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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

NHL Playoff first round matchups

A diagnosis of the first round of matchups as teams try to dethrone the Tampa Bay Lightning

By GABRIEL CARABALLO — sports@theaggie.org

It’s that time of year again — the battle for The Stanley Cup is on and the NHL’s playoff teams can’t wait to break the ice in this year’s playoffs. 

Taking the ice in the first Eastern Conference round one matchup is the No. 1 team of the regular season, the Florida Panthers, against the wildcard Washington Capitals. The Panthers had the best offense in the regular season by scoring the most goals and points while having one of the best players in the league with Jonathan Huberdeau, the left-wing. Huberdeau tied for second in the league in points but also led the league in assists. This team is definitely an offensive powerhouse who enters the playoffs as one of the favorites. 

The Capitals are across the ice from the Panthers. The Capitals are a wildcard this year, but that shouldn’t discount their championship DNA and experience as a team. The Capitals had eight shutout games this season, tied for third in the league and were just shy of a top 10 in team goaltending. With star player Alexander Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom from the Capitals 2018 championship to lead the team, this matchup is a battle of who wants it more. 

The next Eastern Conference matchup is between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the back to back defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning. This makes for a tough face off for the Maple Leafs. The Lighting are top ten in both their offensive skating, goals against per game and save percentage. It’ll be tough for the Maple Leafs to get through that defense led by goalie Andrei Valensky. 

The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, also shouldn’t be taken lightly. They had the No. 2 skating offense in the regular season, thanks to center Auston Matthews who scored the most goals this season with 60. Overall making for another great offensive hockey team. Although their defense isn’t one of the best, the team was able to tie for fifth in shutouts with a total of seven. This first-round series is going to be a battle and might go all seven games, as they match up great.

Following this first round series is the matchup between the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins. The Hurricanes stormed opposing teams with their defense, by being the No. 1 goaltending team and being top 10 in save percentage and shutouts. A defense that was led by goalie Frederick Andersen, who is No. 2 in goaltending and third in save percentage. However, Andersen has been injured for the start of the playoffs and reports are that his return is “still unknown.” Still, this team can be considered as one of the best defenses in the NHL.  

The Bruins too have a solid defense. Sitting at No. 4 in regular season goaltending and top 10 in save percentage. The Bruins have two solid goalies with Jeremey Swayman and Linus Ullmark anchoring the net, both of which are top 10 in goaltending and save percentage. However, their offense is lacking and needs to be present in the playoffs if they’re going to contend against the Hurricanes. 

Wrapping up the Eastern Conference first round matchups is the face off between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers have some of the best offensive players in the league in leftwings Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin and defenseman Adam Fox. Kreider was No. 3 in the league in goals with 52. While Panarin and Fox are both top 10 in assists. Not to mention their excellent defense which is No. 1 in the league for save percentage, No. 2 in goaltending and No. 3 in shutouts. All of which is anchored by their goalie Igor Shesterkin, who’s No. 1 in both goaltending and save percentage. This team is well rounded and ready for any opponent. 

Their opponent happens to be the Penguins. This team has a solid offense with players in center Jake Guentzel and defenseman Kris Letang. Their defense was also good in the regular season and they ended up top five in goaltending, save percentage and shutouts. Although, their two main goalies Casey Desmith and Tristan Jerry are out with injury. CBS reports indicate they are expected to return around May 7. If the Penguins can hold on this will make for a competitive series. 

Moving to the other coast, the Western Conference’s first matchup of the first round of playoffs is between the Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators. The Avalanche have one of the best skating offenses at No. 4 in the league, with a player like center Nathan Mackinnon to score and assist on goals for them. Their defense isn’t too shabby either, they are top five in both save percentage and shutouts, while also being top 10 in goaltending. Their goalie, Darcy Kuemper, is to thank for that. Kuemper is just shy of a top 10 spot in goaltending, but is top five in save percentage. 

The Predators also have a ferocious side to them. Their skating offense is just shy of a top 10 spot, so they shouldn’t be discredited. Especially with players such as center Matt Duchene and defenseman Roman Josi shredding the ice for the offense. Duchene is No. 8 in goals for a total of 43, and Josi is No. 5 in assists with 73, making for two good offensive weapons for the Predators. Their defense wasn’t bad either, just missing a top 10 spot in save percentage. Their goalie Juuse Saros however, was top 10 in save percentage, making for a decent overall matchup between the two teams. 

The next Western matchup is a fight between the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues. The Wild have a great skating offense and were top five scoring team with 305 goals scored. Especially with their leftwing Kirill Kaprizov, who is top five in player points with 108 and goals with 47. However, their defense is subpar at best with rankings in the low teens for goaltending and save percentage.

As for the Blues, their offense is one of the best in the NHL, holding top three spots in both skating and power play percentage. The Blues have depth on their roster with veteran right-wing Vladimir Taransenko and a rising youngster in center Robert Thomas. Both scored between 70-80 points this regular season. 

Their defense is solid as well, led by goalie Ville Husso, who brought the team to 11th in both goaltending and save percentage. Another intense matchup between two solid hockey clubs. The third Western matchup consists of the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars. The Flames are a well-rounded team with both prospects on offense and defense. For their offense, the Flames have Johnny Gaudreau who is second in player points with 115. Anchoring the defense is goalie Jacob Markstrom who happens to be top three in goaltending and save percentage. This is allowing the team to take top five spots in goaltending, save percentage and shutouts. 

The Stars on the other hand have a decent offense and defense. Their offense doesn’t stand out as much in the rankings but is controlled by rightwing Joe Pavelski who has the most points for the team with 81. Their defense is solid with goalie Jake Oettinger at the helm. He took the team to just under top 10 in defensive stats, which is still a very respectable defense. 

Finally, the remaining Western Conference matchup is the Los Angeles Kings against the Edmonton Oilers. The Kings were able to squeeze into a playoff spot by beating out the Las Vegas Golden Knights — the first time since the Golden Knights inception that they missed the playoffs. The Kings have premiere two way centers Phillip Danault and Anze Kopitar. Kopitar has been a force for the team by contributing 67 points to offense and Danault with 57. On defense they have veteran goalie Johnathon Quick, a good goaltender who was able to get the team to a top 10 spot in overall goaltending. This is the making for a decently well-rounded team.

However, the Oilers are a formidable club. With two major offensive players in centers Leon Draisaitl and arguably the best player in the league Connor McDavid. He led the NHL in points with 122, while Draisaitl was fourth with 110 but was second in goals with 55. These two alone make for a top 10 offense. Their defense is decent, led by veteran goalie Mike Smith who was top 20 in save percentage. It seems as though the team who capitalizes opportunities on the offensive end will end up winning this series.

This year’s Stanley Cup playoffs are looking like they will all be battles. With so many great teams going at it, the competition seems better than ever. So far the odds are favoring the Avalanche at +300, followed by the Panthers and Flames at +600. Whether you look at the odds or watch the games, there’s no telling what team will raise the holy grail that is the Stanley Cup. 

Written by: Gabriel Caraballo — sports@theaggie.org

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