The opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs might have been the greatest postseason round ever. Five of the eight first-round series went the distance. Two winner-take-all contests were decided in overtime. Two more series had their Game 7s decided by just a lone goal. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Sure, there were a few blowout games here and there, but the margins between series-winning teams and series-losing teams in the playoffs has never been closer. Eight teams survived the opening round, including seven that finished in the top nine in points during the regular season. I predicted the five of those eight victorious teams in the first round.
Stanley Cup favorite Colorado had the only sweep of the first round. However, life will be much tougher for the Avalanche in the second round facing a battle-tested St. Louis squad. Two famed rivalry series will play out in second round, with the Battle of Alberta commencing again between Calgary and Edmonton, while the Comeback Cats (Florida) will try to dethrone two-time defending champion Tampa Bay in the second straight meeting between the Sunshine State rivals. In the Atlantic Division finals, perennial contender Carolina will try to take the next step against the up-and-coming New York Rangers.
With four terrific matchups, the Division Finals round should continue to be must-watch television. Here are my predictions for the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview
Atlantic Division Finals
1. Florida Panthers (defeated Washington in 6 games in the first round) vs. 3. Tampa Bay Lightning (defeated Toronto in 7 games in the first round)
Florida underwhelmed in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. If it wasn’t for forward Carter Verhaeghe’s coming-out party, the Panthers would be spending the second round on the golf course. The Comeback Cats struggled in the early going of most games against Washington, but found a late gear to overwhelm the Capitals. Verhaeghe was unstoppable throughout the six-game series, and leads all Eastern Conference players with six goals and 12 points in the playoffs. Verhaeghe had excellent chemistry with Claude Giroux (seven points), who is giving the Panthers everything they hoped for as a trade deadline acquisition. For Florida to continue its run, other forwards like Jonathan Huberdeau and Sam Reinhart, as well as starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (4-2-0, 2.79 GAA, .906 SP), will have to be significantly better. With a series win under their belts, and a matchup against archrival Tampa Bay in round two, I expect the Panthers to find another gear.
Tampa Bay’s run at its third straight Stanley Cup nearly ended at the hands of a Toronto. The perennial playoff underachievers gave the Lightning everything they could handle in the first round. The Maple Leafs at times lit up stellar goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky (4-3-0, 3.04 GAA, .897), and Tampa Bay’s depth lines were outplayed by Toronto’s. Still the Lightning’s stars came to play. Nikita Kucherov (team-leading eight points), Victor Hedman (seven points), and Steven Stamkos all had strong first-round series. Ross Colton (team-leading three goals), Nicholas Paul, and newcomer Brandon Hagel did as well. The big concern for the Lightning is the health of playoff standout Brayden Point, who got badly injured in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs. Tampa Bay will need all hands on deck to defeat the deep and talented Panthers.
While Tampa Bay dispatched Florida a year ago, I think this is the year that the Panthers finally gain supremacy in the battle for Florida. They have deeper squad than the Lightning, and now know what it takes to win a playoff series. I like the Panthers to knock out the two-time defending champions in six games.
Metropolitan Division Finals
1. Carolina Hurricanes (defeated Boston in 7 games in the first round) vs. 2. New York Rangers (defeated Pittsburgh in 7 games in the first round)
While it wasn’t the prettiest of series victories, Carolina finally ousted playoff nemesis Boston in a decisive Game 7. The Hurricanes failed to win any road games in the series, but dominated the Bruins on home ice. Coach Rod Brind’Amour took full advantage of having last change in Raleigh to deploy his outstanding defense. Carolina’s top blue-line pair of Jaccob Slavin (team-leading eight points) and Brett Pesce, playing behind the tight-checking Jordan Staal line, stifled Boston’s attack. While the Hurricanes were without Frederik Andersen in the first round, backup Antti Raanta (3-2-0, 2.37 GAA, .927 SP) had a strong series. Both will likely play in the second round against New York. While Carolina’s top offensive players were quiet against the Bruins, its impressive depth overwhelmed Boston. Four different players (Vincent Trocheck, Seth Jarvis, Nino Niederreiter, and Andrei Svechnikov) led the team with three goals in the first round. The Rangers, who like Boston lack defensive depth, will struggle to contain all four Carolina lines and the Hurricanes’ superior depth.
Of all the teams that advanced to the second round, the least deserving was the New York Rangers. New York was outplayed throughout its series against Pittsburgh and needed seven games plus overtime to oust a Penguins squad that spent most of the series without their top two goaltenders. New York’s top players willed them to a series win. Offensive weapons Mika Zibanejad (team-leading 11 points), Chris Kreider (team-leading five goals), Andrew Copp (seven points), and Artemi Panarin (seven points), were all outstanding. As were defensemen Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba. Those elite talents saved the Rangers, as New York’s bottom two lines, back-end defense, and likely Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin (4-2-0, 3.67 GAA, .910 SP) were all a mess against the Penguins. Carolina is a far deeper team than Pittsburgh, and unless things change for the Rangers, this could be a short series.
