Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2021-22 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.
With each passing day, there’s less and less to be settled for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Even teams who don’t yet know their playoff opponent have a good idea who it will be. Of course, all 16 NHL playoff teams have already been determined.
As the 2021-22 season all-but-ends on Friday (there’s an explosively irrelevant makeup game Sunday between the Jets and Kraken), let’s ponder a question of all 16 NHL playoff teams.
Let’s mix the order of things up by starting with the West.
NHL playoff questions: one for each of the 8 teams in the Western Conference
Avalanche: Should there be any concern about a (relatively) sluggish finish?
From April 18-24, the Avalanche endured a four-game losing streak, with each loss in regulation. The Oilers were the only playoff team in that bunch.
It prompted some to wonder if something’s wrong with the Avalanche. The best guess is that they were meandering through the end of a schedule where the West was already won. Still, you always want to enter the playoffs on a positive note, instead of stumbling — by admittedly high standards.
blue: How long is the leash for Ville Husso?
As much as NHL teams want to win, political pressures can pull on a team when it comes to picking starting goals.
In what could be a close series against the Wild, the Blues may feel pressure to turn to Jordan Binnington if Ville Husso suffers a bad start. After all, Binnington has that Stanley Cup win on his resume, he’s getting paid $6M per year through 2026-27, and Ville Husso’s NHL resume is small. (Husso hasn’t played a playoff game, and only has 56 NHL contests to his name.)
It sounds like Husso will start for the Blues in Game 1 vs. the Wild, but fair or not, the “tie” goes to the holdover.
It really needs to be noted just how strong of a season Husso’s put together for the Blues.
Husso is 25-6-6 with a .921 save percentage and 16.7 Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA). Binnington, meanwhile, is 18-14-4 with a .901 save percentage and a -6.6 GSAA.
That disparity should earn Husso some benefit of the doubt, but we’ll see what actually happens.
Wild: Would they waver from Marc-Andre Fleury?
While the Blues risk being too impatient with Ville Husso, the Wild have an interesting goalie situation to watch, too. They may end up presenting a flip: if they need to change goals, will they identify the problem fast enough?
Naturally, they acquired Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline in hopes that he’d be a difference-maker. While Fleury and Cam Talbot give the Wild a steady duo, Dean Evason still must choose who to start and who to sit.
So far with the Wild, Fleury’s put up very similar stats to those of Cam Talbot. Minnesota might be open-minded, especially if the Blues and Wild end up scoring a ton of goals.
Flames: Will Johnny Gaudreau’s sensational season translate to the playoffs?
Ah, NHL playoff time. When people wildly overreact to a couple weeks or a month of games that are simply more random than the more controlled play of, say, the NBA.
To some, Johnny Gaudreau is someone who can’t deliver in the playoffs. After all, he only managed an assist in five postseason games in 2018-19, and also went without a goal in four games in 2016-17. If it seems like Gaudreau goes cold after a season that thrust him back into the Hart Trophy conversation, then people will get weird, fast.
While the Flames provide more support for Gaudreau than ever, there’s still a huge gulf in production between Gaudreau’s line with Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk vs. everyone else. A strong playoff run is the final piece of the puzzle for Gaudreau (who could really up his earning power, either with the Flames, or in free agency.)
Oilers: Is Edmonton a truly elite team under Jay Woodcroft?
Under Dave Tippett, the Oilers were a modest 23-18-3. Since Jay Woodcroft took over, the Oilers are 24-9-3. It doesn’t look like it’s beginner’s luck, alone, either.
That said, the Kings figure to challenge the Oilers’ structure, and maybe frustrate Connor McDavid by getting away with penalties. The narrative around Edmonton can change in a heartbeat — like a toilet seat going up and down.
Kings: Does Jonathan Quick have another strong playoff run in him?
The most likely path for the Kings to beat the Oilers is fairly simple. Contain that Oilers star power at 5-on-5, avoid taking too many penalties, and then win the goaltending battle.
Luckily, Jonathan Quick’s enjoyed a (fairly shocking) season of redemption. For the first time since 2017-18, Quick’s produced a positive GSAA, with a 3.3 mark heading into Thursday. They’ll need the veteran goalie to be sharp, and maybe hope for the opposite from Mike Smith at the other end.
Predators: Connor Ingram or David Rittich?
The Predators defied expectations by making the NHL playoff mix. With Juuse Saros most likely out, they’ll face even bigger odds in trying to win a series. It’s up to John Hynes to make the right call between journeyman backup David Rittich or largely untested Connor Ingram (or someone else, even?).
Stars: Can they replicate that 2020 Stanley Cup Final run?
From different goals to an overwhelming emphasis on the Roope Hintz – Jason Robertson – Joe Pavelski line, this Stars team isn’t the same as the one who made a surprise run. The formula is similar, though: stifle opponents, and hope to score enough to grind out wins.
It hasn’t always been pretty this season for the Stars, but it’s the sort of formula that can power a run every now and then.
NHL playoff questions: one for each of the 8 teams in the Eastern Conference
Panthers: Can their style work in the playoffs?
Look, I don’t like asking that question. It would be a shame if the Panthers fall short, and then deviate from a high-octane style that produced easily their best-ever playoff results. But dusty folks will be eager to doubt them if the Panthers stumble.
