By Cole Parkinson
Sunny South News
The NHL playoff brackets are all set for the 2022 playoffs and there are plenty of great matchups in the first round. With three Canadian teams in the mix for this year’s playoffs, tons of fans from across the country will have some rooting interest, and those whose teams didn’t qualify, I’m sure they’ll be rooting against those that did make the dance.
Starting out west, we have Colorado taking on Nashville. Colorado is the better team on paper, and with Preds goalie Juuse Saros injured and unlikely to be 100 per cent, I think this one could be a short series. The Avs have fallen on their face in the last few playoffs and while an upset might happen, I don’t see it being in the first round against Nashville. I’ll take the Avs in five.
Next up is Minnesota taking on St. Louis, in what I think will be a really good series. The Blues may have won all three games in the regular season, but I think Minnesota boasts a really quality lineup and with the addition of Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes, I think it’s going to go the distance. I think defence plays a crucial role in this one and I like the Blues’ defenders better, so I’ll take St. Louis in seven.
Calgary won the Pacific Division, so they take on the Dallas Stars in round one. I like this Flames team, and I could see them going on a deep run. They have great forwards, great defence, and Jacob Markstrom is one of the best goalies in the league. And they have Darryl Sutter, who has already won a few cups behind the bench, if everything can click, I like their chances. Johnny Gaudreau will need to show he can play and produce in the playoffs though and if he does, look out for Calgary. I don’t think this Dallas team can keep up with the Flames, so I’ll take Calgary in five.
Last in the Western Conference is Edmonton taking on Los Angeles. Much like Colorado, the playoffs have led to tons of disappointment for the Oil in the past few years. And I don’t think it gets much easier taking on the Kings. While I think Edmonton boasts a better roster top to bottom over the Kings, I don’t think it’s that big of a mismatch. Phillip Danault proved he can shut down top players in last year’s playoffs and he’ll have another tough matchup going up against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That being said, I think the Oilers punch their ticket to the second round, which would set up a Flames/Oilers series. I’ll take Oilers in seven.
Moving out east, the Florida Panthers clinched the best record in the NHL and will take on the Washington Capitals in the first round. Goaltending will be the biggest story here. Sergei Bobrovsky will likely get the starts for Florida and while he had a decent year, it’s not likely he’s been a constantly great playoff performer and that has to be the biggest concern for Panther fans. Over in Washington, I don’t see this team as much of a Stanley Cup threat right now. They’re much older and I don’t see them keeping up with the Panthers, so I’ll take Florida in five.
Toronto’s playoff challenges continue in 2022 as they get the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champs Tampa Bay in round one. There are plenty of excuses about the playoff seeding format being thrown around with the Leafs drawing Tampa in round one, but the reality is — if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. So, the Leafs will have their hands full with the Lightning in round one, but it’s not like Toronto are pushovers either. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner no doubt remember how it felt to be eliminated last year in the first round, and I truly believe this is the year they push through. And Tampa has played tons of hockey in the last two years, that may catch up to them at some point. My Leaf fandom has burned me before, but they have to get out of the first round at some point right? Leafs in six.
One of the most interesting series for me is Carolina and Boston. If Carolina’s goaltending was solid heading into the playoffs, I’d lean towards them advancing, but Freddie Andersen is dealing with injuries and the fact he’s struggled in the playoffs before is another huge factor. Boston’s roster is older and while I think Carolina looks to be the better team, something tells me the goaltending will let them down and the B’s will win in six.
The final series of the first round sees Pittsburgh hit the ice against the New York Rangers. The Rangers have seen Igor Shesterkin grow into one of the best goalies in the league and this will be his first crack at playoff hockey. On the other end, we’ll see another older, playoff-tested team in the Pens. It certainly seems like this may be one of the last chances at a deep run for this version of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby, Evgenii Malkin, and Kris Letang are all in their mid-30s and the NHL is getting younger. I like the Pens here in seven.
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