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2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference Preview

The Tampa Bay Lightning are looking for the threepeat, but the Presidents’ Trophy winning Florida Panthers might stand in their way.

NHL: FEB 10 Hurricanes at Bruins
Boston Bruins center Jack Studnicka (23) stares down Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal (11) prior to the start of the third period during a game between the Boston Bruins and the Carolina Hurricanes on February 10, 2022 at TD garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NHL’s post-season is upon us, and while we’re once again on the outside looking in, we are still fans of the game, and love the excitement that the playoffs bring. We’re looking at each of the 8 First Round series, this time focusing on the Eastern Conference.

Washington Capitals v Florida Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

FLORIDA PANTHERS (1st overall) vs WASHINGTON CAPITALS (WC2)

It’s the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers (which sounds as weird as it looks) up against a previous champion in the Washington Capitals. The Panthers have been an absolute force at times this season, scoring seemingly at will, and yet, like the Western Conference leaders Colorado, they’ve turned in some efforts that leave you shaking your head. I mean, I know they were looking forward to Game One as they took on Montreal Friday night, but even in that context, losing 10-2 to the worst team in the NHL is a tad alarming.

After a hard fought series against their upstate rivals in Tampa, where they lost in six games to the eventual champs, the Panthers feel they’re ready to go on their first real run since 1996. Talk is cheap, though, and the Capitals are no ordinary second Wild Card team. The question is, can the Caps stay healthy enough, and get the goaltending and defensive efforts they need to handle a team like the Panthers?

Florida may be the better team, but the Caps hold a massive edge in playoff experience here, and as we all know, the post-season is a completely different animal. We’ve seen the Presidents’ Trophy winners go down in Round One before, are the Panthers next on that list?

Westy - Do you know what Florida and Washington like to play? One goal games. 8 out of the last 10 meetings have been 1 goal games. Florida has been incredible this year. Washington knows how to switch to playoff hockey mode. I wonder if Florida has that mode? This could be an awesome 7 game series that goes into o/t everytime.....or a 4 game sweep. I hope for the former. Cats in 7

Kent- This series should be as close as their recent meetings have been, and especially this season, given how often the Panthers won by multiple goals, a team that’s been able to keep their games close could be cause for concern. Alex Ovechkin’s health could play a factor in this for the Caps. If he’s not 100%, can they cover the gap that leaves. Experience matters, and the difference between Washington and Florida is wide. Bobrovsky has to prove he’s more than just a regular season goalie for them to get far, though. In the end, firepower will win out in this one. Panthers in 6

jimmi - These 2 teams apparently are in the NHL. Why haven’t I heard about them sooner? I do know one of our goalies lives in Miami and we’re still paying him to live there. Can’t be a very nice place. However, I like cats. So... Cats in 5.

Beggsy - I hope the lack of goaltending prowess in this series comes to fruition. We all know about the Panthers’ league-leading offence, but the Caps were top-10 as well. I do think the Caps are capable of the upset, but I don’t have the confidence to pick them outright. Florida in 6.

Carolina Hurricanes v Boston Bruins - Game Five Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

CAROLINA HURRICANES (1st in Metropolitan) vs BOSTON BRUINS (WC2)

I would love to see the Hurricanes wear their Whalers alternates in this one, because that would be fun (along with all of the whining we’d see on the Twitter). The Canes are still trying to get their mix right to go on a Cup run, and sadly they’ve turned to a couple of the most toxic players in the league, and that makes it so damn hard to cheer for them. On the other hand, they’re going up against the Bruins, and getting another chance to see Brad Marchand cry would be good for the hockey community at large.

The Bruins window is starting to close, and this might be the last playoff run for Patrice Bergeron, so while as someone who appreciates great players it would be good to see him get a good long kick at the Cup, he is a Boston Bruin, and we can’t abide this.

