The NHL playoffs are a week old, and we saw our first elimination last night with the mighty Colorado Avalanche sweeping away the Nashville Predators. While anyone paying attention could tell that was likely about to happen, most of the rest of the series have been incredibly competitive so far. Aside from the Pens holding a 3-1 edge over NYR, all other six playoff series are tied up 2-2.
Here’s what we’ve learned about all of them so far...
Carolina vs. Boston
Why it matters: The Pens/Rangers winner meets the winner of this series, so there ya go. Also, if Pittsburgh can wrap up their business tomorrow night (big if, yadda yadda), that could prove to be very beneficial since Carolina/Boston has “going the distance” written all over it so far, and Game 7 is Saturday. That means the second round probably wouldn’t start until next Monday or Tuesday and give a ton of useful time for the Pens and guys like Tristan Jarry, Brian Dumoulin and Rickard Rakell to heal up without missing games in the next 5-6 days.
What’s impressed: Boston’s defensive effort, even without Charlie MacAvoy and Hampus Lindholm in Game 4 the B’s still suppressed Carolina’s offense in a massive way. It doesn’t even matter who the players are, the Bruins just find a way to produce extremely impressive defensive performances.
Would I change my prediction: Flip a coin for the answer and confidence level in this one. This series is very even, and either side could take it. I called Boston in 7 but with their injuries and Antti Raanta playing decently well, it would be no shock at all if it is the Canes who ultimately advance.
Washington vs. Florida
Why it matters: Florida was seen as the class of the East, Washington entered the playoffs in a big struggle at the end of the regular season, much like the Penguins. There was also the interesting question about the clash of styles and how a relatively untested and unproven playoff team in the Panthers would respond to playoff-style intensity.
What’s impressed: Washington managing to keep Florida from feeling comfortable or getting on track offensively. Maybe last night was the turning point, when the Cats scored to force overtime in the closing minutes of regulation and found an OT goal soon after. But a lot of people (myself included) thought the Caps would be merely a speed bump for the powerful Panthers. That has not come to pass, and isn’t likely to. This is a first round fist fight that at this point, Florida will be fairly fortunate to emerge from.
Would I change my prediction: I had Florida in 5, and might as well stick with them, even though they were very close to going down 3-1 last night in what could have been a terminal blow to their season. At this point though, I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington hasn’t won their last game, which would mean this series goes the distance to a Game 7. And just about anything can happen in a Game 7 situation.
Tampa vs. Toronto
Why it matters: To me, this is the NHL’s glamour series of the first round matchups. The might 2x defending champion Lightning vs. the biggest market team looking to finally shake off the ghosts of playoff past and make a run for a title. The action has not disappointed either, as it’s probably been one of the craziest series to watch in terms of not knowing which team is going to show out.
What’s impressed: The star power. Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are having terrific series, and then you’ve got Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov answering them. The skill and speed has made for some great action, even though it’s seemed like one team or the other is winning 4-0 or 5-0 to start a game and then gliding to a win.
Would I change my prediction: Nah. I had Tampa in 7 and would stand by it, even though at 2-2 the Leafs are obviously in position to win as well. I do think whoever wins tonight probably wins the series, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it folds up in six games, though, as one minor change in the prediction. Since almost all the games have been blowouts, in Game 6 the team that is down might not be able to answer the bell. Still a shame one of these teams is out in the first round, either one could be a potential ECF type of team.
Colorado vs. Nashville
Why it matters: The first step of what feels like the inevitable coronation of the Avs as at least the kings of the West.
What’s impressed: Cale Makar broke a NHL record held partially by Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr for defenseman scoring to start a playoffs, which always is going to turn heads.
Cale Makar concluded the First Round with 10 points, which lead the League and are the most in NHL history by a defenseman through four games in a postseason. #StanleyCup#NHLStats: https://t.co/LVoo4yeguw pic.twitter.com/JlWUmDuSsY— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 10, 2022
Would I change my prediction: No reason. Had Colorado with the sweep, and they came through as expected.
Calgary vs. Dallas
Why it matters: If the Stars knock off the Flames, the Avalanche might not even break a sweat until the Stanley Cup Final.
What’s impressed: What’s not impressed has been Darryl Sutter allowing Dallas to classically “Dallas it up” with tight-checking, defensive, boring hockey that gives them a chance to win. Calgary shouldn’t be trying to play 1-0 games with this team, because sometimes you don’t win those games. Last night could have also been a turning point with a 4-2 CGY win in Dallas to tie the series. That feels like a perfect time for the better team to take control type of moment.
Would I change my prediction: I had Flames in 5, wouldn’t change the overall prediction even though it won’t wrap up so quickly, still expecting Calgary to take care of business and close it out the win.
Edmonton vs. Los Angeles
Why it matters: It would be nice for the league and visibility if their premiere player these days of scoring champion Connor McDavid could make a mark on the playoffs. Settling for keeping a big market like Los Angeles engaged in hockey deeper into the spring isn’t the worst consolation prize though.
What’s impressed: In the West, the Kings are the biggest positive surprise team in the playoffs in my eyes. It looked like the Oilers were taking over by winning Game 2 6-0 and then Game 3 by a 8-2 score, but LA stayed right in the series with a 4-0 response win in Game 4.
Would I change my prediction: Oh God, yes. I had Oilers in 5 and now feel very uneasy about that. Should have known better than to trust Edmonton to make easy work of anything in the playoffs.
St. Louis vs Minnesota
Why it matters: Because everyone loves Marc-Andre Fleury! And this is playoff, big boy hockey.
What’s impressed: Jordan Binnington has had a down year, but thrown into the fire down 2-1 he did well to help the Blues even the series in Game 4. Much like Edmonton, it looked like the Wild were going to totally take over with huge wins in Games 2+3.
Would I change my prediction: Sure (I had STL in 6). Along with Carolina/Boston, this series always felt like the biggest coin flip to me that either side could easily prevail. With St. Louis picking up some defensive injuries along the way, the door is wide open for Minnesota to win this one.