both Edmonton and Calgary win in the first round, that sets us up for a Battle of Alberta second round matchup, and let's be real, who doesn't want to see that?
Prediction: Calgary in 5
Sorry folks, but no upsets here in this article. I went pretty safe in my predictions, so I'm sorry if I bored you with my very vanilla choices, I just think that this year's first round matchups aren't as volatile as they have been in recent years.
If your team made it this year, good luck to you and your guys! If you are a fan of a team that unfortunately didn't make it to the dance, just sit back and enjoy the action. This is going to be fun!