The best month to watch hockey has started. Eight pairs are going head-to-head in the anticipated 2022 NHL playoffs. Let’s do a quick overview of the upcoming rivalries.
Kicking off with the West Conference
Dallas Stars vs Calgary Flames: From defense to attack Calgary’s lineup one-ups the Dallas one.
Dallas Stars is the only team in the playoffs, that finishes the regular season with a negative goal difference (-8). However, the opponent they have to face has a goal difference of +85. Calgary Flame’s star players are TOP 10 goal scorers in the league; including the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, who shares the 2nd and 3rd place with the Panthers Jonathan Huberdeau and Matthew Tkachuk. Meanwhile, the top goal scorer of the Dallas Stars Joe Pavelski is #30 on that list.
Dallas might have an outstanding goalkeeper by the name of Jake Oettinger (912 saves), however, on the opposite side, Jacob Markstörm is a wall in goal that no puck penetrates. For his remarkable season, he’s also one of the candidates for the Vezina trophy.
Looking through different aspects and stats, Dallas Stars have to face the fact, that for every player they have, Calgary has a better player to match. Most of the indicators favor Calgary’s victory, but this is playoffs and everything starts from zero. Plus, betting on the underdog will present you with the chance of earning more money.
Los Angeles Kings vs Edmonton Oilers: in this matchup, the Los Angeles Kings still have a half-open chance of beating the Oilers.
Both teams have faced ups and downs throughout the regular season. Based on face-offs between each other during the season, it is clear that Edmonton comes out on top, winning 3 of the 4 matches played. In addition, the combined duo of McDavid and Draisaitl is the NHL’s most devastating threat. Plus, after the change of the team head coach, Edmonton had a kick start to their game, finishing the regular season far stronger than their opponents from the South.
Still, Los Angeles Kings have a chance to win the matchup by exploiting the Oilers’ weak spot, their defence, and goaltender. In contradiction to the previous statement, goalie Mike Smith has displayed confidence in the last games.
Unfortunately, the Kings can’t boast around with their goaltender’s performance as well. However, even without Drew Doughty, who is out for the remaining of the season with a wrist injury. the Kings have a more effective defence than the Oilers, with the help of NHL’s best defensive centers: Kopitar and Danault.
In conclusion, a question ascends, who will come on top, the explosive attack of the Oilers or the unity of the Kings and their superior defence. There are rumours going around that, if the Oilers are once again dropping out of the playoffs in the first round, then Leon Draisaitl will be placed on the market and team will go under serious rebuilding.
The Oilers are still favourite to win, nevertheless chances are still open for the Los Angeles Kings.
Nashville Predators vs Colorado Avalanche, a great underdog story?
A last wild card against the unquestionably best in the western conference: Colorado Avalanche. Except here’s the twist, after a 6:3 faceoff loss in November, the Predators have won the next 3 faceoff matches. As well as the last five games of the regular season, the only win was against Colorado. Predators can go with some confidence to the series, because based on the regular season face-offs, we could be seeing a new underdog story.
The evident problem before the series for Avalanche is the injury of Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, which has hampered one of the sharpest attacks in the NHL. Then the opposing issue to scale the problem out is the injury of the rival’s goaltender; Juuse Saros.
Nashville had the weakest attack of the regular season, the top goal scorer for the team is the Norris trophy owner; Roman Josi. He has kept the Predators attack afloat with combined 96 points. But even in the high-scoring defence Avalanche has the answer in Cale Makar who came second by scoring 86 points this regular season.
Colorado Avalanche is voted as a clear favourite to win the Stanley Cup, especially with the comeback of Landeskog and Rantanen, however one should not scratch Nashville Predators off the list yet, because with good luck they might bring home this series. This would also mean a huge pay out for the ones who took the betting risk.
Minnesota Wild vs St. Louis Blues: hockey fans favourite
A delicacy of a matchup! Face-off between the 2. and 4. team in the Western Conference. Both teams’ strong aspect is their unity and team play, in spite of Minnesota ending the regular season 2. in the league table, the St. Louis Blues have always been a nail in the coffin for them, with a combined face off points 16:12 for the Blues, furthermore 3:0 with the Blues taking all of the game wins.
Both teams have finished the season incredibly strong, Minnesota winning 15 of their last 20 games and Blues winning 14. Both teams seem to be ready for the playoffs. Also, it should be a high scoring game, since this season these two teams have averaged 9,5 goals a game. Usual “the culprits” being Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala from Minnesota, and Vladimir Tarasenko from the Blues.
