2022 NHL Playoffs: First Round, Stanley Cup predictions

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The 2021-22 NHL regular season is finally over after that Seattle Kraken-Winnipeg Jets game that determined the final percentages for the upcoming draft lottery.

That means it’s Stanley Cup playoff time — a two-month grind where 16 teams will be whittled down to two, which will end with one champion. Will the Tampa Bay Lightning make it a three-peat? Can the Colorado Avalanche finally reach the top? How magical will this spring be for the Florida Panthers? Is a Stanley Cup “Storm Surge” in our future?

With the First Round beginning Monday night, it’s time for the ProHockeyTalk team to give their predictions and how we see the next few months unfolding.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 First Round schedule, TV info]

FIRST ROUND – EASTERN CONFERENCE

PANTHERS vs. CAPITALS

Adam: Panthers in 7
Jake: Panthers in 6
James: Panthers in 6
Michael: Panthers in 5
Sean: Panthers in 5

HURRICANES vs. BRUINS

Adam: Hurricanes in 6
Jake: Bruins in 7
James: Hurricanes in 7
Michael: Bruins in 6
Sean: Hurricanes in 6

MAPLE LEAFS vs. LIGHTNING

Adam: Lightning in 6
Jake: Lightning in 7
James: Lightning in 7
Michael: Maple Leafs in 7
Sean: Lightning in 7

RANGERS vs. PENGUINS

Adam: Rangers in 7
Jake: Rangers in 6
James: Rangers in 6
Michael: Rangers in 7
Sean: Rangers in 6

Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

FIRST ROUND – WESTERN CONFERENCE

AVALANCHE vs. PREDATORS

Adam: Avalanche in 5
Jake: Avalanche in 5
James: Avalanche in 5
Michael: Avalanche in 4
Sean: Avalanche in 5

FLAMES vs. STARS

Adam: Flames in 7
Jake: Flames in 6
James: Flames in 6
Michael: Flames in 5
Sean: Flames in 5

WILD vs. BLUES

Adam: Wild in 6
Jake: Blues in 7
James: Wild in 7
Michael: Wild in 7
Sean: Blues in 7

OILERS vs. KINGS

Adam: Kings in 7
Jake: Oilers in 7
James: Oilers in 6
Michael: Oilers in 6
Sean: Oilers in 6

NHL goalie ranking
Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

CONFERENCE FINALS

Adam: CAR over TB in 7 / COL over CGY in 6
Jake: TBL over NYR in 6 / COL over EDM in 5
James: TBL over CAR in 6 / COL over CGY in 6
Michael: TOR over NYR in 7 / COL over CGY in 5
Sean: FLA over NYR in 7 / COL over CGY in 6 

stanley cup
AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City, Dale Gerhard

STANLEY CUP FINAL

Adam: Avalanche over Hurricanes in 6 (Conn Smythe: Cale Makar)

Colorado is, for me, the best team in the NHL and has been for a couple of years. I believe in talent. Teams with this level of talent eventually get there no matter how many times they lose before that. This Tampa Bay core eventually got its championship. St. Louis eventually won. Washington eventually won. It will happen for the Avalanche, and I do not see why it will not be this season. The forwards are loaded with all-stars, the defense is the best unit in the NHL with impact player after impact player, and Darcy Kuemper is a very underrated goalie that has had a spectacular season behind a fantastic team. They do not have an obvious weakness. They not only break through the second round ceiling they have been stuck at the best three years, but this core gets its championship.

Jake:  Avalanche over Lightning in 6 (Conn Smythe: Cale Makar)

If Colorado stays mostly healthy and plays its game, I believe they have the ingredients to get it done. The Avs’ recent playoff history gives me pause that they can deliver on their potential, but I still have the most faith in that roster over anyone else’s. I had a more difficult time picking an Eastern Conference winner, but every team aside from the Rangers and Lightning has a serious goaltending question mark, so I will bet on Andrei Vasilevskiy and the two-time defending champs until someone proves they can take them down. I predict Cale Makar and the Avs win an epic series to dethrone Tampa.

James: Avalanche over Lightning in 6 (Conn Smythe: Nathan MacKinnon)

When in doubt, go with your offseason predictions. Spoiler: I’m in a heap of doubt. Both the Lightning and Avalanche face treacherous paths to a Stanley Cup Final matchup (for all of the Maple Leafs’ agony, they could absolutely end the Bolts’ repeat bid). Also, Cale Makar enjoyed a more dynamic regular season than MacKinnon, giving me some pause with the playoff MVP choice. Still, I’m sticking with the Lightning passing the torch to the Avalanche, and a fiery MacKinnon leading the way.

Michael: Avalanche over Maple Leafs in 7 (Conn Smythe: Darcy Kuemper)

Kuemper shows the hockey world that Colorado made a great move in getting him from Arizona in the off-season with superb goaltending, especially against Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs.

Sean: Panthers over Avalanche in 7 (Conn Smythe: Jonathan Huberdeau)

This season’s it’s been one of rebirth for the Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky has rebounded. Claude Giroux has found a new gear. Sam Bennett posted a career year. And Andrew Brunette, who took over the job following Joel Quenneville’s resignation, guided a 7-0-0 team to the Presidents’ Trophy. Why not believe they can go wire-to-wire and deliver the franchise its first championship? Stanley Cup opportunities can be fleeting, which is why GM Bill Zito strengthened his roster over the course of the season knowing his team has a shot. Get ready for a parade this summer that should A1A, Las Olas, and maybe a few boats down the intracoastal waterway.