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
Winnipeg Jets vs Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights finished with the Western Conference’s highest point total with 111. They are a tough road team having gathered an excellent 26-7-8 record during the regular season. While they may not be a powerful as the highly favored Boston Bruins, they aren’t far from them.
They are led by Jack Eichel who accumulated 27 goals and 39 assists in 67 games. Jonathan Marchessault pitched in 28 goals and 29 assists in 76 games. In goal, it appears that the Vegas club will go with their newly acquired netminder Jonathan Quick. He has a 49-43 playoffs record and carries a .921 save percentage with a 2.31 goals-against average. With Logan Thompson still recovering from an injury, it looks like Laurent Brossoit will back up Quick.
The Golden Knights special teams are not especially impressive. They rank 18th in power play success rate with 20.3 percent. On the penalty kill they are 19th with a 77.4 percent kill rate.
The Jets almost didn’t make the cut for the postseason with some less-than-competitive play down the stretch. The Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators were on the Jets’ heels just two and three points behind them respectively. In the end, the firepower of three players helped get the Winnipeg club qualified for the playoffs. Kyle Connor led the team with 31 goals and 49 assists in 82 games. Josh Morrissey could be a Norris Trophy candidate with his 16 goals and 60 assists in 78 games. Then there’s always Mark Scheifele who kicked in 42 goals and 26 assists in 81 games.
In goal, the Jets have a definite advantage with Connor Hellebuyck protecting the net. He had a 37-25-2 regular season record with a .920 save percentage and a 2.49 goals-against average. David Rittich will be the backup. Hellebuyck has a 16-19 playoffs record with a .921 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against average.
The Jets rank 23rd in power play success with 19.3 percent, Their penalty kill is excellent with an 82.4 percent rate which places them 7th.
Prediction: Vegas in five games
Seattle Kraken vs Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche who are the defending Cup champs have done it without their captain Gabriel Landeskog. He will not be playing in the postseason as he has been out with a knee injury all season. It hasn’t phased the reigning champs as they went down to the very last regular season game to clinch the Central Division title. The Avs were led by none other than Nathan MacKinnon. He had a hat-trick in their last game against the Nashville Predators to pace the Colorado club to jump over the Dallas Stars and place first in the Central Division. Mackinnon had 42 goals and 69 assists for 111 points. He also added 12 power play tallies with 22 helpers. If the Kraken want to advance out of the first round in their initial playoff appearance, they will need to figure out how to keep Mackinnon off the scoresheet. Good luck with that!
The other scoring threat on the Avalanche is Mikko Rantanen. He knew with Landeskog out, he had to step up, and boy did he! He collected 55 goals and 48 assists with 13 power-play goals and 24 assists. If the Kraken can’t stop the dynamic scoring duo of Mackinnon/Rantanen, they may be on the golf course earlier than hoped.
In net, the Avalanche have found a good one in Alexandar Georgiev. He had an impressive 40-16-6 record with a 2.53 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. He could carry them to the Finals if he continues that level of play.
The Kraken in their very first postseason competition will have their hands full. They have Jared McCann and Vince Dunn leading the way. McCann had 40 goals and 30 assists in 79 games. Dunn had 14 goals and 50 assists in 81 games from the blue line. The Kraken are deeply outmatched in net. While Martin Jones did well with a 27-13-3 record, his goals-against average was a meager 2.99, and his save percentage of .887 is nothing to write home about.
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In the end, the Kraken will be overwhelmed by the Cup champs, but hey they did make the playoff in their second season.
Prediction: Avalanche in five games
Los Angeles Kings vs Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers peaked at exactly the right time by winning nine straight games. They are on a roll and have the best offensive star in the game in Connor McDavid. He finished with 64 goals and 89 assists for 153 points. Almost half of his points (71) came on the power play. Let’s face it, there’s no way to completely stop him, so you must contain him at best. Yet, the Oilers have a three-headed scoring machine when you add both Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the picture. Draisaitl had 52 goals (32 on the power play) and 76 assists (30 on the power play). RNH had 37 goals (15 power play) and 67 assists (38 power play) to show their explosive potential.
The issue with the Oilers is their defense. Their two goalies, Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell have a less-than-attractive .903 save percentage and a 3.02 goals-against average. The Oilers’ strategy is to outscore you, and they have all the guns to do it.
The Kings are led by their trio of scorers too. They have Anze Kopitar, Kevin Fiala, and Adrian Kempe. Kopitar added 28 goals and 46 assists in 82 games at the age of 35. Fiala has been a nice addition with 23 goals, 49 assists in 69 games. Kempe had his best season with 41 goals and 26 assists in 82 games. So, the Kings can’t possibly match the Edmonton offensive output.
The Kings had a pleasant surprise in goal with Pheonix Copley coming in to show good stats in net. He had a 24-6-3 record with a .903 save percentage and a 2.64 goals-against average. He will be backed up by newly acquired Joonas Korpisalo who collected a 7-3-1 record with a .921 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against average. With the Oilers’ firepower, the Kings’ goalies will have their hands full.
The way the Edmonton team is playing now it may be a huge challenge to stop their momentum. But, don’t count the Kings out… they have some talent too.
Prediction: Oilers in six games
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Minnesota Wild vs Dallas Stars
These two Central Division foes fought it out with the Stars just being surpassed on the last day of the season by the Avalanche. The Dallas club has three outstanding scorers who can help them in the postseason. All three played every game of the regular season. Young Jason Robertson who is just 23 years old, added 46 goals and 63 assists. Veteran Jamie Benn had 33 goals and 45 assists while 38-year-old Joe Pavelski is still doing it with 28 goals, 49 assists.
The Stars finished the season winning six straight but were surpassed by the Cup champion Avalanche for first place in the Central Division. They were led by Jake Oettinger in net who had an impressive 37-11-11 record. He also had a .919 save percentage with a 2.37 GAA to go along with five shutouts.
The Wild regressed down the stretch with just a 5-3-2 record. They are led by Kirill Kaprizov who missed some games with an injury but still managed 40 goals and 35 assists in 67 games. Young Matt Boldy who just turned 22 years old had a very successful second season. He was the Wild’s 12th overall pick in 2019. He tallied 31 goals and 32 assists in 81 games.
In goal, the Wild have legend Marc-Andre Fleury who had a 24-16-4 record. He had a .908 save percentage and a 2.85 GAA. With Filip Gustavsson having a good season with a 22-9-7 record with a .931 save percentage and a 2.10 GAA, the Wild are solid in net.
This will be an entertaining series with two equally rated teams. It may come down to the goaltending as it often does in the postseason. This one is tough to call.
Prediction: Stars in seven games
That concludes the Western Conference playoff preview. Be sure to catch the Eastern Conference preview too!
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