With the 2021-22 regular season (essentially) over, we now know all eight playoff series matchups between 16 NHL teams. That goes from the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers and West-winning Avalanche all the way down to two wild-card teams per conference.
All eight First Round NHL matchups in 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs
• Atlantic Division bracket
Florida Panthers (ATL 1) vs. Washington Capitals (WC 2)
Down the stretch, the Capitals have been struggling, losing four games in a row and five of six (with Alex Ovechkin also suffering a troubling injury). Meanwhile, the Panthers have been on absolute fire, rarely losing unless they sit basically everyone but the team trainer. Florida looms as the favorites, but Washington has that vaunted “veteran savvy.”
We’ll see if someone gets schooled.
Toronto Maple Leafs (ATL 2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (ATL 3)
With 54 wins and 115 standings points, the Maple Leafs put together the most prolific regular season in franchise history. Their reward is very fitting for the star-crossed Maple Leafs franchise: facing the repeat champion Lightning. On paper, this could be one of the best First Round playoff series in recent NHL history, and hopefully it reaches or exceeds that potential on the ice.
• Metropolitan Division bracket
Carolina Hurricanes (MET 1) vs. Boston Bruins (WC 1)
For years, the Hurricanes have been knocking on the door; first it was to make the playoffs, now it’s to put together a deep run. Don’t blame the Hurricanes if they feel like they’ve finally “broken through” if they beat a Bruins team that eliminated them twice in a row (2018-19 and 2019-20), once by a sweep, the other in five games. The Bruins already presented a challenging First Round opponent for the Hurricanes, yet with Carolina’s goals banged up, there’s a real chance history can repeat itself.
New York Rangers (MET 2) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (MET 3)
For a portion of the season, the Rangers’ overall play didn’t quite match their lofty place in the standings, while the Penguins showed sneaky-promise. Lately, the Rangers really started to cook, while the Penguins have been running out of gas. With some injury concerns for both teams, there’s some mystery to the series, but overall the Rangers look like strong favorites.
• Central Division bracket
Colorado Avalanche (CEN 1) vs. Nashville Predators (WC 2)
If possibly being without Juuse Saros didn’t already lower expectations for the Predators as they ace the awe-inspiring Avalanche, Nashville’s stunning regular-season-ending collapse to the Coyotes should do the trick. Hockey’s a strange sport, and the Predators already defied expectations by making the NHL playoff mix in the first place. In a First Round brimming with tough calls, few will pick the Predators over the Avalanche (unless it’s a bit).
Minnesota Wild (CEN 2) vs. st. Louis Blues (CEN 3)
No doubt about it, the Wild and Blues finished their seasons among the hottest teams in the NHL. For teams often associated with grinding hockey, both teams are lighting up scoreboards more than usual. This one could really go either way, setting the stage for a truly fascinating series.
• Pacific Division bracket
Calgary Flames (PAC 1) vs. Dallas Stars (WC 1)
At face value, it’s tempting to frame the Flames and Stars as two defense-oriented teams. The gulf between the two is significant, though; consider the Flames’ +85 goal differential compared to the Stars’ -8 mark as just one example. Beyond that defensive acumen, both the Stars and Flames boast top lines with a claim for best line in the NHL, so there’s room for this to get interesting. Consider the Flames the overwhelming favorites over the Stars, however.
Edmonton Oilers (PAC 2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (PAC 3)
As improved as the Oilers’ team play has been under Jay Woodcroft, this series still screams “Kings’ system vs. Oilers’ stars.” There’s a ton of pressure on Connor McDavid and the Oilers to deliver, while the Kings appear ahead of their rebuild schedule. Perhaps that underdog mentality will work for the crafty Kings?
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.
First Round matchups for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs originally appeared on NBCSports.com