NHL Playoffs Preview: Playoff Races, Matchups, Storylines

Photo Credit: Elliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

It’s the best time of the year in the NHL world. The regular season is beginning to come to a close, but for many teams, these games are the most important. Some franchises are tanking for Connor Bedard, but any team with a shot at the playoffs is doing everything they can at the moment to get in. Let’s take a deep dive into the upcoming NHL playoffs.

NHL Playoffs Wild Card Races

Eastern Conference

  • WC1: Islanders, 87 pts.
  • WC2: Penguins, 86 pts.
  • Panthers, 85 pts, 1 back
  • Sabres, 81 pts, 5 back

At the moment, this seems like a three-team race for two spots, with the Sabres as a distant fourth team. Buffalo has come on strong during the last couple of weeks, and for the first time in a while, they find themselves playing meaningful games come springtime. Buffalo’s 5-3-2 record in the past 10 games has made things interesting. The Sabres still have two games in hand on each team above them, so they absolutely have a chance here.

The Islanders and Penguins currently hold the two Wild Card spots. Those two teams are likely to earn a playoff berth over Florida, as well. The Islanders’ lead over Florida has trimmed down to two, but with Pittsburgh as a buffer, they’ve still got a good shot.

The Penguins have a tougher battle. Pittsburgh is just one point above Florida, and each team will play five more games. Yet, with the one point lead, they do still control their own destiny.

Western Conference

  • WC1: Kraken, 92 pts.
  • WC2: Jets, 89 pts.
  • Flames, 87 pts., 2 back
  • Predators: 84 pts., 3 back

In the Western Conference, things look complicated as well. The Kraken are virtually a lock for the playoffs at this point, sitting five points above Calgary with a game in hand.

The Jets and Flames will be fighting this battle until the season runs its course. Winnipeg has a two point lead, but both teams have five games left to play. Winnipeg had a handle on this race, but some recent tough losses have made this a lot more interesting. Still, the Jets hold their lead.

Finally, the Predators cannot be counted out. Nashville hasn’t been as impressive as they can be recently, winning just four of their last 10. They’re five points out with one game in hand. Nashville shouldn’t be counted out yet, but they will need some help.

Current NHL Playoffs Matchups

Eastern Conference

Wild card

  • (1) Bruins vs Wild Card 2
  • (2) Hurricans vs Wild Card 1


  • (2) Devils vs (3) Rangers
  • (2) Maple Leafs vs (3) Lightning

Here, we have essentially a dream playoff-slate. A lot of these matchups on the Eastern side of the bracket are very interesting, and some of these matchups may spark old rivalries back up — or potentially spark new ones.

Boston and Carolina have been dominant forces in the conference year, and they’ll each likely get a Wild Card team.

The divisional matchups are very interesting, though. The New Jersey/New York rivalry is obvious here, but this has the potential to be a very exciting series. New Jersey is a young team on the rise, while the Rangers have their own playoff experience. Meanwhile, the Leafs and Lightning had an intense seven-game series last year. A repeat of that would be ideal for hockey fans around the world.

Western Conference

Wild card

  • (1) Golden Knights vs Wild Card #2
  • (2) Stars vs Wild Card #1


  • (2) Wild vs (3) Avalanche
  • (2) Kings vs (3) Oilers

This conference has a lot more parity than the East. The Knights and Stars each lead their division, but neither has much breathing room at all. Unlike the Eastern Conference, there is no runaway leader in the West. Both of these two teams could realistically struggle a bit against a Wild Card team.

Now, the Wild and Avalanche is an interesting series. The Wild jumped on the scene last year, and now will make their return with some playoff experience under their belt. Colorado is coming off a championship, and doesn’t seem as dominant as last year. Still, we all know how things change come playoff time. This series could be very exciting.

The Kings and Oilers seems like a very even matchup, with some star power. The hockey world will watch as Connor McDavid tries to inch closer to his first Stanley Cup, while the Kings’ young corps tries to advance in the playoffs for the first time in a long time.

NHL Playoffs Storylines

New Kids on the Block

These playoffs will feature some NHL franchises that haven’t been there in a while. Parity is always a good thing for the league, and there’s plenty of it this time around.

In just their second year as a franchise, the Kraken have made their way into the playoff picture. At the time of this writing, Seattle holds the first Wild Card slot with 92 points on the season. They have a game in hand on most teams in the playoff race, giving them a very solid chance at the playoffs.

New Jersey is another team flying far ahead of their expectations this year. The Devils were supposed to be in a rebuild, but have turned into a serious contender this season. They’ll likely play a Rangers team full of playoff experience in the first round.

Can These Teams Finally Cross the Finish Line?

While there are newcomers, there are also teams that have been here before. In this field, there are several. There are also a couple of teams with plenty of playoff experience, yet haven’t been able to lift the cup just yet.

