The 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on Monday, April 17th, and it only took to the final games of the regular season before we got the 16 teams qualifying to faceoff for the Stanley Cup. In addition, it took until the final night of regular season play to get the matchups set in the Eastern and Western Conferences. There will be some teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Calgary Flames wondering what could have been when the playoffs begin on Monday. But now the field is set, it is time to dive into the preview of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs as we quickly look at each series.
2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview
Boston Bruins vs Florida Panthers
The Boston Bruins had a record-setting season from the get-go. But they will take on a battle-tested team in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Florida Panthers. The Bruins punched their ticket to the playoffs with ease, while it took until Game 81 for the Panthers to punch their ticket. However, unlike the 2018-19 Lightning, the Bruins continued to battle until the final days of the regular season.
The Bruins and Panthers last met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 1996, both teams have come a long way since then. Nobody expected the Panthers to make a miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final that year either. The Panthers are not given much of a chance this year as well.
The Bruins are the clear favourite to win this series and go to the Stanley Cup Final. If they do not win, it is a massive disappointment. The leadership of the Bruins have been here before. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci have all won a Stanley Cup and have been to multi finals. The pressure is on to complete this magical season. This will not be an easy task for the Bruins, but they can set the tone early. Teams like the Bruins should win with ease that is what good teams do but it is the playoffs and anything can happen.
Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman both have minimal playoff experience, but this defence has shown they can get it done. David Pastrnak is lethal anywhere and the one thing that was missing from previous Bruins teams is a strength which is their depth scoring and players understanding their roles.
However, the Panthers have an experienced goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky that could steal a series. But right now they have been rolling with Alex Lyon. Lyon is a big reason why the Panthers are in the playoffs. While the Bruins have set the record with 65 wins this season, they have shown they can win in different ways. Florida will give them a fight. Matthew Tkachuk and Carter Verhaeghe are players to watch. They carried the Panthers this far. And we know how Tkachuk is once the playoffs start.
The question will be is have the Panthers learned anything from past playoff mistakes?
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lightning
A series a lot of people will be watching is the Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lightning. It is a rematch from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs that saw the Lightning defeat the Maple Leafs in seven games behind a two-goal game from Nick Paul in Game 7. The Maple Leafs are out for revenge. The Lightning are looking to go to their fourth straight Stanley Cup Final, while the Maple Leafs are trying to win a playoff series for the first time since 2004. Tampa Bay knows what it takes to win. Does Toronto?
That question will be answered against the Eastern Conference champs. This group has faced a lot of heartbreak over the past several years. Can they turn it into success similar to what the Lightning did in 2020? We will find out.
The pressure is on the Maple Leafs to win this season. Toronto made a lot of changes at the trade deadline with the additions of Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Sam Lafferty, Jake McCabe, Luke Schenn, Erik Gustafsson, and others. With the overhaul by general manager Kyle Dubas, it is now or never for the Maple Leafs. The depth scoring is there now the top guys like Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and John Tavares have to come through along with goaltender Ilya Samsonov.
We have seen Toronto have the Lightning on the edge of defeat and could not close the door. The Lightning clearly have the edge with Andrei Vasilevskiy. But defensively this team is not the same without Ryan McDonagh. Yes, they still have Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman, but it feels like the Lightning are more vulnerable than they were in years past. We have seen the Lightning flip a switch. It all comes down to the Maple Leafs killer instinct.
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And will finally playing too much hockey catch up with the Lightning this year? All eyes are on this one.
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Carolina Hurricanes vs New York Islanders
The Carolina Hurricanes are limping into the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the Islanders had to battle their way into the playoffs in Game 82 of the season. The last time these two teams met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was in 2019. The Hurricanes swept the Islanders out of the playoffs en route to the Conference Final, where the Hurricanes were swept by the Bruins.
One of the cup contenders to begin the season will have a major hole in their offence when the playoffs begin. Andrei Svechnikov is lost for the season with a torn ACL and they just do not have the firepower offensively. Svechnikov was their offence. In his absence, Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas have stepped. Not to mention Brent Burns leads all defensemen in points. Jesperi Kotkaniemi has been solid too even though his contract might be a little high for what he is producing.
Carolina plays as their head coach Rod Brind’Amour did, but they will be in tough against a battle-tested team in the Islanders. Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello has built this team for the playoffs. The way they play a defence first style of play and when they get a lead they lock it down defensively. Offensively, the Islanders take advantage of their opponent’s mistakes. And with Ilya Sorokin between the pipes, the Islanders have a chance to take games in this series.
The Islanders really have a shot in this series, but they will need to find a way to win in Carolina. It took until Playoff Game 14 last year for a team to win in Carolina. Remember, in the Hurricanes first 13 games of the playoffs last year, the home team won every game. PNC Arena has not been an easy place to play for the Islanders, especially in the playoffs.
New Jersey Devils vs New York Rangers
The New Jersey Devils are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2018 where they will meet their Hudson River Rivals the New York Rangers. This is the first time since 2012 that the Devils and Rangers are meeting in the playoffs. However, the Rangers hold a 4-2 edge in the playoffs over their rivals. But the last time the teams meet the Devils beat the Rangers and went onto the Stanley Cup Final.
It is a surprise season, to say the least for the Devils. Nobody expected the Devils to make the playoffs and/or finish second in the division. At most, the Devils were supposed to challenge for a wild card spot. Well, the Devils have exceeded expectations. A new mindset and a winning attitude can change everything. Not to mention bringing in players with the right attitude as well.
While the young Devils core lack or have limited playoff experience, the players they brought in like John Marino, Ondrej Palat, Dougie Hamilton, and Erik Haula will help them when the playoffs begin. Especially when adversity hits because it always does in the playoffs. Damon Severson, Jesper Bratt, and Nico Hischier have been here before but it was a brief stint. The addition of Timo Meier gives the Devils an edge up front because he is the perfect player for the playoffs as he is a power forward.
As far as goaltending goes, Vitek Vanecek will get the nod and we will see how he fares because of his lack of playoff experience. But the Devils have the belief and are playing better defensively than they did last year. Again nobody will expect them to go far and that plays into their hands. But one thing is for sure is if the Devils can get going look for this team to make a run.
The New York Rangers are back in the playoffs. Expectations are high for this team after going to the Eastern Conference Final last year. Most of the team is back with some additions including Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane. Both players will be looking to make an impact once the playoffs begin. There is a reason general manager Chris Drury went out and got these two players.
The Rangers top-six forward group is one of the best in the league with the additions of Tarasenko and Kane. They can match any team in the league. Not to mention the rest of their forward group is good too. The “Kid Line” continues to produce for the Rangers and their fourth line is solid too.
Obviously, with Igor Shesterkin between the pipes, the Rangers have the edge there over the Devils. New York will have to try to put a defensive system in place to slow down the speed of New Jersey. The Rangers have a solid top-four pairing and can have a solid rotation in their bottom pairing.
Special teams are always a factor and the Rangers power play is deadly and will be again this year once the playoffs begin. The Devils will have to stay out of the box because once the Rangers power play gets going the game can be over quickly.
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