Westy - I won’t choose Boston and to be realistic, the Bruins are over-matched in this series. Rod has the Hurricanes playing a sound system. Canes in 5

Kent- The Hurricanes have all the tools, and this is the series they probably wanted. Yes, the Bruins are still kinda good, have experience and all that, but head to head this year, the Canes outscored Boston 16-1. If the Bruins can extend this beyond four games, that would be a victory unto itself. They’re gonna get demolished here and I am all for it, sadly. Canes in 5

jimmi - There can only be one outcome that can be typed at NM. Canes in 5

Beggsy - Here’s where I get chastised by my NM colleagues. Carolina’s defence was quietly mediocre this season, while the Bruins were near the top of the league. Throw in an injury to Carolina’s Frederik Andersen, and I think the Bruins have a better shot than most might think. Boston in 6.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (2nd in Atlantic) vs TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (3rd in Atlantic)

The good news? The Leafs won’t face the Bruins in the first round. The bad news? They get the Lightning right off the hop. Toronto’s lost their last seven playoff series dating back to a 2nd round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers 18 years ago, and the consequences of another first round exit would be absolutely seismic. It’s been a good year for them, the best in franchise history as they set new marks for wins and points, and while you probably didn’t hear anything about it, they had the NHL’s top goal scorer this year.

The Lightning have looked a little more human this year, and it doesn’t look as though they’ve been manipulating the cap rules again this season. Still, they’re a really easy team to hate for the cockiness and other assorted nonsense that’s gone on. It’s fun watching the Leafs continually flounder, but now that we’ve gotten over the thrill of Vegas missing the playoffs, a Lightning first round exit would be good for hockey’s collective souls.

Westy - I am not going to analyze this series. Fuck Toronto. Tampa in 6

Kent- Since Westy’s a coward, I’ll take that challenge. When I look at the Tampa Bay Lightning, I see a lot of things. What I don’t see is a dynasty, though. Read what you will into their last meeting, the Leafs are matched well against Tampa, who have shown signs of cracking this season. As hard as it will be for some to enjoy it, Toronto’s streak of first round exits ends here. Leafs in 7

jimmi - There are no good options in this round. Despite being billed as CoTU vs the world. I predict I won’t like the outcome no matter which team moves on. Can only hope every game goes to funkdroople overtime and the ‘victor’ is too tired to continue. Tampa in 7.9999999999.

Beggsy - Yeah yeah F the Leafs but seriously, this series is juicy. I think we’re going to see the best playoff performances from Marner and Matthews to date in this series, but the difference in net might be too much to overcome. Tampa in 6.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

NEW YORK RANGERS (2nd in Metropolitan) vs PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (3rd in Metropolitan)

The Rangers rode into the playoffs on the backs of the NHL’s best goaltender in Igor Shesterkin, and 52 goal scorer Chris Kreider (!), and have a pretty solid lineup from top to bottom. They take on a Penguins team that had to endure a lot of injuries this season but still managed to eclipse the 100 point mark.

There’s no doubt that a rebuild will have to come soon in Pittsburgh as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin aren’t getting any younger. Do they have enough left in the tank for another shot at a Cup, though? And can Tristan Jarry match Shesterkin in goal? He’s going to have to if the Penguins hope to get through to the next round.

Westy - Not sure about this one, as I haven’t paid attention to either team. I would have to think it will take all the experience Syd and Malkin can muster to beat a pretty good Rangers team. Rangers in 7

Kent- I’m still not sold on the Rangers, though we all know how far lights-out goaltending can take a team. They had four shutouts in April, one of them against the Penguins, and took three of the four meetings against them this year. The Penguins window is about to close, so I suppose we can look forward to them finishing near the bottom of the standings next season, winning the draft lottery, and getting the first overall pick. Again. Meh. Rangers in 6

jimmi - The Rags are not my fav pick. Not my fav team. Neither are the Pens. However, since we have two senior former-Pens execs in our management pen, we have to support their legacy. Rangers in 7.. er Pens in 7

Beggsy - This matchup has been set for some time, even if the Rangers threatened to win the Metro as the Penguins sagged. If both teams are completely healthy, I like the Penguins, although missing Tristan Jarry could be huge. Rangers in 6.