2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs First-Round Preview: Toronto Under Pressure To Break Through, Battle Of The Hudson, Boston Top Storylines

Photo: NJ.com

With the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs set to start with four first-round series getting underway on Monday night and the last four starting on Tuesday, NoVa Caps previews what should be a thrilling first two weeks.


Atlantic No. 1 Boston Bruins vs. Wild Card No. 2 Florida Panthers

Regular-season leaders:


  • RW David Pastrnak (61 goals, 52 assists, 113 points)
  • LW Brad Marchand (46 assists, 67 points)
  • D Hampus Lindholm (23:49 average TOI/game)
  • G Linus Ullmark (40 wins)


  • C Carter Verhaeghe (42 goals)
  • LW Matthew Tkachuk (40 goals, 69 assists, 109 points)
  • D Brandon Montour (24:07 average TOI/game)
  • G Sergei Bobrovsky (24 wins)

The past two Presidents’ Trophy winners will start head-to-head to open the tournament after Boston set NHL records with 65 wins and 135 standings points in 2022-23.

The series will feature two of the league’s best offenses as Boston ranked second with an average of 3.67 goals-per-game and 12th with a 22.2% power-play efficiency while Florida tallied 3.51 (sixth) and 22.8% (10th) in those respective categories. Both have wingers who could very well be in the Hart Trophy conversation as league MVP with Pastrnak and Tkachuk.

The key in this series is going to be defense, where Boston clearly holds the advantage as they were the only team to hold opponents lower than a 2.5 goals-per-game average this season (2.12). They also led the way in penalty-killing efficiency (87.3%). In fact, Florida’s average of 3.32 goals-against per game was the worst among all 16 teams who qualified for the postseason while their 76% penalty-killing efficiency was the second-worst.

Boston built a comfortable cushion in November and while they have kept their foot on the gas since, they will need to find a way to be at the top of their game. Meanwhile, Florida had to scratch and claw their way to this point, going 19-10-4 since a 23-22-6 start.

Ullmark is the clear favorite for the Vezina Trophy as he led the league in save percentage (.938) and goals-against average (1.98) in addition to co-leading it in wins with Alexander Georgiev of the Colorado Avalanche. Though, he never finish with a save percentage above .917 in his first seven seasons. Can he keep it up, especially against a skilled forward group with Tkachuk, Verhaeghe, and center Aleksander Barkov?

Odds to win (according to BetMGM) – Boston: -300; Florida: +240

Prediction: Boston in 6

Atlantic No. 2 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Atlantic No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning

Regular-season leaders:


  • RW William Nylander (40 goals, 87 points)
  • RW Mitch Marner (69 assists, 99 points)
  • C Auston Matthews (40 goals, 85 points)
  • D Morgan Reilly (21:42 average TOI/game)
  • G Ilya Samsonov (27 wins)


  • C Brayden Point (51 goals, 95 points)
  • LW Nikita Kucherov (83 assists, 113 points)
  • D Mikhail Sergachev (23:48 average TOI/game)
  • G Andrei Vasilevskiy (34 wins)

A rematch in last year’s first-round series, which was won by Tampa Bay in seven games, is in the cards as Toronto looks to finally break through the first-round for the first time in 20 years and Tampa Bay seeks to make the Stanley Cup Final for the fourth consecutive campaign.

Both teams have elite offenses as Toronto finished ninth with a 3.39 goals-per-game average and second with a 26% power-play efficiency while Tampa Bay hung around with them as they placed eighth (3.41) and third (25.4%) in those respective categories. The difference will be who can defend better. Toronto’s 2.68 goals-against per game average was seventh while Tampa Bay’s mark of 3.07 placed them in a tie for 14th.

Another factor in who will come out on top is scoring depth. 179 (nearly 64.4%) of Toronto’s 278 goals this season were scored by Matthews, Nylander, Marner, center John Tavares, right-wing Michael Bunting, and right-wing Calle Jarnkrok. Meanwhile, 172 (61.43%) of Tampa Bay’s 280 goals came off of the sticks of Point, Kucherov, center Steven Stamkos, left-wing Brandon Hagel, and left-wing Alex Killorn.

Samsonov has just eight games of postseason experience and must keep up, at the very least, with a goalie of Vasilevskiy’s caliber to give Toronto a chance. Both teams have players who have skill and can finish but the goalies can swing the series for their respective teams in this series.

Tampa Bay has played 71 postseason games over the previous three years, nearly the equivalent to an NHL regular season, and showed signs of fatigue when they lost four straight before winning their season finale.

