Brock shares his predictions for the first round of the 2023 NHL Playoffs
  • All stats are from 5-on-5 play unless noted otherwise.

Eastern Conference

FLORIDA PANTHERS (42-32-8) 92 pts

BOSTON BRUINS (65-12-5) 135 pts

The Bruins just finished a record-breaking regular season, going 63-12-7 for 135 points, an NHL record, so to hell with the President’s Trophy “curse”, right? There’s no way the Bruins don’t make a run, right? Well, not so fast. Despite Florida needing to string a lot of wins together down the stretch just to earn the final wild card berth, this isn’t a great matchup for Boston. The Panthers are going to want to play fast. They will want to be aggressive on the forecheck. They will want to put anything and everything on the net, and then press hard for the rebounds. This isn’t an ideal style for Boston, as they like to slow things down, play a possession game and look for chances. They want to play thorough and methodically, while executing their chances with a surgeon’s precision. This is not ideal when you’re playing a team with quick strike scoring capabilities like the Panthers.

If Florida can get a lead Boston’s style could present some issues on offense. If the Bruins get behind late, they may not have enough time to run their offense as they desire, which will necessitate them to try and force scoring chances, which will play into Florida’s strengths as they will try to counter quickly. Boston’s edge in net can’t be overlooked, however. Linus Ullmark has been nothing short of phenomenal this season. The Vezina Trophy is surely his, he’s just waiting for the announcement. Ullmark could certainly steal a series even if Boston’s even strength play isn’t up to par. I can’t ignore the odds here, though. I believe Florida is a live dog, and the winner of this series will be the team that can dictate play, which makes a payout of more than 2:1 very desirable. I’m saying Panthers in 7. Give me Florida +275.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS (42-31-9) 93 pts

CAROLINA HURRICANES (52-21-9) 113 pts

If you’re a fan of low scoring games, boy do I have the series for you. Defense and goaltending will be prevalent in this matchup. Both of these teams allowed fewer than 2.2 goals per game at 5-on-5 play this season. The Canes defense has played particularly well, earning an xGA/60 mark of just 2.12, which was the lowest in the league. The Islanders sit considerably higher at 2.74, but the wonderful play of Ilya Sorokin has kept pucks out of the net. For the Islanders to prevail in this matchup, Sorokin will have to continue being a wall. Carolina has the best xGF% share in the NHL at 59.85%, over 3% better than #2 New Jersey at 56.53%. Carolina should have been entering the postseason as one of the top favorites to win the Cup, but injuries to Max Pacioretty & Andrei Svechnikov have cast shadows of doubt over this team. Appropriately so, in my opinion, since that removes a lot of goals from the lineup.

My guess is that Sorokin gives New York the opportunity to take a few games in this series, but Carolina’s dominant play at even strength eventually gets to him. Even if it’s only for 2-3 goals a game that could very well be enough. I’m saying Canes in 6. Give me Carolina -200.

NEW YORK RANGERS (47-22-13) 107 pts

NEW JERSEY DEVILS (52-22-8) 112 pts

This is the Round 1 series that I’m most excited for. I think whoever wins here will go on to win the Eastern Conference. On one side we have a Rangers team fraught with star power, especially after two headlining deadline acquisitions in Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko. Then you have Zibanejad & Panarin in the forward corps, and Adam Fox lurking on the blue line. Oh yeah, they also have one of the best goaltenders in the world in net with Igor Shesterkin. On the other side of the ice, you have a young New Jersey team who has finally arrived after a well-executed rebuild. Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier & Dougie Hamilton have been scoring machines for New Jersey, and they have some more great talent complementing them in Dawson Mercer & Jesper Bratt. Now you can also throw in Jack Hughes’ brother Luke, who made his highly anticipated debut in the final week of the regular season. This series is littered with stars and young talent who know how to put the puck in the net, so it should be an absolute treat to watch.