Fresh transfer, future hall of famer goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury has been his usual self in new blue shirt, after transfer from Chicago. At the same time Cam Talbot, a TOP 10 goaltender in the NHL, has to come in terms with the fact that he might not be a certain starter. Will we see a goalie rotation this year? A positively difficult situation for the coach to figure out.
Nevertheless, St. Louis is not in a worst situation keeper wise, Ville Husso has been amazing in the goal this season, and has taken the main goalie role from Jordan Binnington.
All things considered, I think it will be an even matchup, however I think St. Blues has a slight edge on Minnesota. OlyBet statistics shows equal chances for both teams, I myself am picking Minnesota, because since 2015 they haven’t advanced from the first round and they must be hungry for a W.
Let’s continue with the eastern conference
Washington Capitals vs Florida Panthers: Two of the most offensive teams
As much as I would like to hype this match up, it is hard to visualise my favourite team advancing from the 1. round. Ovechkin’s records are one thing, but the overall game form of the team is not ready to face the champions of the regular season. Out of 3 face-off games, Washington has won 1 and out of 10 last games, the capitals have lost 6.
Panthers have played awesome hockey this year and on average score about 4,11 goals per game. This is fireworks show, we haven’t seen before. Panthers have been on top since the beginning of the season and finished with the Presidents trophy. A cherry on top would be if the team receives their first ever Stanley Cup.
Panthers are a team who doesn’t solely rely on their star players, it is a complete team with a deep roster.
At the top guns blazing are: Jonathan Huberdau, Aleksander Barkov, Claude Giroux, Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad, all of the mentioned players have racked up considerable number of goals.
Another potential the Achilles heel of the team is the costly Sergei Bobrovsky, whose GAA is nothing to be proud of, and this might be question mark for the team in upcoming matches. Bobrovsky has been prone to blunders at critical moments this season.
But until now everything has worked out well for the Florida team. The attack compensates for everything. However, Panthers need to take this as a warning, because historically speaking great attacking teams have not reached the holy grail of hockey that often. Playoff games are a whole lot different and every team fights with all they got just to win and that means you have to have solid defence.
If taking all of the previously mentioned flaws into account, it might mean that the Capitals have a chance against the regular season champions. Anyway, they need to avoid penalties, healthy Ovechkin and hope that Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson and Tom Wilson can carry the team. Unfortunately for Capitals, their roster is statistically in an uneven match with the opposing Panthers, still Washington has a lot more experience. Plus, healthy team leaders like Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin would improve any NHL team a lot.
In conclusion, I would be pleasantly surprised if Capitals walk an away from this round with a victory, so don’t scrap the Washington team off yet. One thing is for certain these teams will bring the fire and fun, since both teams love to attack the puck with aggression.
Tampa Bay Lighting vs Toronto Maple Leafs: The treat of the playoffs
Now that is a series to see in the playoffs! Ruling consecutive Stanley cup winner versus 105 years of hockey history by the likes of Maple Leafs. Not to mention the Toronto team have reached historic level form during this season.
Phenomenal strength of ongoing season is illustrated by the fact that 13 Toronto Maple Leaf players have reached their personal best this regular season: Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, Michael Bunting, Alexander Kerfoot, Pierre Engvall, Ilya Mikheyev, David Kämpf, Timothy Liljegren, Justin Holl, Rasmus Sandin, Ilya Lyubushkin ja Nick Abruzzese. This shows that Toronto has might have everything for the victory.
Nonetheless, like I have mentioned many times before, regular seasons statistics don’t count in the playoffs. Maurice Richard trophy that Auston Matthews received for 60 goals scored this regular season, count for nothing if they can’t advance past first round of the playoffs. It has been 6 seasons for the Toronto team in the playoffs, without getting past the first challenge. Last season defeat against the Montreal Canadiens was especially embarrassing.
Yet now, the challenge is even greater, because they are facing Tampa Bay Lightning who have held the Stanley Cup trophy for two consecutive years. Is this vicious fate or hockey god’s just having a laugh but one thing is clear, there’s no excuses, they have to win.
Anyway, Matthews and Marner, couple of the best scorers in the league, have to elevate their game. Last year they didn’t do their part and scored only one goal during the playoffs.
But those Toronto boys have to take into consideration they have a wall to face that goes by the name of Andrei Vasilevsky, an elite NHL goaltender. Not only does he play amazing during regular season, he even gets better when it counts, during playoffs. Based off of last two playoffs, he has averaged only 1,9 goals behind his back, he makes it seem too easy. For comparison, the regular season best goaltender Igor Sesterkini has a magnificent GAA of 2,07.
