The NHL playoffs are knocking at the door, and playoff battles are in full swing. While there will undoubtedly be more moving and shifting as the final 11-14 games play out, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of who will be staring down who when the regular season officially wraps up.
In preparation, we’re taking a probably-too-early look at playoff matchups if the playoffs were to shape up how they’re currently looking. The one change we’ve made to the current playoff picture is to add the Dallas Stars into the second Wild Card spot in the West over the Vegas Golden Knights. Technically the Knights have one more point than the Stars, but the Stars have three games in hand and currently hold the tie breaker. Fair?
From least enticing to most, here are the eight first-round matchups if the playoffs were to start today (with the Stars in over the Knights, that is).
8. Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars
While the Avs are no doubt one of the most electric teams in the league, this just seems like too much of a mismatch to put any higher. The likely Presidents’ Trophy winning Avs are young, quick, and outrageously skilled. On top of that, it is believed that two of their stars in Gabriel Landeskog and Nazem Kadri could be back in time for playoffs.
The Stars are well balanced, and they’re a team that could prove to be frustrating to the Avs offensive prowess. Even the Stars defensive strengths seem to fall short in comparison to the Avs, though. While it’s possible the Stars can upset the Avs, as they did in 2020, we wouldn’t be surprised if this series doesn’t make it past Game 5.
7. Calgary Flames vs. Nashville Predators
You know it’s going to be a good Playoffs if a matchup of this quality falls into 7th place.
In this matchup, one thing stands out above everything else: goaltending. Jacob Markstrom is having the best year of his career for the Flames (2.19 GAA, 0.924 Save % - both career bests), while Juuse Saros is continuing to prove that he is one of the up-and-coming elite netminders (2.57 GAA, 0.920 Save %).
With such strong goaltending, anything can happen. At any given time, either (or both) of these guys can be a massive game changer by simply refusing to concede goals.
The reason why this match ranks lower is similar to the reason for Avs vs. Stars – it seems like a mismatch. The Flames are well-balanced, particularly on offence, and while the resurgence of Matt Duchene has been a treat this year, the Flames likely have the edge.
6. Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues
Two teams that aren’t generally known for their flash, this matchup could easily go either way. While the Wild have been subjects of “perpetual mediocrity” in recent years, it certainly feels difference this year. They were one of the more active teams ahead of the deadline, and they seem like they’re better than ever.
On the flip side, the Blues are a pesky team that is capable of pulling off the upset. The Blues may have found a gem in goaltender Ville Husso this year, but we’ll see if they can put it together against a team that has Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot trading starts in the crease.
5. Florida Panthers vs. Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals have to be one of the most dangerous 8th seeded teams in recent history, right?
The East is absolutely wild this year, with every team seemingly having the makeup to at least be a tough out in playoffs. The Panthers should have enough firepower on offence, and enough stability on defence (especially if they get Aaron Ekblad back in time) to be able to handle the Caps, but would anyone be surprised if the aging core of the Caps get hot and pull an upset?
This one could definitely end up being one of the more entertaining series if the Caps can keep up.
4. Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings
Who are you, and WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THE L.A. KINGS?!
The Kings have to be the biggest surprise of the entire NHL season. They have just been hanging out in a playoff spot despite not really making any massive changes from last season, but rather having guys step up and play solid all year. Their goaltending has been improved, but you wonder if they have what it takes to make a run in the playoffs.
Despite being 2nd in the Pacific, the Kings have the second lowest goal total among teams listed in the matchups, with only the Stars scoring fewer times. On the flip side, only the Avs and the Wild have more goals in the West than the Oilers.
The Oilers have been the definition of streaky this season, and the outcome of this series will likely just depend on whether they’re hot or cold. Either way, this one is shaping up to be pretty exciting.
3. Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Any playoff series with the Boston Bruins seems to deliver, and a matchup against the high-flying ‘Canes certainly fits the bill.
This matchup would be absolutely loaded with offensive firepower, with stars like David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron typically causing havoc in the postseason, and younger players in Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen representing the more modern NHL star.
On top of that, both teams are gritty. The Bruins have long been considered one of the peskiest teams to play against, and the ‘Canes would also fit into that category after the signing of Max Domi. Also, Brad Marchand vs. Vincent Trocheck (AKA, the Lambo vs. the Prius) anyone? Sign us the heck up.
While this matchup falls third on the list, this could easily become our favourite matchup if the Bruins can give the ‘Canes a run for their lunch money, as they tend to do.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Seeded No. 2 and No. 3 in the division, these two teams are loaded up with talent and have the makings to go on a deep run. While the Leafs will undoubtedly draw the chirps for being an easy 1st round exit, you can bet that the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Bolts won’t be taking the Buds lightly.
One of the biggest storylines going into this matchup would definitely revolve around goaltending. While the Bolts have Andrei Vasilevskiy bolstering their crease, the Leafs tendy situation has become a question mark down the stretch. With Petr Mrazek now missing time, it’s up to Jack Campbell to shake off some of his recent troubles if the Leafs have any shot of stopping the high-powered Lightning offence.
Regardless, these are two of the most offensively gifted NHL squads, and a playoff clash between them would be like watch two rams charge head first into each other. We’re not going to miss a minute of this action.
1. New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Oh man, would this one ever be fun. Not only is this one of that matchups we’re most looking forward to, it’s also perhaps the most likely to happen. The Rangers and Pens appear to be on a crash course, and both teams are pedal to the metal.
Rangers vs. Pens would be the story of two teams on opposite sides of the mountain. The Rangers are young, quick, and flashy, while the Pens are experienced, consistent, and the home of two generational talents.
The Rangers seem to have the edge, particularly with the breakout of Igor Shesterkin in net, but the Pens have enough tenure to put up a fight against anyone. It’s been the Penguins show in recent years, but the Rangers are trying to snatch the microphone away.
Straight into my veins.