The NHL playoffs kick off later tonight, which means it’s time for some playoff hockey. If the regular season was anything to go off of, the playoffs are certainly going to live up to the hype. With the regular season now in the rearview mirror, and all the playoff teams set, it seems like an appropriate time for some postseason power rankings. Let’s take a look.
- Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes had a breakout season as a team, winning the Central Division. Rookie goalie Alex Nedeljkovic has emerged as Carolina’s best option in net, giving them the piece that they’ve needed for a couple of years. They have a star in Sebastian Aho, and a solid roster that is poised for a deep playoff run. By winning the Central Division over two legit teams in the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, they have earned the opportunity to take on one of the weaker teams in the playoff field this year, the Nashville Predators. Not that the Predators are going to be a cake walk by any means, but the Canes should have no real problem advancing past round one.
- Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights may have finished in second place in the West Division, but their well rounded roster puts them above the Avalanche in the power rankings heading into the playoffs. Vegas is a team that can get scoring from anywhere in the lineup and owns arguably the best goalie tandem in the NHL. The Knights will have their hands full in the first round however, as they’ll be taking on one of the biggest surprise teams in the league this season, the Minnesota Wild.
- Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche finished the regular season winning 5 straight, and will be the number one seed in the Pacific Division heading into the playoffs. The Avalanche have one of the best top 3 forward groups in the NHL in Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog and will need them to carry them through the playoffs although their depth scoring is decent. The Av’s shouldn’t have too much trouble taking care of the St. Louis Blues in round one, but will certainly be tested by Vegas or Minnesota in round two assuming they take care of the Blues as most predict they will.
- Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers, along with the Wild, have surprised a lot of people this season with their success. Florida has finally reached their potential with their core that has been around for a while, and now will have to show that they can execute in the playoffs. It will be a tall task however, as they will be forced to battle the reigning Stanley Cup champs, the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. The Panthers are 5-2-1 on the season against Tampa and have by most measures had a better season than them, but Tampa is defending a title and will certainly be a tough out, especially with the return of superstar Nikita Kucherov.
- Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins have been one of the best teams in the NHL since the trade deadline, going 12-4-1 in that span. The addition of Taylor Hall, along with Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly, has re-energized the roster in Boston. The Bruins had an up and down season, but are playing some of their best hockey heading into the first round. Their success will largely depend on if the depth scoring can continue to produce, especially if the top line struggles. Their first round matchup is one of the more highly anticipated ones this season against the Washington Capitals, as both teams won four games in the season series.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
The reigning Stanley Cup Champions had a slightly underwhelming season, but with the return of Nikita Kucherov, as well as Steven Stamkos who has missed some time, there is no reason to worry about this team heading into the playoffs. They have the most complete roster in the NHL, and as we saw last year, are built to win in the playoffs. They draw a difficult matchup in round one against the Panthers. This should be one of the better matchups in round one across the league, as both teams have legit chances to make deep runs in the playoffs. The winner of this series will come out with a load of confidence knowing they beat a really good team to begin the playoffs.
- Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins longevity as playoff contenders has been remarkable, as they have now reached the playoffs in every season since 2007, except for last year. Still led by Sidney Crosby, the Pens will take the one seed in the East Division and will face the New York Islanders in the first round. Pittsburgh matches up well with the Isles who don’t score a ton of goals, whereas the Pens have scored the second most in the league this season.
- Toronto Maple Leafs
Is it finally the Maple Leafs year? Toronto hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004, but is poised to finally do so this season. The Leafs dominated the North Division this season by scoring a lot of goals, with 41 of them coming from Auston Matthews, who has become one of the best scorers in the league. Taking on the Montreal Canadians in the first round, the Leafs will be facing a team that just managed to squeak in. Toronto has so much high end scoring that making it out of the North Division shouldn’t be a problem for them.
- Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals still have most of their Stanley Cup winning core around and have most of the pieces needed to be a successful playoff team. Their one hole may be their goaltending, which has been suspect all season. Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov have split time, and although Vanecek has played more, neither have stood out as true number 1 goalies. The team is still very strong however, and can win games with their physicality. Boston will be a good matchup for them as they have become a relatively small team compared to what they used to be.
- Minnesota Wild
The Wild have a good all-around roster, with every key area accounted for. Kirill Kaprizov is more than likely going to be the Rookie of the Year as he leads the Wild in points. The Wild are set up to give the Golden Knights a real run for their money in round one, as they have beaten the Knights 5 times in 8 games this season. If Minnesota can find a way past the Golden Knights, they may be looking at a deep playoff run.
- New York Islanders
The Islanders had an extended winning streak earlier this year, but have struggled to consistently win games at times. They have had trouble scoring goals at times this season, and will need to find a way to find the back of the net against Pittsburgh, who has scored the second most goals in the NHL. The Isles are scrappy though, and have proven that they can hang with any team when they play at their peak.
- Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers are obviously led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but have improved on the defensive end this year, mostly thanks to Darnell Nurse who has had a standout season on the back end. The Oilers have dominated their first round opponents, the Winnipeg Jets, all season long, winning 7 of 9 games. If they can take Winnipeg, a potential matchup with Toronto would be unbelievably exciting, with Auston Matthews going up against Connor McDavid in a 7 game series.
- Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets have plenty of star power, but lack in the depth category. They finished 3rd in the North Division, but there is a significant gap between them and teams like Toronto and Edmonton. It will be a tough matchup in the first round with Edmonton who has had their number all season long.
- St. Louis Blues
The Blues are far removed from their Stanley Cup winning team a couple of years ago. They still have a strong team, but are clearly the fourth best team in their division. Although Colorado took the season series, the Blues hung with them in most of the games and will be able to give them some competition, but likely won’t advance past round one.
- Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens have been a streaky team this year. They have some young talent, but aren’t truly built for playoff hockey just yet. Including overtime and shootout losses, the Canadiens have 32 losses which is evident of a team that is still about a year or two away from competing in the playoffs.
- Nashville Predators
Nashville just barely earned a playoff berth this year, beating out the Dallas Stars by 4 points. The Predators don’t have a player with over 33 points and likely won’t give Carolina too many problems. They will need someone to step up against the Canes, otherwise they may be heading into the offseason very soon.
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