NHL playoffs preview
✏️ The details
The Stanley Cup Playoffs feature 16 of the league’s 32 teams — eight from the Eastern Conference, and eight from the Western Conference. Within each conference, the top three teams in each division (Atlantic and Metropolitan in the East, Central and Pacific in the West) as well as the two next-best teams in each conference (the wild cards) make the playoffs.
Each of the four playoff rounds is a best-of-seven-game series. In the first round, the second wild card team takes on the division winner with the best record in each conference, and the first wild card team faces the conference’s other division winner. The other series feature the No. 2 and No. 3 teams from the same divisions.
- For example, the Florida Panthers won the Atlantic Division, and the Carolina Hurricanes won the Metropolitan. The Panthers had the better record of the two, so they’ll face the Washington Capitals while the ’Canes take on the Boston Bruins.
And all teams are playing for one thing: the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup, which some say is the hardest trophy to win in sports.
🏆 The favorites
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No. 1 Colorado Avalanche (Central): If you’re going to bank on one team, bank on the Avs. Sure, there are other teams on this list, but did any of them have a historic 18-game home win streak? Did any of them set a franchise record for regular-season wins? Does any other team have center Nathan MacKinnon leading a team of superstars? Case closed.
No. 1 Florida Panthers (Atlantic): Dominant is the only way to describe this Panthers team — they amassed a league-leading 122 points and notched a franchise-record 13-game win streak spanning March and April. With the one-two offensive punch of winger Jonathan Huberdeau and center Aleksander Barkov, it’s no wonder they average over four (!!!) goals per game.
No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning (Atlantic): Yes, Tampa Bay is a three-seed, but they’re also going for a three-peat after joining an exclusive list of back-to-back champs with last year’s title defense. Captain Steven Stamkos just recorded the first 100-plus point season in his career and will be the bolt that powers this Lightning squad.
👊 The contenders
No. 1 Calgary Flames (Pacific): Someone call Netflix, because the Flames are too hot to handle. Calgary made franchise history this season by earning points against every other team in the league, and much of that is thanks to star goaltenderJacob Markström. Markström is the Swede the Flames need if they want to become Canada’s first Cup winners since 1993.
No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes (Metropolitan): A storm’s surging in North Carolina — the ’Canes have rattled off six straight wins heading into the postseason, and if defense really does win championships, they certainly have a shot. They’ve allowed the fewest goals in the league, largely thanks to goalie Frederik Andersen and his .922 save percentage.
No. 2 Toronto Maple Leafs (Atlantic): It’s been
84 54 years. The Leafs are making their fifth first-round postseason appearance in the last six seasons with a chance to end the NHL’s longest championship drought.
- A hopeful sign? Star center Auston Matthews recently joined the 60-goal-scorer club, becoming the first Leaf to ever do so. Let’s see if the Leafs can hold on for a deep run.
No. 2 Minnesota Wild (Central): The Wild have won 10 of their last 12 games, and most of their roster should be healthy in time for the postseason. Are the Wild the strongest team in the field? No. But do they look like a first-round exit? Also no.
🤫 The dark horses
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No. 3 St. Louis Blues (Central): The Blues will be the Wild’s first-round opponent and St. Louis is here to fight. Nine Blues players have scored 20 goals or more this season, and even the team’s fourth line are trusty playmakers. Should the Blues’ offense continue to cook, they might just be the maddest men on the ice.
No. 3 LA Kings (Pacific): The Kings are in their first postseason since 2018, and will try their darnedest not to squander their luck. While their regular season was far from perfect, making the playoffs is in itself an achievement for any team mid-rebuild. With franchise icons Anže Kopitar and Dustin Brown (who will retire after the playoffs) holding down the fort, watch out.
Boston Bruins (Wild card): Don’t let their wild card seeding fool you, the Bruins are perennial playoff contenders. Plus they boast not one, but two of the league’s top goaltenders in Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark, accounting for one of the league’s lowest goals-allowed averages. What a tandem.
💪 Players to watch
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Connor McDavid, center, Edmonton Oilers: After unanimously winning the Hart Trophy (the league’s MVP) last season, McDavid’s equally impressive 2021–22 campaign was somewhat underappreciated. He quietly leads the league in points, including a casual 79 assists on the year. What, like it’s hard?
Leon Draisaitl, center, Oilers: So nice, we had to shout out the Oilers’ offense twice. Draisaitl joins McDavid in the top-five of points leaders, netting 55 goals this season. Talk about a dynamic duo.
Sidney Crosby, center, Pittsburgh Penguins: Crosby is your favorite skater’s favorite skater — he was recently named “most complete player” and “best role model” in the NHL Players’ Association’s annual poll. No. 87 on the ice, No. 1 in everyone’s hearts.
Igor Shesterkin, goaltender, New York Rangers: Igor (Tyler, the Creator’s version) won a Grammy, and Igor (Rangers’ version) might win the Vezina Trophy (awarded to the league’s best ’tendy), having notched a league-leading 0.935 save percentage.
Alexander Ovechkin, left winger, Washington Capitals: Hopefully. The 36-year-old’s status for the playoffs is still TBD as he deals with an upper body injury. If he does hit the ice, the wild card Caps have a chance to spoil the party as Ovi continues his quest for a second Cup.