One team that comes to mind is Carolina. The Hurricanes have found themselves in the playoff race on a yearly account recently, yet haven’t been able to make it past the conference finals yet.

Boston has had playoff success in the past, but have been unable to get over the hump in recent years. Las Vegas, Toronto, and the New York Rangers have all seen playoff failures in recent years, as well. One of the most compelling storylines during these playoffs will revolve around these teams, and which of them might finally life the Stanley Cup in 2023.

Battle of Florida Round 2: Series Preview

The panthers will face the lightning n round 2. Here’s what to expect from the latest iteration of the battle of Florida

battle of florida
Credit: Getty Images

For the first time in 26 years, the Panthers are on to the second round. After a hard fought series with the Washington Capitals, the road only gets tougher for the Cats. The good news is that they finally got over the mental hurdle of winning a playoff series. Now, they must get over another mental hurdle: the battle of Florida.

Indeed, it is that the defending champs are waiting on the other side.

The battle of Florida, Panthers vs Lightning round two, commences this week. Both teams have a tremendous amount to prove in what will almost certainly be the premier matchup of the second round. Here’s how the teams match up.

Forward Battle

If there’s anyone out there who is unfamiliar with the embarrassment of riches the Lightning possess at forward, know this: they’re really good. Steven Stamkos is in the midst of a resurgent season in which he’s tallied a career high in points. 2019 MVP Nikita Kucherov has struggled with injuries this season, but had an impressive first round of the playoffs. Scoring wingers Ondrej Palat, Anthony Cirelli, and Alex Killorn round out an experienced and talented top six.

That list even excludes Brayden Point, who may be the player the Panthers struggle to contain the most. The speedy 26 year old will likely be sidelined for the first few games with a lower body injury.

As scary as that group looks on paper, the Panthers still likely have the edge in the forward department. Many of Tampa’s forwards are on the wrong side of 30 and starting to decline. They also lost much of their bottom six depth last offseason. While they did a decent job replacing much of it, this is a watered down version of the team they lost to last year.

The biggest hurdle for the Panthers will be limiting the Tampa power play. In last year’s battle of Florida, the Lightning went 8/20 (40%) on the power play. That was the Panthers’ Achilles heel in that series. Tampa’s chemistry on the man advantage kept Florida on their toes throughout.

To mitigate their scoring chances on the power play, the focus for the Panthers should be clogging up the middle of the ice. It is vital they don’t overreact to a Stamkos or Kucherov slap shot from the outside, as that will open up passes to the slot area. As long as they stay disciplined on the penalty kill, the Panthers have the edge in the forward department.

Defense Corps

Without a doubt, the Lightning have the best defenseman in this series, and possibly the league, Victor Hedman. The 2018 Norris Trophy winner amassed 85 points (20 G 65 A) this past season, the highest of his career, while also playing shutdown defense. The Panthers will notice his presence on the ice and will need to constantly account for it.

Their number two and three defensemen, Ryan Mcdonagh and Mikhail Sergachev, do have holes. They’re incredibly talented and reliable players in their own right, but they are slow-footed. It does open some opportunities for the Panthers to get their speedy players some scoring chances against the two of them.

Their other three defensemen are solid, but nothing special. Jan Rutta, Cal Foote, and Zach Bogosian have all had their moments, but it would be unreasonable to expect for them to slow down the elite offense Florida boasts. They also do not offer enough offensively to counter their defensive limitations. It is certainly a step down from the defensive depth they saw against Washington, and it would behoove Florida to take advantage of that.

Goaltending For The Battle of Florida

The battle in net may be the most obvious advantage Tampa has in this series. Sergei Bobrovsky has been excellent for the Panthers thus far, but Andrei Vasilevskiy has been the league’s best goaltender for the past four years. He looked mortal in their first round series against Toronto, but shut the door in their closeout game seven.

On the series, Vasilevskiy said “many goals were scored because I couldn’t see anything. I’m pretty sure that was the game plan for them, to get in front.”

Screens are a goalie’s worst nightmare, regardless of their skill level. That needs to be an adjustment the Panthers make in this series. The Panthers love passing to get clean looks at the net, but Vasy is too big and too mobile for that to be a viable primary scoring option. The goals in this series need to be dirty and gritty in front of the net goals. Easier said than done of course, but the Panthers are no strangers to finding different ways to score.

Final Prediction

This will likely be the best series of the second round, and I fully expect it to go the distance. Whoever comes out of this series will likely be the favorite to make it to the cup final. The Panthers improved greatly after last year’s defeat, and are ready to win at all costs. Tampa knows how to handle any situation they find themselves in, but they will feel the absences from players who moved on in the offseason. In this year’s battle of Florida, it will be the Florida Panthers in seven games.

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