With most NHL teams now having played at least 60 games the playoff picture for this season is becoming much clearer, and with so many exciting teams at the top of the league these playoffs are looking like they should be quite entertaining for NHL fans across the league.
Today we’ll take a look at what the first round playoff matchups look like as of today, as well as breaking down what you might be able to expect from those matchups.
The Eastern Conference
The Eastern Conference is the most uneven it’s felt in a long time. The divide between the best teams in both the Atlantic and Metropolitan and the teams who are no longer in serious playoff consideration is honestly quite startling. Because of this though you shouldn’t expect much to change with how the playoffs might look in the East this year. So without further ado here are how playoff scenarios could look for the East.
Florida (41–14–6) versus Washington (34–18–10)
The first matchup is one we’ve never seen in the playoffs before. The Washington Capitals would be coming in to this series with far more playoff experience than the Florida Panthers, but the Panthers are easily the deeper and stronger team this season.
The regular season series between these teams is already complete and the Panthers won two out of the three games, with one of those games finishing in overtime. All three games these teams have played have been within one goal of each other, and have been very high scoring so you can expect that would hopefully continue if these two meet up again in the first round.
Tampa Bay (39–15–6) versus Toronto (39–17–5)
The Atlantic division is a bloodbath as usual. Both of these two teams have been having amazing seasons, so the fact they have to meet in the first round is going to be crushing for the team that loses.
Despite being in the same division and both making the playoffs consistently the past few years neither of these two teams have ever met in the playoffs before either. Their season series has so far been tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning winning one game and Toronto Maple Leafs winning another in overtime.
With both teams having close to identical records at the moment this series would surely be exciting, as the Leafs would have the chance to overcome their first round playoff exit curse against the reigning back-to-back champs.
Keep an eye out on their two remaining games in April for a preview of what might be to come.
Carolina (41–14–5) versus Boston (37–19–5)
The Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins come with some history. These teams have met in the playoffs four times total. Boston has won three out of four of those matchups, two of those times being within the last three years. Carolina will certainly be looking to get even with Boston.
So far this season the Hurricanes shown they are the stronger team winning all three games they have played, each of which commandingly. Getting shutouts in two of the games and winning the other 7–1. Carolina should have the edge in this series but Boston has had their number in the playoffs recently so this should be another exciting eastern conference matchup.
Pittsburgh (37–16–9) versus New York Rangers (38–18–5)
Both of these teams have had long histories. In the past ten seasons alone the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers have met in the playoffs three times—New York winning the first two battles and Pittsburgh winning the last on their road to the Stanley Cup in 2016.
The Rangers look quite different compared to when they last met Pittsburgh and both of these teams are at very different stages in their timeline, with New York being one of the youngest contenders in the league.
So far these two have only played one game against one another and Pittsburgh won 1–0. With three games on the horizon, these will be key games to watch to see what might be the final eastern conference playoff matchup.
In the hunt
The East is pretty locked at this point as the Columbus Blue Jackers and the New York Islanders are the only teams within 20 points of the second wild card Washington. While some of these matchups could still shift over the remainder of the season it’s pretty safe to say some alignment of these eight teams is what you can expect to see battling it out in the post season.
The Western Conference
The West on the other hand is a very different story. The only two teams that feel truly secure in their positions right now are the Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames. The wild card race is one that is very much still in progress as four teams are within 5 points of the current second wild card spot.
Colorado (43–13–4) versus Vegas (33–26–4)
This is a brutal first round matchup. Coming into the season it was the expectation that these two teams would both be the clear favourites at the top of their respective decisions. For Colorado that’s pretty much been the case all season. But Vegas hasn’t quite had that luck.
For the first time in Vegas Golden Knights history there is a very real chance they don’t make the playoffs. With both Mark Stone and Robin Lehner out of the lineup this team has been struggling as of late. These teams did compete last season and Vegas did win in the second round. For any team that has to face Colorado in the first round it doesn’t look great. As Darryl Sutter said it himself this week: “it’s going to be a waste of eight days” for whichever wild card team gets to play the Avs.
St. Louis (34–17–9) versus Minnesota (35–20–4)
A Winter Classic rematch! The St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild have both had their ups and downs this season, but still have overall played pretty well. Minnesota is currently finding themselves in a bit of a slump so it will be important for them to fully get out of it come the playoffs.
These mid-western rivals have faced off twice in the past, with both team winning one of those series. So far they have only played each other once this season and it was at the outdoor game which saw St. Louis win 6–4. Considering the different circumstances around outdoor games I wouldn’t consider that one example too great of a preview at what this series might look like, so make sure to watch these two play later in April for a better idea of what’s to come.
Los Angeles (34–21–8) versus Edmonton (34–23–4)
This series compared to many of the others we’ve looked at appears to probably be the weakest so far. The Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings have met twice so far this season, each winning one game against the other. These two haven’t seen each other in the playoffs since the early 90s so there also isn’t much history between them.
For Edmonton, a series against LA might be their best bet though as they wouldn’t be the hardest team for McDavid and Draisatl to truly turn it on against in the playoffs. However, the Oilers’ goaltending will likely be their biggest issue. This series in all honestly though is likely just a gift for the team that gets to face the winner of it in the second round.
Calgary (37–16–7) versus Nashville (35–22–4)
The final matchup as of today is between the country music capitals of the US, and Canada. The Nashville Predators, like Vegas, are just narrowly holding onto their playoff berth. If they do end up moving Filip Forsberg at the deadline as was rumoured a few weeks ago, it’s not crazy to think they might slip out of the playoffs.
The Flames might actually want that to be the case. So far the teams have only played once and Nashville won in overtime after an amazing performance by Juuse Saros. This series would be the first time these two teams have met in the playoffs, and it would be a tough defensive and goaltending war. The Flames have the edge right now but the remaining games these two have in late April will be very telling.
In The Hunt
Dallas is currently only one point back of Nashville and Vegas with games on hand against both. The loss of Miro Heiskanen earlier this week is something to keep an eye on given how close the wild card race is right now but don’t be surprised if Dallas finds their way into the playoffs this year.
Vancouver is also only trailing a wild card berth by three points. They had a very rough start to the season but the mid-season hiring of Bruce Boudreau has given them a serious jolt and turned things around for them entirely. Given Calgary’s success in the playoffs against Vancouver historically, rooting for this matchup would be even more ideal for the Flames.
Winnipeg is also not far behind, only out of the playoffs by four points. Winnipeg has had their struggles this season and Hellebuyck isn’t having his best year, but it isn’t totally over for the Jets quite yet.
Finally Anaheim isn’t totally out of it either. They had a very strong start and surprising start to their season but have since fallen off and are now five points out of a wild card spot.
The NHL playoffs are looking exciting
The league has a number of very serious contenders in it this season so the playoffs should shape up to be very exciting, and with fans now back in buildings everywhere around the league the energy will be something to behold.
This is just one snapshot of what the playoffs are looking like right now. Still, lots can happen with a quarter of the season left. We’ll soon learn if the East rearranges their matchups, or how the West will sort out its wild race to the finish as expected.
Let us know in the comments which of these potential playoff series have you most excited, and also let us know how you think they might go.