I like New Jersey here. They play fast, they are opportunistic, and can score off the rush or cycle. But I think their speed will give them an edge here. Not to mention the potential “x-factor” they now have in Luke Hughes. I think we all remember what Cale Makar did for the Avalanche in the 2019 postseason. I’m not saying Hughes will replicate that, but he will be a welcome addition to a team that can already light the lamp. Igor Shesterkin should have his moments, as well as the Rangers stars. So, I’m saying it goes the distance and the Devils take it in 7. Give me New Jersey -120.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (46-30-6) 98 pts

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (50-21-11) 111 pts

This is probably the most anticipated series for the general public, and that makes sense. These are two of the most prominent teams in hockey, and it is also a rematch from last year’s thriller of a series which saw the Lightning win in 7 games after falling behind in the series 3-2. The whirlwind of attention that Toronto receives come playoff time also plays into the hype.

The Leafs have been heavily criticized and mocked for not winning a playoff series since 2004, but if you ever look at hockey memes then you probably already know that. So, is this the year that the Leafs snap the streak? The odds are in their favor. They finished 13 points ahead of the Lightning in the regular season and are favorites to advance to Round 2. But when the puck drops on Tuesday night, all of that means exactly squat. They will still have to go out and do something they haven’t done in 19 years – beat a team in a 7-game series. Though they had a much better regular season than Tampa, this is not an easy draw. The Lightning know what it takes to win in the postseason, having made Stanley Cup Finals appearances the past 3 years, hoisting the Cup twice. They are talented and can run up the scoreboard. They also still have Andrei Vailevskiy, who when on his game, is virtually unbeatable. I think this series boils down to which version of the Lightning we get. Do we get the team that buckles down in the postseason and is relentless in their forechecking efforts? Or do we get the team that appeared to be streaky down the stretch, who looked like they had lost their defensive toughness?

My bet is on the former. The bottom line is that Jon Cooper and this Lightning group know what it takes to win in the postseason. They have proved that repeatedly these past 3 seasons. Toronto, on the other hand, hasn’t exactly been able to get to that next level. I won’t be able to confidently back them until they demonstrate that ability to raise their game when they need to. I’m saying Lightning in 6. Give me Tampa Bay +135.

Western Conference

WINNIPEG JETS (46-33-3) 95 pts

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS (51-22-9) 111 pts

Vegas has been through the gauntlet with injuries this year, but somehow powered through it and locked up the #1 seed in the West – and the home ice that comes with it. That’s one of two boosts that the Golden Knights could be getting before Game 1. The other being the return of captain Mark Stone who has not played since January. While his return to the lineup hasn’t been announced, he has been skating with the team, indicating that a return is imminent. This would be another key player returning to the lineup in a short span, as Jack Eichel rejoined the team on Thursday after a weeklong absence. This series was the easiest call for me out of all 8 first round matchups. I gotta go with Vegas here.

The Jets have leaned on Connor Hellebuyck all season, like they typically do every season, and before warming up in April, the Jets seemed to be stumbling down the stretch. Vegas on the other hand has faced adversity this season, and more importantly, came through it. They are getting healthy at the right time, and they have that ever important home ice advantage in the desert. I’m saying Golden Knights in 6. Give me Vegas -166.

SEATTLE KRAKEN (46-28-8) 100 pts

COLORADO AVALANCHE (51-24-7) 109 pts

It took the full 82 games and a furious stretch since the all-star break, but the defending champion Avalanche took the Central Division, which gives them home ice until the Conference Finals, and that’s only if they draw Vegas. Taking down the defending champs on their home ice – that’s a tough ask for a team that’s only in its 2nd year of existence and who is making their first postseason appearance. Of course, what the Kraken did this season will continually be overshadowed by what Vegas did in their first season, but it is an incredible accomplishment for this team to earn a playoff berth in Year 2. They showed signs of being a playoff caliber team last year, but poor goaltending and an eventual breakdown at even strength play kept them firmly in the cellar. The goaltending has improved this season, but there is still a lot to be desired in the crease. Despite the issues in net, I would consider Seattle a live dog. Like the Kings, they score by committee – only better. Seattle finished the year as the highest scoring 5-on-5 team in the league, a very surprising stat. They are solid in their own zone as well, allowing only 2.41 xGA/60, good for 3rd best in the league. They want to play low-event hockey, allowing the 2nd fewest shots per game at 25.84, while only putting 30.29 pucks on net themselves. Their ability to finish is what gets them goals.