Carolina seems poised for a deep run after working out some issues against Boston. Meanwhile, New York survived Pittsburgh, but were heavily outplayed throughout. The Hurricanes will expose the same weaknesses on New York that the Penguins did, and that spells trouble for the Rangers. I see the Carolina advancing over New York in five games.
Western Conference Semifinals Previews
Central Division Finals
1. Colorado Avalanche (defeated Nashville in 4 games in the first round) vs. 3. St. Louis Blues (defeated Minnesota in 7 games in the first round)
Colorado was easily the most dominant team in the first round. With the exception of Nashville goaltender Connor Ingram’s unbelievable performance in Game 2, the Avalanche lit up the Predators early and often, coasting to a four-game series sweep. Defenseman Cale Makar was a monster, scoring three goals and 10 points in the four games against Nashville. Colorado’s other stars also shone bright, as Nathan MacKinnon (team-leading five goals), Gabriel Landeskog (six points), and Mikko Rantanen, were terrific. The Avalanche showed surprising depth in the first round against the Predators in all facets of the game. Most notably, the additions of Devon Toews (three goals) and Josh Manson to the blue line paid immediate dividends against Nashville. Starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper suffered a freak injury in goal in the first round but sounds likely to return against St. Louis. In his absence Pavel Francouz made all the saves he needed to. However, Kuemper will be needed to slow down the juggernaut that is the Blues’ offense.
Arguably the most impressive series win in the first round was St. Louis’ six-game dismantling of the Minnesota Wild—a team picked by many to win the Stanley Cup. The Blues were firing on all cylinders offensively going into the playoffs and that continued against Minnesota. Snipers David Perron (team- leading nine points), Ryan O’Reilly, and Vladimir Tarasenko each scored five goals against the Wild, while depth scorers like Jordan Kyrou and Paul Buchnevich (team-leading four assists) were terrific as well. In goal, 2019 Cup winner Jordan Binnington (3-0-0, 1.67 GAA, .943 SP) retook the net he lost to Ville Husso during the regular season, and he looks ready to backstop a deep run. Binnington and the banged-up Blues’ defense (which bent but didn’t break against Minnesota), will have their hands full trying to slow down Colorado.
If the Blues are healthy on defense, this should be a terrific series. St. Louis plays a heavy brand of hockey and has superior forward depth. Both of these things have caused Colorado issues in prior postseasons. However, it feels like it is the Avalanche’s year, and this deepest Colorado squad to date. I see the Avalanche surviving and advancing in seven games over the Blues.
Pacific Division Finals
1. Calgary Flames (defeated Dallas in 7 games in the first round) vs. 2. Edmonton (defeated Los Angeles in 7 games in the first round)
It took seven games plus an overtime session for the Calgary to finally knock off the Dallas Stars and advance to the second round. However, that really doesn’t tell the whole story of their first-round series. While Dallas had its moments early on, and rode the play of red-hot goaltender Jake Oettinger to a near-upset, the Flames found their sea legs in the later games and were the better team overall. Calgary had its troubles scoring goals throughout the first round, but its big three forwards Johnny Gaudreau (team-leading eight points), Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm (team-leading three goals), found their magic touch late in the series. On defense the Flames tightened up, and their depth was strong against Dallas. However, standout blue liners Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson must find their games quickly against a far more talented Edmonton squad. In goal Jacob Markstrom (4-3-0, 1.53 GAA, .943 SP) was terrific against the Stars. Life will get much tougher for the veteran against the Oilers.
Edmonton’s roller coaster of a season continued right into the first round of the playoffs. The Oilers played awesome hockey in the first three games, winning two in blowout fashion. However, Edmonton looked lost in the next couple of games against Los Angeles, who seized the momentum. With another early playoff exit seeming likely, captain Connor McDavid willed the Oilers into the second round. His 14 playoff points lead all scorers, and he was unstoppable in the final three games against the Kings. The Oilers found some depth behind him with strong performances from Evander Kane (who has seven goals to lead all active playoff scorers) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Edmonton’s defense played well against Los Angeles, especially Evan Bouchard and Cody Ceci. That also includes ageless goaltender Mike Smith (4-3-0, 2.29 GAA, .938 SP), who at 40 years old won his first playoff series since 2012. The biggest question mark going for Edmonton going into their matchup against Calgary is the health of forward Leon Draisaitl (nine points). The Oilers’ “other” star was terrific against Los Angeles, but was clearly laboring throughout Game 7.
While Dallas wasn’t a great matchup for Calgary, Edmonton is. The Flames can use their superior defense to slowdown the high-flying Oilers. Calgary is also a far deeper team as far as its forwards, and that should result in some offensive opportunities for its bottom six. Despite all that, I’m still picking Edmonton in this series because I think their defense is underrated and looked solid against the Kings. Plus McDavid played like a man possessed in the first-round. If it continues that alone might be enough to beat the Flames. I’ve got the Oilers knocking out Calgary in seven games.
The Rest of the Playoffs
Florida defeats Carolina in seven games
Colorado sweeps Edmonton in four games
2022 Stanley Cup Final Prediction
Colorado defeats Florida in six games