Maple Leafs: Will they crack under the pressure?
Most likely drawing the Lightning is just so cruel and just so Maple Leafs. For all we know, the Lightning could be primed for a “three-peat.” For many, it doesn’t matter: the Maple Leafs are failures if they fall in the first round again. It’s an unenviable situation, but also makes for a great theater.
Lightning: Could they run out of gas?
Repeating is already tough enough in the modern NHL. But stringing three straight Stanley Cup runs together? Audacious. The Lightning haven’t exactly let up on their workhorses, sending Victor Hedman out for more than 25 minutes per game, and squeezing another heavy workload out of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Don’t be shocked if they hit a wall.
Hurricanes: Will goaltending undo them again?
After boldly revamping their goaltending in the offseason, the Carolina Hurricanes were vindicated. Frederik Andersen deserves to be a Vezina finalist, and teams might kick themselves for not giving Antti Raanta a longer look. Yet, both goals suffered late-season injuries. Even if they’re both good to go, are we certain they’ll be at full-strength for the Hurricanes?
Rangers: Will they get a healthy Artemi Panarin and Andrew Copp?
Speaking of late-season injuries, the Rangers lost Artemi Panarin and Andrew Copp in a game where the Hurricanes clinched the Atlantic Division. Remove those two — or deploy them with physical limitations — and the Rangers may lose some of the gains they’ve made since the trade deadline.
Penguins: Did Pittsburgh miss its best window to truly compete?
At times this season, the Penguins looked like they could be dangerous. That hasn’t been the case as often down the stretch, particularly with Tristan Jarry suffering an injury. Don’t count this team out… but they could be on the verge of five straight seasons without a series win.
Bruins: Can they get enough goaltending to win with a low margin for error?
Even before trading for Hampus Lindholm, the Bruins provided arguably the best defensive structure of any team in the NHL. Combine that defense with an offense that’s found more balance at times, and the Bruins are about as fearsome as a wild-card team can get.
Chances are, though, the Bruins are going to hope for low-scoring games, and that means their goals (Linus Ullmark or Jeremy Swayman) need to deliver.
Capitals: Will Alex Ovechkin be available, and healthy?
The Russian Machine didn’t necessarily break, but it took some damage. It’s unclear if Alex Ovechkin will be available early in a playoff series, and if he’ll be close to full-strength even if he’s in the lineup. Ovechkin scored 50 goals and 90 points in 77 games this season, so yeah, this is pretty big for a Capitals team hoping to pull off some upsets.
IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (sorted by points percentage)
Panthers vs. Capitals
Maple Leafs vs. Maple Leafs. Lightning
Hurricanes vs. Bruins
Rangers vs. Penguins
Avalanche vs. Stars
Wild vs. Blues
Flames vs. Predators
Oilers vs. Kings
TODAY’S KEY GAMES
Blue Jackets vs. Penguins, 7 pm ET
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs, 7 pm ET
Capitals vs. Rangers, 7 pm ET
Lightning vs. Islanders, 7:30 pm ET
Avalanche vs. Wild, 8 pm ET
Ducks vs. Stars, 8:30 pm ET
Panthers – clinched No. 1 seed in Eastern Conference
Maple Leafs – clinched
Lightning – clinched
Bruins – clinched
Red Wings – eliminated
Sabres – eliminated
Senators – eliminated
Canadiens – eliminated
Hurricanes – clinched Metropolitan Division title
Rangers – clinched
Penguins – clinched
Capitals – clinched
Islanders – eliminated
Blue Jackets – eliminated
Flyers – eliminated
Devils – eliminated
Avalanche – clinched No. 1 seed in Western Conference
Wild – clinched
Blues – clinched
Predators – clinched
Stars – clinched
Jets – eliminated
Blackhawks – eliminated
Coyotes – eliminated
Flames – clinched Pacific Division
Oilers – clinched
Kings – clinched
Golden Knights – eliminated
Canucks – eliminated
Ducks – eliminated
Sharks – eliminated
Kraken – eliminated
DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE (via Tankathon)
18.5% – Canadiens
13.5% – Coyotes
11.5% – Kraken
9.5% – Flyers
8.5% – Devils
7.5% – Blackhawks (*conditional)
6.5% – Senators
6.0% – Red Wings
5.0% – Sabres
3.5% – Ducks
3.0% – Sharks
2.5% – Blue Jackets
2.0% – Islanders
1.5% – Jets
0.5% – Canucks
0.5% – Golden Knights (*conditional)
“Beginning this season there will be a limit on the total number of selections (10) a team participating in the lottery can move up in the event it wins one of the lottery draws, a change announced by the NHL on March 23, 2021. Only the top 11 seeds will be eligible to receive the No. 1 seed. 1 selection in the 2022 draft.”
The 2022 NHL Draft Lottery drawing will be held May 10
ART ROSS TROPHY RACE
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 123 points
Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers – 115
Johnny Gaudreau, Flames – 115
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 110
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 106
Kirill Kaprizov, Wild – 106
ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 60 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 55
Chris Kreider, Rangers – 52
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 50
Kyle Connor, Jets – 46
Kirill Kaprizov, Wild – 46
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 44
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.
NHL Push for the Playoffs: One question for every playoff team originally appeared on NBCSports.com