Stanley Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference Preview

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Stanley Cup Playoffs
TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 21: William Nylander #88 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Anthony Cirelli #71 of the Tampa Bay Lightning face off in the first period during a game at Amalie Arena on April 21, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The regular season has now passed and it’s time to look ahead to the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. A lot of these matchups both in the Western and Eastern Conference came down to the last game of the season and it set up for great suspense. These series are set up to be the best we’ve seen in a while with 13 of the 16 teams having 100 points or more and with eight of those teams being in the East. There’s also a three-peat alert with Tampa having a serious shot at doing it. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to kick off Monday and there are going to be a lot of great games to watch.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference Preview

(1) Florida Panthers vs (8) Washington Capitals

The Florida Panthers are Presidents’ Trophy winners with the most points in the league with 122 points. This team finished first in the NHL in goals per game with 4.1 as they have four players with 30 or more goals. One of them is the scoring leader on the team Aleksander Barkov, who has 39 goals. Their best player has been Jonathan Huberdeau, who is one of the 30-goal scorers and he has put up a 115-point season. They can put up the offense but they need a little stronger goaltender performance from Sergei Bobrovsky if they want to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

At the other end of the ice, the Washington Capitals still have to figure out their goaltending situation. Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek have split time this year but haven’t looked as sharp as the team had hoped. Samsonov has a .896 save percentage with a 3.02 goals-against. Vanecek has been better with a .908 save percentage and a solid goals-against of 2.67. Based on the numbers, Vanecek might be the way to go.

Aside from that, this Capitals offense has been led by the great one Alex Ovechkin since 2005. Amazingly, he’s scored 50 goals yet again for the ninth time in his career. The blue-line is in good hands with John Carlson‘s offensive mindset as he’s scored 16 goals with 54 assists. The core pieces from the 2018 Stanley Cup team are still there and if they are clicking, they’ll be hard to stop. Florida won’t have an easy time against the last seed in the playoffs as this series will be one of the best 1 vs 8 matchups in a while.

(2) Carolina Hurricanes vs (7) Boston Bruins

If both of these teams have one thing in common coming into this series, it’s the strength at the goaltending position. The Boston Bruins had Linus Ullmark (9.17 SV%, 2.45 GAA) and Jeremy Swayman (.914 SV%, 2.41 GAA) split time together as both started 41 games. It hasn’t been confirmed who will get the start in the net but whoever it is will have the tough task of stopping a top-ten offense.

Meanwhile, the status of Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Federick Anderson is up in the air to start the series. He’s had a tremendous season in net after coming over to Carolina in the offseason as he’s third in the league with a .922 save percentage and second in goals-against with 2.17. Anderson and backup Antti Raanta have won the William M. Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals given up per game. If Raanta has to start, it’s not a bad thing but the Hurricanes would feel a whole lot better with Anderson between the pipes.

When it comes to both offenses, the Hurricanes and Bruins are top ten in goals per game. In particular, Carolina is number one in that category and you can thank Sebastian Aho for leading the way with 37 goals. While they have a great offense, the Bruins have one of the best if not the best defenses in the league. Boston also has one of the best top lines in the league with David Pastrnak (40 goals), Brad Marchand (32 goals), and Patrice Bergeron (65 points). This will be a grind-it-out type of series that can go the distance and sway either way.

(ATL 2) Maple Leafs vs (ATL 3) Tampa Bay Lightning

This series might be the best of the first round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It seems like we say this every year but the Toronto Maple Leafs have the firepower to make some noise. Their first-round woes have continued as they’ve got bounced in the first round in four of the last five seasons and the other season was a qualifying round loss in 2020. They’re hoping their luck changes because of one player, Auston Matthews. The 24-year-old is one of the players in the NHL and he proved that with an amazing 60-goal season, leading the league. He also leads the league in shots on goal so he will fire at will when he sees the opportunity. 

To go along with Matthews’ 106 points, Mitch Marner has had an impressive season of his own with 97 points (35 goals, 62 assists) as well as William Nylander and John Tavares. They have the best power-play percentage in the league and are top ten on the penalty kill. The only thing people worry about with the Maple Leafs is their goaltending. Jack Campbell is middle of the pack in both save percentage and goals-against. If this team wants to make a run and beat this lightning team, Toronto needs to improve in that area just a little. 

The Maple Leafs will try and dethrone the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions as the Tampa Bay Lightning start their quest for a three-peat. They certainly have the team to do it with Steven Stamkos hitting the 100-point mark and four other players over 50 points. Tampa Bay still has the 2019 Hart Trophy winner in Nikita Kucherov and former Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman. Not to mention they have the best goalie in the league with Andrei Vasilevskiy manning the crease and he’ll only rise in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. These two teams have a lot of firepower so it’s more than likely that goaltending will win it in this series. 

(MET 2) New York Rangers vs (MET 3) Pittsburgh Penguins

The New York Rangers are the newest team to enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference after they missed the four previous seasons. They don’t have much experience in the playoffs but someone who does is Artemi Panarin, who has 22 goals but is fourth in the league in assists with 74. He is expected to produce even bigger in the playoffs but thankfully they have plenty of guys to lean on other than Panarin as one of them is Chris Kreider, who finished third in the league with 52 goals. 

To go along with a good offense is great goaltending. Igor Shesterkin has statistically been the best in the league. He is 36-13-5 with a .935 save percentage and a 2.07 goals-against, both ranking tops in the league. This will be a big factor in this series as the Rangers face a team with tons of playoff experience.

With 101 points, the Pittsburgh Penguins make the playoffs for the 16th consecutive season, the longest-active streak postseason streak among North American teams. I can name three reasons why this streak is as long as it is; Sidney CrosbyKris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin. In addition, a huge part added to the equation of their playoff success has been Jake Guentzel, who keeps on getting better and better every year and shares the title for team point leader with Crosby with 84. 

Goaltender Tristan Jarry has stepped up his game this season and is probably the most important part if this team wants to go far. He’s 6th in both save percentage and goal-against. This matchup is focused on who is between the pipes and how well they perform. Both teams’ offense will also have to step it up just a little if they plan on squeezing this tight series out.

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