By AJ Chasan
At last, the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs have finally arrived. After an amazing regular season that led the Boston Bruins to breaking all time records for single season points/wins, Connor McDavid finishing with 153 points, amongst so much more, the beauty of the playoffs is all of that does not matter anymore. All 16 teams have now had their win totals reset to zero, and each club now gears up for the gauntlet they’ll have to battle through to become champions. With that being said, we now have eight series to enjoy! Let’s pick them.
Florida Panthers vs. Boston Bruins
In the NHL playoffs, no series is “easy”. No opponent should ever be taken lightly. There is however a clear favorite here, the Bruins should and will take care of business in this matchup. Now this series could be turned upside down if the reported “bug” in the Bruins locker room keeps players such as Patrice Bergeron, Jeremy Swayman, and Linus Ullmark out of the lineup. If Florida can capitalize and take game one, things will get interesting here. Boston’s depth will be too much for Florida to overcome. Boston in five.
New York Islanders vs. Carolina Hurricanes
This pick will come as a surprise to most given the depth of the Hurricanes, but give me the Islanders here. If McDavid of the Oilers wasn’t a thing, I would place Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin my vote for the Hart trophy. He’s been that spectacular this year, boasting a .924 save percentage in 60 games played this year. With Mathew Barzal expected to return for game one tonight, the Islanders will have enough offense within their top six to defeat Carolina. Islanders in six.
Minnesota Wild vs. Dallas Stars
The battle of the goaltenders. If you’re looking to watch offensive hockey, this won’t be the series for you. With Filip Gustavsson and Jake Oettinger in net for both sides, this series will be all about keeping the puck out of the d-zone and converting on odd man rushes/power-plays. Out of any series in this first round, this is the one that is virtually a lock to go seven games. But Dallas just has a bit more firepower in the top six than Minnesota. Dallas in seven.
Los Angeles Kings vs. Edmonton Oilers
Getting to watch McDavid/Leon Draisaitl in the playoffs another year is a treat to all hockey fans. And I believe they’ll put on a show vs. LA. This isn’t a knock on the Kings, who have earned all of their 104 points this regular season having a solid group. They’ll steal at least one game in this series. Drawing arguably the two best skaters on planet earth in the first round of the playoffs isn’t ideal. Oilers in five.
New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils
There won’t be a single series that will be more talked about on social media and in the news then this one. A classic rivalry restored for potentially seven games? Sign me up. Both of these groups have been unbelievable this season and it stinks that this is a first round matchup instead of an eastern conference final. These are the matchups hockey fans dream of on the biggest of stages, regardless let’s enjoy this while we can. Both teams will put on a show, but one team’s core has been here before, one has not. Give me the experienced team in this spot. Rangers in six.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Climbed the mountain vs. climbing the mountain. One team has been to the last three cups and has won two, one hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2004. The pick should easily be the Lightning here, right? Wrong. Give me the Leafs. Sometimes in sports, logic is defied by destiny. The Leafs are due for a cup run with the core of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitchell Marner, and William Nylander. With general manager Kyle Dubas in a contract year, he made a splash at the deadline acquiring forward Ryan O’ Reilly from the St. Louis Blues. O’ Reilly if you remember, was just the number one center and captain of a Stanley Cup winning roster in 2019. Adding his experience and leadership is huge to this roster. Leafs in seven.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Las Vegas Golden Knights
On paper, this should be a Vegas series win in at least five games. With the clear superior roster and with them earning the one seed in the west, they should handle business relatively quickly. Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck won’t let that happen. He’ll make this a series and could possibly win them a playoff round. Knights in seven.
Seattle Kraken vs. Colorado Avalanche
This to wrap things up will easily be the most fun series of the first round. There could quite possibly be close to sixty goals scored in this matchup. But like I said for the Devils series, experience tends to matter. Especially when a team’s core hasn’t been to the playoffs together before. I’ll take Colorado in a tough one here, even though I badly want to pick the Kraken here. Just don’t have the stomach to do it. Avs in six.