The Kraken finished with a SH% of 10.34%, tops in the league. So how is that going to play against the red-hot defending champs? My guess is not well. While the Kraken were the best even strength scoring team this year, the underlying numbers aren’t as flattering. Seattle sits 12th in xGF% and 21st in xGF/60, suggesting there was some variance involved with their potent offensive numbers. Couple this with the fact that Colorado is 4th in team SV% and gives up the 2nd fewest scoring chances in the league, and I’d bet that we will see some of that scoring dry up for Seattle. Colorado’s elite talent should be able to overwhelm the Kraken on defense. That being said, I still believe Seattle to be a live dog, especially with the news that Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog will not be returning this year, so a wager on them at +235 wouldn’t be a horrible play. But if it were life or death, I’d side with the defending champs. I’m saying Avs in 6. Give me Colorado -275.

LOS ANGELES KINGS (47-25-10) 104 pts

EDMONTON OILERS (50-23-9) 109 pts

This series burned me last year when the Oilers defeated the Kings in Game 7, so let’s see if I can get it correct this time around. I’d be willing to bet that this breakdown looks awfully similar to last years. Once again, the Kings enter the postseason with some underlying metrics that may surprise you. I don’t need to tell you about the firepower that Edmonton has in Connor McDavid & Leon Draisaitl. But for all of the talk around that vaunted Oilers offense, the Kings are right there with them in the advanced metrics.

Los Angeles has better Corsi & Fenwick percentages, and the teams are separated by 0.27 goals in xGF%/60. They are also separated in HDCF/60 & SCF/60 by less than 1 chance per 60 minutes. The biggest difference between these two offenses is where the scoring comes from. While Edmonton is top-heavy leaning on their two superstars for production, the Kings score by committee. In recent years we have seen how important it is to be able to roll all 4 lines in the postseason. The biggest difference in this matchup from last season, in my opinion, is the additions that the Kings have made since that series ended. They traded for winger Kevin Fiala last summer, and it has paid immediate dividends. Fiala is 2nd on the team in scoring with 72 points despite playing only 69 games. The other big move that Los Angeles made came at the deadline when they acquired goalie Joonas Korpisalo from Columbus. He has been on fire since the change of scenery. In 11 starts with LA he has only given up more than 2 goals only twice, with one those games being a meaningless Game 82, and he has also posted a SV% of .921. It’s worth mentioning that Fiala is currently battling an injury, but the team is hopeful that he will be dressed for Game 1 on Monday.

After going the distance with the Oilers last year, I believe Los Angeles has made the right moves to get past Edmonton this year. If they can control that lethal Oilers powerplay, I think they will win this series by being the better even strength team. I’m gonna roll the dice with the underdog Kings again this year. I’m saying Kings in 7. Give me Los Angeles +210.

MINNESOTA WILD (46-25-11) 103 pts

DALLAS STARS (47-21-14) 108 pts

With the cap issues that the Wild are dealing with it was thought that it may be a couple of years before they could really make a run at a Stanley Cup. But here they are, as a 103-point team who finished 3rd in the Central Division. The problem is that they are about to run into a buzz saw. Dallas didn’t even win the Central – they finished 1 point behind Colorado – but this is the best team in the West, in my opinion. Dallas finished the season with the best goal differential in the Western Conference (+67), the fewest goals allowed (218), and the 3rd most goals scored (285). At their core, these teams are similar. They both have a mix of young talented players and a solid veteran presence. They both have solid goaltending (both have a team SV% above .920), and they both want to play low-event hockey. But to put it bluntly, Dallas is just the better team.

The emergence of Wyatt Johnston in his rookie year has been a major boost for Dallas, and he complements their other young superstar, Jason Robertson, very well. Whereas Robertson found a home on a line with Hintz & Pavelski, Johnston has settled in nicely with Jamie Benn. As a result, we have seen a resurgence in Benn’s scoring, as he eclipsed the 70-point mark for the first time since 2017. Minnesota’s defense & goaltending should be able to secure them a win or two, but I worry that they won’t be able to generate enough offense to keep up with Robertson & company. I’m saying Stars in 6. Give me Dallas -138.

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