It’s that wonderful time of the year again. The 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on Monday as 16 teams begin their quest for a championship. Both sides of the bracket feature some exciting first round matchups to kick off postseason play. For this article we’ll be predicting the first round matchups in the Eastern Conference field.
(1) Boston Bruins vs. (WC2) Florida Panthers
This year’s Bruins team cemented their names in the history books as the best regular season team in league history. Their 65 wins and 135 points are both the highest marks ever achieved in the NHL. As you would assume, the Bruins are a well oiled machine on all fronts. Led most notably by David Pastrnak and his career high 61 goals, the Bruins have a variety of scoring weapons at their disposal. Their defensive play is also rock solid and has the luxury of Linus Ullmark putting together a Vezina caliber season behind the crease.
The Panthers on the other hand haven’t had an easy go of it this season. After winning the Presidents Trophy last year, this year’s team spent a lot of time on the outside looking in. But a terrific late season push helped get the Panthers into the playoffs as the last wild card team. Much like last year the highlight of this team is their offense, with three players scoring 30+ regular season goals. However they also enter the postseason having allowed the most goals amongst this year’s playoff field.
With that, it’s not hard to presume the Bruins will take care of business against the Panthers. They’re just too deep of a team to lose to a Panthers squad that have had some established struggles dating back to last postseason. The Bruins should make quick work of this first round matchup and continue their historic season.
Prediction: Bruins in 5
(2) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (3) Tampa Bay Lightning
This might finally be the year for the Maple Leafs to win a playoff series for the first time since the 2004 postseason. They’ve added some quality depth pieces to their already talented team which includes former Blues captain and Stanley Cup winner Ryan O’Reilly. In addition, Ilya Samsonov has been a successful project as their starting goaltender. They’ve still had their fair share of disappointing performances, but this Maple Leafs team looks as good as ever.
On the other end is a Lightning team seeking their fourth straight appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. There’s not much to be said about the Lightning that isn’t already known. Despite their offseason losses their core is amongst the league’s best, especially during this time of the year. However it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for them this season. Their 98 points is their lowest 82 game total since the 2016-17 season. Also notable is some periods of struggle for starting netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Again this series features two evenly matched teams and feels destined to go seven games. But this time it feels like the Maple Leafs will be able to take the series. There’s some cracks in the armor for the Lightning for the first time in years. The Maple Leafs should be able to take full advantage of that and finally advance to the second round.
Prediction: Maple Leafs in 7
(1) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (WC1) New York Islanders
The Hurricanes won the Metropolitan Division but it wasn’t an easy road to getting there. They lost both Max Pacioretty and Andrei Svechnikov to injury and lost three of their last five leading up to the end of the regular season. Even with their injuries and struggles, this is not a team to be taken lightly. They’re an elite defensive team with an offense that loves to pepper the opposition with shots. Add the two quality goaltenders at their disposal and they have all the tools to make a run this postseason.
Meanwhile, the Islanders are making their return to the playoffs after failing to qualify last season. They’re returning most of the same core that fell just a game short of making the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2021 postseason. A few things have changed for them since then as they fired head coach Barry Trotz and brought in players like Pierre Engvall and Bo Horvat to solidify their offense. Even though they’re still capable of playing that smothering defensive style that got them so far in previous runs, they lack a certain consistency to their game. That and their atrocious 15.8% power play rate are going to be major handicaps for them.
This matchup falls in favor of the Hurricanes. They’ve won their last three regular season games against the Islanders in rather convincing fashion. And given the Islanders still questionable offense and defensive inconsistencies, the Hurricanes are still going to be a problem for them. Sorokin may help the Islanders steal a game or two but there’s very little doubt that the Hurricanes will ultimately take this series.
Prediction: Hurricanes in 6
(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (3) New York Rangers
The New Jersey Devils just broke a streak of four consecutive losing seasons. Not only did they find their way back to the postseason but they also won the most games in franchise history. They’ve built a strong foundation of young players and have become a top offense in the league. Particularly Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt have put together their best career scoring years to get New Jersey to this point. The offseason acquisition of Vitek Vanecek has also given them a great presence in net throughout this season.
But awaiting them is a Rangers team that fell two games short of winning the Eastern Conference last year. Since then they’ve maintained the majority of that roster while adding Vincent Trocheck, Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane. Needless to say, this Rangers team has an insanely deep offensive unit to counter the Devils. Not to mention Igor Shesterkin, who had a great showing in his first postseason run last year.
It’s hard to pick a winner in this matchup as these two teams are neck and neck with one another. Rangers lost the season series but all four games were decided by one goal or less. Expect a lot of the same throughout the course of this series that’ll likely go all the way. In the end, the one factor that may decide the winner in this series is experience. Most of this Devils team is fairly new to postseason play compared to a Rangers team that has a roster full of players who have been here before. That in mind, the Rangers seem like the slight favorite to take this series when it’s all said and done.
Prediction: Rangers in 7
Featured image courtesy of NHL.com
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