With the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs officially underway and the NHL Playoff Bracket Challenge open, it is time for every hockey fan and analyst to share their playoff predictions. With an eventful season and many teams climbing up the league with key players smashing multiple records, this year’s playoffs and Stanley Cup race will be a very entertaining battle. The playoffs are divided into two rounds, between the Eastern and Western Conferences. The Eastern Conference is composed of the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions. The Western Conference, the Pacific and Central divisions. Key teams in each division are the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic, the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers in the Metro, the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild in the Central division, and the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers in the Pacific division. Following round one of up to seven games, the winning teams move on to round two where they battle the opposing conference winners in the conference finals, and then the two winning teams in each conference are set up for the Stanley Cup Finals where they battle for the infamous Stanley Cup.
To accurately predict the Stanley Cup Playoffs, one needs to understand the standings of each team, key players and goaltenders, playing styles and stats, as well as who is playing who for each round, round one especially. So who is playing who in round one? To start with the Western Conference: Colorado is facing off against the Nashville Predators, who have a much weaker roster than the Avalanche, setting up the Avs for an easy win. Next, the St. Louis Blues face off against the Minnesota Wild. Being previous Stanley Cup winners in 2019, the Blues flew under the league’s radar for most of the season yet racked up a stable roster with key players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Pavel Buchnevich. However, the Wild has a much stronger core than the Blues with players like Kirill Kaprisov, Kevin Fiala, Mats Zuccarello and Marcus Foligno, not to mention the addition of star goalie Marc Andre Fleury during trade season, who, if able to get to playoff goaltending level, could be extremely useful to the Wild. All of these factors will allow the Wild to easily crush the Blues.
Next, the Calgary Flames go against the Dallas Stars. The Flames performed spectacularly this season with amazing performances from players like Matthew Tkachuck and Johnny Gaudreau among fantastic goaltending from their starting goalie, Jacob Markstrom. While the Stars have great players like Tyler Seguin, Jason Robertson, among others, they are simply no match for the Flames’ roster and smooth playing style, making this an uneven matchup in favor of Calgary. Following this, we have the last matchup for round one of the Western Division: the Edmonton Oilers against the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings, while also previous Stanley Cup winners in 2016, are simply no match for one of the league’s top duos, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Oilers, while not the strongest team in the Western division, will easily defeat the Kings. Following these easy defeats, round two is between the Avalanche and Wild, and Calgary and Edmonton in a battle of Alberta. Despite this close matchup, Colorado and Calgary are simply too good to go down against the Wild and Oilers, leaving Colorado to defend the Western Division in the Stanley Cup Final.
Onto the Atlantic Division: the Florida Panthers go against the Washington Capitals. The Capitals had a great season with Alex Ovechkin scoring 50 goals this season, totaling 780 goals and putting him in the top five NHL goal scorers. There has also been great goaltending by Vitek Vanecek and other great performances from Niklas Backstrom and Evgeni Kuznetzov. However, the Caps will be no match for the Florida Panthers who took home the President’s Trophy for top team in the league following the end of the regular season. The Panthers are simply too much for the Capitals to handle with amazing goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight and an amazing roster with players such as Claude Giroux, Joe Thornton, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. The Capitals will be easily defeated by Florida.
The Toronto Maple Leafs against the Tampa Bay Lightning is the next great matchup. Last year and prior year’s Stanley Cup winner, the Lightning are a tight matchup who are pushing for a threepeat (three wins in a row). However, the Leafs are proving to be a difficult team to lose to. Outstanding players like Auston Matthews who scored the most goals in the NHL this season, as well as Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander and great goaltending from Jack Campbell, the Leafs seem to be in great standing to defeat the Lightning in round one, putting their winning streak on hold. A stormy battle will arise with the Carolina Hurricanes against the Boston Bruins for round one. The Bruins put up a great fight this season with great plays from David Pastranak and Charlie McAvoy as well as amazing goaltending from Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark. Despite the Canes’ impeccable season, placing them at the top of the Metropolitan division, and their strictly competitive nature, I predict that the Bruins will pull through and defeat the Hurricanes in six games. The last two teams facing off in round one are the New York Rangers against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers had an outstanding season with Chris Kreider scoring 50 goals, goalie Igor Shesterkin with six shutouts this season, a fantastic roster rebuild and clinching the playoffs for the first time in five years. It will be an easy win against the Penguins whose core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, is slowly eroding and is simply not playoff material to the caliber of the Rangers. Round two for the Atlantic Division will be the Maple Leafs against the Panthers, which is a close matchup, but the Panthers will simply be too much for the Leafs to handle, getting them sadly eliminated in round two in five games. The Boston Bruins will play against the New York Rangers, which will also be a close fight. But with superior average stats and goaltending, the Rangers will eliminate the Bruins. Following a brief battle with Edmonton and the Rangers, the Florida Panthers will face off against the Colorado Avalanche.
Disregarding the President’s Trophy curse (stating that any team that wins the President’s Trophy will lose the Stanley Cup Finals), the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers will prove to be a bloody fight for the Stanley Cup. However, with the Avalanche’s dedication and their superiority throughout the regular season, it will be a far cry against the Panthers who I believe are no match for the Avalanche, despite their great performance in the regular season and in this predicted playoff run. However, I believe it will be a close final run, with the Colorado Avalanche coming out as victors. On the other hand, the Panthers have an equal chance to win the Cup, and, depending on the level of competitiveness and skill they put into the playoffs, the Panthers are likely to come out as Stanley Cup winners at the end of the race. To conclude the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoff prediction, the Colorado Avalanche are likely to come out as Cup winners with hope for further playoff appearances and Stanley Cup winners from teams like the Panthers, Maple Leafs, Rangers and Hurricanes.