With the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the books, it’s time to make our second-round picks, but before we do, we have to look back at an amazing opening round.
I – like many others – have always believed that the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the best time of year for hockey fans and these last two weeks certainly didn’t disappoint.
It was unbelievable hockey night-in and night-out and it left us asking for more. It also had us asking some questions with perhaps the biggest being what happened to the Boston Bruins?
Boston’s record-breaking 135-point season came to a crashing halt as the Bruins lost in seven games to the Florida Panthers. The Bruins held a three-games-to-one series lead only to lose three consecutive contests including the seventh and decisive game on home ice by a 4-3 margin in overtime.
As I mentioned in the opening round predictions, the thing that scared me about this Bruins team was that they had not faced any adversity all season long and it would be interesting to see how they would react should they encounter it.
The Bruins blew third-period leads in games six and seven and head coach Jim Montgomery’s decision to ride Linus Ullmark for the first six games after spending the last half of the season alternating between Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman didn’t help matters either.
Perhaps the most telling quote was from Taylor Hall of the Bruins, who stated prior to game seven that “this is obviously the biggest thing that we’ve faced. If we get through this, the sky’s the limit.”
It was a great point by Hall. Had the Bruins won game seven, they would have had a great reference point to draw from for the rest of the playoffs. Sadly, for Hall and the Bruins, they never had that reference point from the season and in the end our prediction of Boston in five games looked silly.
The Seattle Kraken prevailing over Colorado was also an opening round shocker.
The Kraken’s goaltending was an issue all season long but Phillip Grubauer was rock solid for Seattle in posting a .926 save percentage in the opening round. The Kraken lost 40-goal scorer Jared McCann in game four of the series but Seattle’s depth paid off with 15 different players scoring in the seven games.
As we also pointed out in our previous column, the Kraken were playing with ‘house money’ and it showed as they became the only team in NHL playoff history to win their first-ever playoff series against the defending champions.
As for the other series, we were bang on when it came to Toronto in six, Dallas in six and Carolina in six. We had Vegas in six as well but all they needed was five games to dispose of Winnipeg.
We also took losses with Los Angeles losing to Edmonton and we were on the wrong side of a game seven winner having chosen the Rangers to prevail instead of New Jersey.
In the end, we went 4-4 but could have gone 7-1 had the Rangers, Avalanche and Bruins figured out a way to win game seven.
So now we look ahead to the second round.
#C2 DALLAS versus #WC1 SEATTLE
One of the reasons why Seattle was able to advance against Colorado was their advantage when it came to depth up front.
They won’t have that same advantage against Dallas. The Stars are a deep and talented team that can match or even exceed Seattle’s depth when it comes to the forward group.
Even though Grubauer was solid between the pipes for the Kraken in the opening round, I’m not completely sold on him being better than Dallas’ Jake Oettinger and the Kraken will need him to be.
The playoffs are not only a test of your physical ability but also in your ability to reset and maintain your focus. I have my doubts whether the Kraken can do that after such an emotional win against Colorado in the opening round.
Dallas wins this series because of their advantage when it comes to high-end talent and goaltending.
DALLAS IN SIX
#P1 VEGAS versus #P2 EDMONTON
Many like the Oilers to win this series and it pains me to have to agree with them.
The Oilers scored 25 goals in their series against the Kings with nine of those goals being scored on the power play where Edmonton tallied at a ridiculous 56.3% clip.
The bad news for Edmonton is that Vegas was the least-penalized team during the regular season and was the second-least penalized team in the opening round.
Without question the Knights need to contain Connor McDavid and company and a key will be their aggressive forecheck.
If they’re effective in pinning down the Oilers in their zone, the Knights will create scoring opportunities for themselves. If they don’t, there is going to be plenty of space for McDavid and company when they hit the neutral zone.
EDMONTON IN SEVEN
#A2 TORONTO versus #WC2 FLORIDA
Both teams are coming off extremely emotional wins in the first round as the Panthers rallied to beat the President’s Trophy winning Bruins while Toronto won its first playoff series since 2004.
Now the question is which team can do a better job of resetting for round two?
As Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander go, so go the Leafs. Those four accounted for over half of Toronto’s goals in the opening round. If the Panthers can contain this quartet, their chances of winning increase significantly.
The deciding factor for me in this series is special teams. Florida’s penalty kill was ranked 23rd during the regular season and was awful against Boston (59.3% kill rate) while Toronto’s power play ranked second in the league during the regular season. Florida has to stay out of the penalty box if they are to have any chance.
Both teams also have some questions when it comes to goaltending but in the end it’s the Leafs who move on.
TORONTO IN SIX.
#M1 CAROLINA VERSUS #M2 NEW JERSEY
This series should be entertaining to watch as both teams rely on speed and quickness.
The Devils were down two-games-to-none against the Rangers before head coach Lindy Ruff made a goaltending switch from Vitek Vanecek to Akira Schmid. All Schmid did was win four of five games while posting a .951 save percentage. Now the question is can he do it again?
The Devils need to get more from Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt as those two combined for 63 goals during the regular season but only one in the opening round. Hischier was effective with five assists but he didn’t score on 22 shots. That will change.
One point separated these two teams during the course of the regular season and it won’t shock anyone if this series goes seven games.
In the end, the Devils continue their run.
NEW JERSEY IN SEVEN
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.