The severity of that challenge can also be explained with the result of the last faceoff between these two teams, when Tampa absolutely demolished the Toronto Leaf’s by 8:1. Bolts have late in the season shown some incredible games, for example, when they defeated, the regular season champs, Florida 8:4. Along with the game against Islanders, where team leader Steven Stamkos scored a hattrick. Tampa has no shortage of firepower when you have greats on the bench like Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and one of the best defenders in the league: Victor Hedman.
It is hard to predict the winner, based on last games Tampa has the edge over Toronto. However out of condolence, I will vote for Toronto. Out of 7 tries, 1 playoff run should at least be successful. If this scenario occurs then the historical club is one step closer to getting the 13th Stanley Cup trophy. Stanley Cup has been 55 years in waiting since last time the Leafs held it was in 1967.
Boston Bruins vs Carolina Hurricanes: what can Bruins surprise us with?
It seems like Boston have sneaked their way into the playoffs, since the first half of the season, they tended mess up their games. Bruins have made some adjustments in the second half of the season and finished strongly. Out of last 10 games Boston took home the win 6 times.
However now they are facing the 1. team in Metropolitan division and overall, 3. team in the league. Face-off matches between these two have been devastating for Boston, losing 3 games: 0:3, 1:7 and 0:6 – nothing pretty to look at. Maybe, these horrible losses can’t be explained by lack of trying, because opposing goalie Frederik Andersen made 98 saves out of 99 shots during those games. Regardless of the loads of goals Davis Pastrnak and Brad Marchand have scored during regular season, none of them were against Carolina. The lone goal against Canes was scored by Bergeron and assisted by Pastrnak, not enough to be confident.
Bruins is relying on the strong attacking trio of Marchand, Pastrnak, Bergeron, and Charlie MacAvoy has been great addition this year. Goaltenders Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark are definitely crucial part of the Bruins defence; however, the opposite goal is protected by a TOP 10 duo of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta.
For Carolina, there is a problem to worry about, health of goaltenders – Antti Raanta missed last two games of the regular season and has been on the injury list since the 16. of April. Until then the second goalie is rookie Pyotr Kochetkov.
Teams scoring leader is Sebastian Aho, behind him they have Andrei Svenchikov and Teuvo Teravainen. However, Canes are team that don’t need carrying, all five lines are skilled enough to score against any opponent.
Clearly, I am in favour of the confidence boasting Hurricanes going through, yet I am looking anxiously forward to the secret weapon that the Bruins have against them.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Rangers: experience versus sparks
Pittsburgh has had to go through the same bumpy path like Bruins. Huge revelation has been star players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who overcame their injuries successfully. Another strength for the Penguins are their core players: Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter.
In addition, big hopes are for the new transfer Rickard Rakell to perform. Up until now the sniper has showed glimpses of greatness, racking up 13 points in 19 games. If he finally becomes fully accustomed with the with the team, then he could be an invaluable asset to the line-up.
Problems start to show between the posts, since the main goaltender Tristan Jarry is out with a broken foot. The question rises, will Casey DeSmith alongside with backup goalie Louis Domingue be enough to wall up the goal.
And they are facing some big guns Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider are coming in with fearsome shooting. Chris Kreider has racked up 52 goals this regular season, which placed him 3. In goal scorers list. A big, strong and sharp winger is a moulded combination that fits just right for the playoffs.
The first face off these teams had this season, was a close one. Pittsburgh won the match 1:0. Other 3 matches have not been so even and Rangers have clearly come out on top. All the goals put together Rangers won 11:4.
Pittsburgh’s main challenge is to find the key to the Rangers’ goal. As this season has shown that even the best attackers have a hard time finding an opening in Igor Shesterkins’ wall. He was the best goaltender this regular season with a GAA of 2,07 and a save percentage of .935. Yet in order to reach the keeper you have to tribble your way past the defence, but even that is a tough job to do since New York Rangers have a tight defence starting from Adam Fox, who is Norris Trophy holder from last regular season.
Overall, stats wise Rangers beat Penguins every day of the week. Like I have mentioned before, the Rangers have it all from attack to defence. How will the city of steel respond to the top 3 team – NY Rangers is going to overrun the Penguins or can Pittsburgh’s more experienced squad find a loophole in Rangers’ machine? My bets are on Rangers, however old timers Crosby and Malkin have showed us before, their ability to be sly as a fox and raise the bar when it matters the most.
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