The 2023 NHL playoffs have just kicked off, and ice hockey fans around the globe are gearing up for what promises to be an exciting and thrilling postseason. A total of 16 teams are battling it out in the first round, trying to make their way closer to the prestigious Stanley Cup. What are the teams, and who are the favorites? Let’s have a closer look at the Eastern Conference.
Florida Panthers vs Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins wrapped up the 2022-23 NHL regular season in a historical fashion that saw them set league records for the most wins and the most points. They finished with an astonishing 65-12-5 record, the best in the league.
The Bruins are a defensive juggernaut and currently the best defensive team in the NHL. Their net is in the safe hands of Linus Ullmark, who is having one of the century’s greatest goalie seasons with a mind-blowing 1.90 goals-against average. Of course, the Boston team can score too. They finished the season as 2nd best scoring team, much thanks to David Pastrnak, who also ranked 2nd in players’ individual standings and, by the way, scored in each of Boston’s matchups versus the Panthers this season.
Can the Panthers faze them with their high-end skills? Surely, it’s a challenging task to begin the quest for the Stanley Cup against a team like the Bruins. These two played each other four times in the regular season, with each team winning twice in their home arena. However, it was only the regular season. Their leader this season has been Matthew Tkachuk, with 109 points (40 goals, 69 assists) in 78 games. A tough, physical player with exceptional playmaking skills, he has the potential to be a villain for Bruins in this series.
But do the Panthers have what it takes to defend at the highest level against league leaders? Will the goalkeeper be capable of bailing them out?
Although the answer to both questions would likely be no, it’s up to them to prove everyone wrong and land a historic upset.
OlyBetTV prediction: Bruins in five
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lightning
These might prove to be the most competitive series in the Eastern Conference between two evenly-matched teams with plenty of history. The Lightning are coming off a third straight Stanley Cup finals appearance. Last year was their shot at a historic three-peat. However, this dream was crushed by the Avalanche. Nevertheless, this team is built for playoff hockey and is a tough matchup for any opponent. Their leaders are Brayden Point, the 5th best goalscorer in the league, and Nikita Kucherov, who dished out 2nd most assists this season.
Even though the Leafs have had another strong regular season, they haven’t been able to make any significant impact in the postseason, failing to win a playoff series since 2004(!). Sure, their leaders, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitchell Marner (7th in assists this year), know how to put on a high-pressure offense and score goals, but the big question remains open – will they be enough to end the team’s playoff drought?
Interestingly enough, these two teams met in the first round last year as well. After an incredible seven-game series, the Lightning managed to come out on top. Will it change this year?
OlyBetTV prediction: Lightning in six
Carolina Hurricanes vs New York Islanders
This duel has what it takes to become an old-fashioned goalie battle. Both teams are built on defense, which is clearly reflected in their stats this season. Carolina has allowed only 2.56 goals against on average, only trailing Boston for the best in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Islanders aren’t too far away with 2.65 allowed goals per game, fifth best in the league.
Offensively, both teams are putting up not-so-impressive numbers. The Hurricanes averaged 3.20 goals per game (15th in the NHL), slightly more than the Islanders’ 2.95 (22nd place). To put things in perspective, these are the two lowest-scoring offensive numbers out of the eight playoff teams from the Eastern Conference.
With both teams relying heavily on their defense, it’s likely that Carolina’s Frederik Andersen and New York’s Ilya Sorokin will be the ones to carry their respective teams on their shoulders and determine the outcome of these series.
OlyBetTV prediction: Hurricanes in six
New York Rangers vs New Jersey Devils
The Devils are back in the postseason for just the second time in the past 11 seasons. Their last visit to the playoffs was cut short in the 1st Round by the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2018. Now, the Devils have a young, burgeoning lineup that relies on speed, skill, and smart positioning and loves putting on a high-octane offense. The team is led by 21-year-old Jack Hughes, who has taken the NHL by storm with his incredible talent and playmaking. He’s accompanied by Nico Hischier and a late-season acquisition, Timo Meier.
Meanwhile, the Rangers is a team with plenty of playoff experience and well-established stars like Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and the recently acquired duo of Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko. The team reached the Eastern Conference Finals last year and surely will be eager for no less this year.
The teams have played against each other four times this season already. New Jersey won three of those meetings. Does that mean they have found the secret formula to beat their New York rivals?
OlyBetTV prediction: Devils in seven