NHL Push for the Playoffs: Not many potential series look ‘easy’ this year

NHL Push for the Playoffs: Not many 'easy' postseason matchups to be had
Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images

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.

In the NHL, fans are accustomed to Cinderella runs. It’s fair to call certain outcomes “upsets,” but these upsets happen often enough that it’s almost an upset when all of the favorites succeed.

(In fact, I’d argue that it’s a shame that we don’t really get to see two powerhouse favorites slug it out in a Stanley Cup Final all that often.)

That said, most postseasons include teams that “shouldn’t be there.” To be clear: some of the teams who seemingly don’t belong end up making deep runs. The 2020-21 Canadiens rank as the most immediate example. It’s far too easy to forget that the Habs really did seem to make the postseason by default (the North Division’s lower ranks were dreadful). If you want to take a snapshot of Montreal’s 2020-21 mediocrity, consider that they allowed nine more goals than they scored.

Looking at the potential 2021-22 playoff field, it’s striking that just about every playoff team … belongs there?

It’s most obvious in the Eastern Conference. Remarkably, the eight-team East playoff field was already set by April 17.

Obviously, there’s still a serious standings gap between the best of the best, and the wild-card ranks. But this is truly a year where it really shouldn’t be that much of an embarrassment to lose in the first round.

If someone told you that the Bruins, Penguins, or Capitals went deep in the playoffs, would you find that unthinkable? All three of those teams are hovering around the wild-card spots, but each presents scenarios where they can put things together. And they wouldn’t even need a 2010 Jaroslav Halak-type run of incredible goaltending to steal series wins.

[Plenty of powerful contenders topping PHT’s Power Rankings]

Out West, we’ve seen the rise of teams like the Blues, Wild, and Oilers. Beyond the powerful Flames and the juggernaut Avalanche, likely 2/3 divisional matchups feature strong teams.

Even the teams who are shakier still bring more to the table that most lower first-round fodder.

  • The Stars aren’t that far removed from a Stanley Cup Final run, and they feature the sort of line (Roope HintzJason RobertsonJoe Pavelski) and defense that could really give favorites headaches.
  • No, things haven’t always been smooth for the Kings. Still, they’re a top-10 (sometimes top-5) team in the sort of underlying stats that signal a team that could be a playoff nightmare. Phillip Danault, for example, could be a real headache if deployed against the likes of Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau or Nathan MacKinnon.
  • Sometimes, the playoffs evoke the NBA’s tendency to “shorten your bench.” That format makes the Predators viable. Juuse Saros is an elite goalie, Roman Josi‘s playing out of his mind, and key scorers like Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene keep delivering. Not exactly a cakewalk if everything’s clicking.
  • As much of a mess as the Golden Knights are, their high-end talent is scary enough that they’d almost be a cruel wild-card draw for an Avalanche team who dominated the standings.

In an NHL enamored by parity, this season’s marked by severe differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” It could be fascinating to see what happens in a postseason unusually bereft in such “have-nots.”

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (sorted by points percentage)

ATLANTIC DIVISION
Panthers vs. Capitals
Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

METROPOLITAN DIVISION
Hurricanes vs. Bruins
Rangers vs. Penguins

CENTRAL DIVISION
Avalanche vs. Stars
Wild vs. Blues

PACIFIC DIVISION
Flames vs. Predators
Oilers vs. Kings

TODAY’S KEY GAMES

Rangers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m. ET
Predators vs. Lightning, 7 p.m. ET
Maple Leafs vs. Panthers, 7 p.m. ET
Canucks vs. Flames, 10 p.m. ET

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Panthers – clinched No. 1 seed in Eastern Conference
Maple Leafs – clinched
Lightning – clinched
Bruins – clinched
Red Wings – eliminated
Sabres – eliminated
Senators – eliminated
Canadiens – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Hurricanes – clinched
Rangers – clinched
Penguins – clinched
Capitals – clinched
Islanders – eliminated
Blue Jackets – eliminated
Flyers – eliminated
Devils – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Avalanche – clinched No. 1 seed in Western Conference
Wild – clinched
Blues – clinched
Predators – 97%
Stars – 72.8%
Jets – eliminated
Blackhawks – eliminated
Coyotes – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Flames – clinched Pacific Division
Oilers – clinched
Kings – 96.8%
Golden Knights – 31.9%
Canucks – 1.5%
Ducks – eliminated
Sharks – eliminated
Kraken – eliminated

draft lottery
Getty Images

DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE (via Tankathon)

18.5% – Coyotes
13.5% – Canadiens
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% – Sharks
3.0% – Ducks
2.5% – Blue Jackets
2.0% – Jets
1.5% – Islanders
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 selection in the 2022 draft.”

The 2022 NHL Draft Lottery drawing will be held May 10

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE

Connor McDavid, Oilers – 116 points
Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers – 113
Johnny Gaudreau, Flames – 109
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 107
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 102
Kirill Kaprizov, Wild – 101
Matthew Tkachuk, Flames -100

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 58 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 54
Chris Kreider, Rangers – 51
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 50
Kirill Kaprizov, Wild – 45
Kyle Connor, Jets – 44
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 43

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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