After detailing yesterday’s starting four games, the NHL will be right back at it with the other four first round series opening up for the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Florida Panthers vs. Washington Capitals
How Florida wins - Pedal to the metal. The Panthers became the first team since the 1995-96 Penguins to average 4+ goals per game this season. Their offense is off the charts with three very dynamic lines. That third line, led by Sam Reinhart and Mason Marchment, could be the real key to pushing past opponents who don’t have that type of power down the lineup. And that’s if the big dogs in Barkov, Huberdeau, Giroux, Verhaeghe, Bennett and Duclair don’t do enough damage on their own — which they probably will do anyways. Florida is stacked and packed.
How Washington wins - Exploit the goalie. The Panthers’ lone weakness might be Sergei Bobrovsky and his career .899 save% in the playoffs. Bobrovsky has been good before in the playoffs though, in 2019 when he helped spearhead the biggest upset in modern times when Columbus downed Tampa. The Caps do have enough offensive muscle, assuming Alex Ovechkin is able to put the team on his back despite a bad shoulder. But will it be enough?
Prediction: Florida in 5.
—The Caps have real questions of their own in net, and some of their blueliners aren’t exactly stalwarts in their own end. That’s not a good combination to attempt to stand in the way of a juggernaut Presidents Trophy team.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Nashville Predators
How Colorado wins - Just remember what time to get to the rink? With Nashville’s excellent starting goalie Juuse Saros out for at least Games 1 and 2 (and possibly longer) with an ankle injury, the Preds just don’t stack up on paper to Colorado. The Avs have been primed as a favorite, if not the team to beat, for this Stanley Cup since before the season started. The whole year almost felt like a dress rehearsal for them, and now it is showtime. It will be exciting to see what kind of display they have to offer.
How Nashville wins - Fight fire with fire. The Predators boast two 40 goal scorers in Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene. Having some firepower like that might just give them a fighting chance, and at least they have some horses to keep up with the mighty Avs.
Prediction: Colorado in 4.
—Like Darryl Sutter said, this could be seen as a waste of eight days of everyone’s time if the Avs show up focused and committed to resolving the business that has eluded them. I’d bet on that happening, and sooner than later.
Calgary Flames vs. Dallas Stars
How Calgary wins - By playing the games. The Flames should be in a good spot here, they’re clearly a more talented team and have the benefit of playing against another “just happy to be here” type of team. Calgary, on the other hand, is one of the deepest teams in the league all around the ice.
How Dallas wins - Top line magic. Saw that the Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski line had scored 40%+ of all of the Stars goals. Those guys have some magic and great chemistry going. They will need to be unreal and drive the bus for Dallas to have a chance at an upset.
Prediction: Calgary in 4.
—The Stars’ 2.8 goals scored per game is the lowest of all playoff teams this season, they just don’t have enough talent to compete this time of year. Jacob Markstrom had a league-high nine shutouts this season. Could see Calgary making this one not very interesting with a dominant effort.
New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
How New York wins - Beat the forecheck. While a lot of attention has been drawn to Igor Shesterkin’s excellent performance this season against the Pens, it all started with NYR through Pittsburgh off their game by beating them and disrupting the forecheck. That’s a very building block for how the Pens need to play if they are to be successful.
How Pittsburgh wins - Finish, finish, finish. The Pens have been a great process team but haven’t gotten enough results in execution this season, and in the past few playoffs. Far too often, the Pens have had too many passengers at times this season, with plenty of players going ice cold at times (Kasperi Kapanen, Jeff Carter, Evan Rodrigues, even reliable Bryan Rust in the last 10 games). These types of players need to kick in, and the stars must produce as well to give Casey DeSmith the goal support he is going to need and deserve.
Prediction: Rangers in 6.
—It’s tough to look past Shersterkin vs. DeSmith at the end of the day and think that the Pens are going to come out on top of a playoff series with such a discrepancy in net. The Pens skaters also feature just too many passengers and “guys on the team” instead of difference makers, and if/when Crosby and Guentzel can’t execute or score at key moments, no one else has been there to pick up the slack. What will be different this year? Crazy things may have happened, but it’s going to be a very difficult challenge for Pittsburgh to make it out of the first round.