The 2021-22 NHL regular seasons are officially over. This postseason is arguably the most exciting in sports and will get underway May 2.
After leading the league in standings points during the regular season, the Florida Panthers won the Presidents' Trophy. The Eastern Conference's top seed will go to Florida, while the Western Conference's top seed will go to the Colorado Avalanche.
There are many teams in the NHL postseason that have the potential to make deep runs to reach the Stanley Cup Final. There are many questions to be answered with this deep field of teams in order to help these teams win the Stanley Cup Final.
Let's get down to the most pressing questions before the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs start.
Can the Maple Leafs make it past the first round?
This seems to be everyone's million-dollar question. The Maple Leafs have not been a strong team in the first round of the playoffs in recent years. Toronto was eliminated in the first round of each of the five most recent postseasons, despite having scored at least 95 points during the regular season in three years. High-profile rosters don't always translate into a winning team on the ice when the weather is warm.
This is, however, one of the best Maple Leafs teams in a long time. Auston Matthews, the star center, is coming off a regular season that saw him score 106 points. Matthews also became the NHL's 60th-goal scorer after the 2011-12 season, when Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos scored 60 goal on the nose. Matthews has been unstoppable lately, scoring 10 goals in April. Matthews is not alone in his incredible play, but he's not alone. Three other Maple Leafs players have scored at least 27 goals, including William Nylander, Mitchell Marner, and John Tavares. They average 3.8 goals per game, which is fourth-best in league. It would shock if the Maple Leafs were to lose in round one if they could match this Toronto offense.
Can the Panthers defeat the Presidents' Trophy jinxes?
After scoring 122 points, the Florida Panthers won their first Presidents Trophy in franchise history. Despite having an extraordinary season, the Presidents' trophy has not meant success in the postseason like the majority of previous winners. Since the 2004-05 NHL Lockout, the Stanley Cup's most successful regular-season team in the league has won only twice since then. After winning the Presidents Trophy in 2008, the Detroit Red Wings won Stanley Cup 2008. The Chicago Blackhawks won it all the way in 2013. Since the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2013, no Presidents Trophy winner has ever advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Panthers are the best team to do the job. Florida's regular season ended with four players surpassing the 30-goal mark, and three players exceeding the 80 point mark. Jonathan Huberdeau, the winger, was the team's top scorer with 115 points (35 goals and 85 assists). He also tied for second place in the NHL in points. At the trade deadline, the additions of winger Claude Giroux as well as defenseman Ben Chiarot proved to be significant upgrades. The East is a tough place with teams such as the Carolina Hurricanes or the Toronto Maple Leafs making havoc, but the Panthers have the most extensive roster. Execution is the key.
Is Sidney Crosby still able to create magic in the postseason?
Sidney Crosby was the Pittsburgh Penguins' No. The standards are extremely high since Sidney Crosby was selected as the No. 1 pick in 2005 NHL Draft. This is what happens when a team wins three Stanley Cups with Crosby as their star. Crosby may not be as explosive now as he was in his prime, but the Penguins star still has some special moments. Crosby's regular season total of 84 points, 31 goals and 53 assists was his best mark since 2018, when he had 100 points.
Crosby, who has 191 points in the postseason during his NHL career, has been the straw that stirs up the Penguins' offense. After their Stanley Cup win in 2017, Pittsburgh has not made it to the first round in three of its four seasons. The Crosby of old will be needed to ensure that the Penguins make deep playoff runs.
Will the Lightning be a dynasty? Can they win their third consecutive Stanley Cup title?
After winning the Stanley Cup in each of their previous two seasons, the Tampa Bay Lightning are now aiming for a third consecutive win. The Eastern Conference has received a lot of attention, with the Hurricanes and Panthers being the most prominent. The Lightning were not far behind with 108 points.
This group would be very fortunate if Tampa Bay can do three-peat. Since 1927, the NHL has won three Stanley Cup championships consecutively.
Tampa Bay is basically returning last season's Stanley Cup winning team. However, they did add Brandon Hagel from Blackhawks at trade deadline. They'll also have a healthy Steven Stamkos. This is something they didn't have in the playoffs for the past two seasons. They have the chance to make history depending on which Lightning player they draw in each round.
Can Johnny Gaudreau take the Flames to a deep run with his team?
The Calgary Flames were one of the most popular teams in the West this season, surprising hockey fans. Johnny Gaudreau, a star winger, was a major reason for this surprising performance. He had a stellar year with 115 points (40 assists and 75 goals) in his career season.
This will mark the fifth consecutive postseason for "Johnny Hockey". Gaudreau has 19 points in 30 playoff games. That's not bad. Gaudreau will need to be a major contributor if Calgary is to win the Stanley Cup. Gaudreau just finished a month that saw him score nine goals and give out 15 assists. It'll be a big step towards the Flames possibly reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs if that level of production continues.
Can the Wild overcome their postseason fears?
In their 22-year history, the Minnesota Wild have not had much success in postseason. The Wild have been eliminated from the playoffs only three times in their 22-year history. This includes a appearance in the Western Conference Finals in 2002-03 (lost 4-0 to Anaheim Ducks).
The team's greatest strength may be the fact that they finally have a stabilizing force between the pipes. Marc-Andre Fleury, a veteran goaltender, was acquired by the team at the trade deadline. It felt like a necessary move. Cam Talbot had flashes of brilliance at times but was inconsistent for the majority the season before the move. Fleury's Blackhawks numbers were not impressive, but it is worth noting that Fleury was a sieve defensively and was often placed in difficult situations.
Fleury's play is not always perfect, but his postseason statistics speak for themselves. During his career, the 37-year old has a 90-70 record with a 2.53 goals-against-average and a .912 save percentage. Over his past two playoff appearances as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, he's gone 12-8 along with a 2.16 goals-against-average, including rattling off nine wins during the 2020-21 postseason. It will be a difficult test against the St. Louis Blues, who average 3.8 goals per game. The Wild could win one or more series if they get the Fleury we have become accustomed to in the playoffs.
Can the Avalanche win its first Stanley Cup in more than 20 years?
Throughout the regular season, the Colorado Avalanche fought tooth and nail with the Panthers to win the Presidents' Trophy. The Avalanche are one of the best teams in the league, much like the 2021 season. Colorado had a league-leading offense with an average of 3.8 goals per game, trailing only the Panthers. This is the Avalanche's deepest roster since 2001 when they won the Stanley Cup.
Igor Shesterkin can achieve postseason success despite his inexperience
The New York Rangers' best season in seven years was achieved after they missed the playoffs in three of their previous four seasons. Igor Shesterkin, the goaltender, is undoubtedly a key reason for this level of success. Shesterkin turned in a phenomenal season in which he went 36-13-4 while leading the NHL with a 2.07 goals-against-average and .935 save percentage.
Shesterkin's lack of postseason experience is the only thing that makes the Rangers uncertain. The Vezina Trophy favorite is only one playoff appearance under his belt. That was against the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019-20 postseason. Shesterkin gave up three goals and stopped 30 of 33 shots during Game 3 of this series.
Although Shesterkin has very little postseason experience, he did manage to wrap up an outstanding regular season. He also had great success against the Penguins in his first round opponents. Shesterkin won three of his four matches against Pittsburgh and only allowed three goals. Shesterkin's one loss was a 1-0 loss in February. The Rangers may be able to move forward if Shesterkin can channel the same confidence as in these regular season meetings.