With the majority of the NHL season set to wrap up in a week (except the North division), our attention now turns to what playoff matchups could look like. While technically speaking, three playoff spots are still up for grabs, the only spot that seems to be in an real jeopardy is the Predators but it would take a lot for them to not qualify. So instead let’s assume that the standings as is, is how the season will finish and take a look at a couple of potential matchups that could make for must see TV.
As an appetizer, I put together what the standings would have looked like under the normal divisional breakdown.
Habs fans should be very happy with the division change this season, this will be some valuable playoff experience for the younger guys no matter the outcome. The best part is that the Kings would be contending for a spot in this alternate reality, and not to say they would go far, but the last time they snuck into the final playoff spot, they went on a bitttt of a heater.
Be what it may, it is just something interesting to look at, so now let’s get into the actual playoff series that we could see in a couple of weeks!
3. (3) MINNESOTA WILD VS (2) COLORADO AVALANCHE
H2H – COL 5-2-1
I hope that this is the first installment of a long and fierce rivalry between these two teams. Both are young and on the come up and look to be a team to be reckoned with, for the next couple of years. Had the Golden Knights not been placed in their division this year, these two would be neck and neck competing for the Central Division crown.
While very few people (if any) were surprised to see the success that Colorado has enjoyed, the Wild have been one of the best surprises of the season. They need two wins and six point to match their totals from last season in 26 less games. The impact that Calder-hopeful Kyrill Kaprizov has had on this team is incredible, while their defense continued to prove to everyone they deserve to be in the conversation as one of the best in the league.
If these two teams were to meet in the playoffs, I would expect a high scoring series. Both rank in the top 10 in scoring (COL – 5, MIN – 10) and neither team has elite goaltending. Grubauer, Talbot and even Kahkonen have all had good, if not great seasons in their own respect, but I still wouldn’t consider any of them elite. Good for sure, but when you look at the firepower in this series, I doubt there will be many goaltending duels.
It may be wishful thinking, but I can see the Wild pushing this series to a 7th game before finally falling to a team that looks poised to make a run.
2. (3) FLORIDA PANTHERS VS (2) TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
H2H – FLA 3-2-1
This is the only series that I think is a lock to happen. Florida is locked into either 2nd or 3rd, and Tampa would need to run the table, while Carolina would have to lose the rest of their games for these two teams to swap position in the standings.
This is the playoff series that Gary Bettman has been dreaming of since the early 90s and the timing could not be better. The Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup Champs and these two teams have been the cream of the crop in the league essentially from start to finish. I will say that Kucherov making his return in the playoffs tilts the scales quite a bit, especially considering that the Panthers lost Ekblad earlier in the year due to an injury.
This two has all the makings of a wild, high scoring series, but I think we will see some more tight checking 3-2 hockey games. MacKenzie Weegar has stepped up in a big way for the Panthers this season, and really helped the team weather the storm after the Ekblad injury. I also like their late season additions in Grigori Danisenko and Spencer Knight, however I just don’t think they are enough to move the needle when the opposing bench is getting back Kucherov, Stamkos and have Vasilevskyi in nets.
1. (4) MONTREAL CANADIENS VS (1) TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
H2H – TOR 5-2-1
I have been clamoring for this series all year and IT MIGHT ACTUALLY HAPPEN! Let me first put an end to any notion that I want the Habs to play the Leafs in the first round because of the Leafs’ recent history. The Habs beating the Leafs in the first would be an absolutely hilarious narrative of continuing the curse. However, let’s not pretend that the narrative of the Leafs slaying their first round demons at the expense of the Habs, is not an equally poetic narrative on the opposite end of the spectrum.
This would be the first playoff series between these two since 1978-79 and honestly, it’s the first time in decades really, that both teams have been good at the same time. Not to say they are equal at the moment, but they both teams finally have a roster that can at the very least compete.
This series will be a barometer for everyone involved. Bergevin has long been known for building better playoff than regular season teams and he is on record as saying he built a team that can play any way the opponent wants to. It will also be a major test for this team’s core, and given the contract situation of a lot of players, their value and in turn their future with this team could be dependent on this series and hopefully subsequent series.
For the Leafs it has been a lot of the same in recent years, tons of regular season success and then they stumble come playoff time. The moves that Dubas made this season have paid off, and I hate myself for saying that. Their true test starts in a week (or two?) and should the team fail to get passed the first round again, you have to wonder how many kicks at the can will he and this core get? Dubas is far from being on the hot seat, but a first round loss again could plant the seeds, or at least put the idea in a few peoples heads.
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