2022 NHL Playoffs: First Round, Stanley Cup predictions

2 Comments

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.

LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

Kris Letang Penguins
Getty Images
0 Comments

PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

“I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

“He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

“I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

“First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

“The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

“It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

“It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

“Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

“I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

“On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

“It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

“(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

“It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.

Deal for Coyotes’ proposed arena approved by Tempe council

David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Tempe City Council has unanimously approved a proposal for a new Arizona Coyotes arena and entertainment district, clearing the way for a public vote on the project next year.

The City Council approved the proposal 7-0 after a lengthy meeting that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

The $2.1 billion project would include a 16,000-seat arena, practice rink, 1,600 apartments, two hotels and a theater. Approval of the project was the final step before it goes to referendum on May 16.

The team is currently playing at Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena, by far the NHL’s smallest arena.

The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home since the city of Glendale pulled out of a multimillion-dollar lease at Gila River Arena. Arizona had been playing on an annual lease until Glendale said it would not be renewed for the 2022-23 season.