Odds to win – Toronto: -150; Tampa Bay: +125

Prediction: Toronto in 6

Metropolitan No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. Wild Card No. 1 New York Islanders

Regular-season leaders:


  • C Sebastian Aho (36 goals)
  • C Martin Necas (43 assists, 71 points)
  • D Brent Burns (43 assists, 23:12 average TOI/game)
  • G Frederik Andersen (21 wins)


  • C Bo Horvat (38 goals, 70 points)
  • C Brock Nelson (36 goals, 39 assists, 75 points)
  • D Adam Pelech (21:39 average TOI/game)
  • G Ilya Sorokin (31 wins)

This series will likely be the polar opposite of Toronto-Tampa Bay with both teams having two of the NHL’s stingiest systems as Carolina finished second with both an average of 2.56 goals-against per game and 84.4% penalty-killing rate. New York finished fifth (2.65) and ninth (82.2%) in those categories.

New York has a major advantage in net as none of Carolina’s three goalies posted a save percentage higher than .910 this season while Sorokin ranked third in the category (.924) and led the NHL with six shutouts.

In addition, goal scoring is a problem for Carolina, especially with right-wing Andrei Svechnikov done for the season, as Aho and Necas (28) were their only scorers with at least 20 goals available for the series. Meanwhile, New York had three scorers (Horvat, Nelson, left-wing Anders Lee: 28) with as many, if not more goals than Necas.

However, it is not like scoring is New York’s specialty as they ranked 22nd with an average of 2.95 goals-per-game and 30th with a 15.8% power-play efficiency. Expect this series to be a territorial one with two of the best systems and only a couple pure goal scorers between them. Carolina’s 19.8% power-play rate was tied for 19th (and is worse without Svechnikov) while their 3.2 goals-per-game was just above league average.

This has the makings of a pretty even series and one where we could see an upset.

Odds to win – Carolina: -200; New York: +165

Prediction: New York in 7

Metropolitan No. 2 New Jersey Devils vs. Metropolitan No. 2 New York Rangers

Regular-season leaders:


  • C Jack Hughes (43 goals, 56 assists, 99 points)
  • RW Timo Meier (40 goals)
  • LW Jesper Bratt (32 goals)
  • C Nico Hischier (31 goals, 49 assists)
  • D Dougie Hamilton (56 assists, 21:46 average TOI/game)
  • G Vitek Vanecek (33 wins)


  • C Mika Zibanejad (39 goals, 91 points)
  • LW Chris Kreider (36 goals)
  • LW Artemi Panarin (63 assists, 92 points)
  • D Adam Fox (60 assists, 72 points, 24:22 average TOI/game)
  • G Igor Shesterkin (37 wins)

The first Battle of the Hudson series in 11 years could very well be the best one to watch as both teams have a lot of offensive firepower and deep bluelines led by Norris Trophy-caliber defensemen.

Both teams were pretty similar defensively this season as New York’s 2.63 goals-against per game was the fourth-best while New Jersey’s 2.71 rate ranked eighth. New Jersey’s 82.6% penalty-killing efficiency was tied for fourth but New York’s rate of 81.2% finished 13th.

The biggest area where New York holds an advantage is in net with Shesterkin, the Vezina Trophy winner last season who put up a .916 save percentage and 2.48 goals-against average in 58 games this season. Vanecek, who tallied a .911 save percentage and 2.45 goals-against average, also had a solid season but has only played one full Stanley Cup Playoff game in his NHL career. Similar to the Colorado Avalanche last season, with as deep and talented a team as New Jersey has, they may not need outstanding goaltending.

Facing a team with Hughes and Hischier down the middle, New York will need Zibanejad and center Vincent Trocheck, who just came up short with career-bests in assists (42) and points (64) in 82 games, to counter that. While New Jersey’s defense was very strong, they had five players with at least 65 points and six with at least 56. New York acquired left-wing Patrick Kane and right-wing Vladimir Tarasenko to compete with New Jersey’s scoring depth, which should make for a highly entertaining series.

This series is a complete toss-up and the winner of it could very well make it out of the Eastern Conference.

Odds to win – New Jersey: -120; New York: +100

Prediction: New Jersey in 7


Pacific No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. Wild Card No. 2 Winnipeg Jets

Regular-season leaders:


  • RW Jonathan Marchessault (28 goals)
  • C Chandler Stephenson (49 assists, 65 points)
  • C Jack Eichel (27 goals, 66 points)
  • D Alex Pietrangelo (23:58 average TOI/game)
  • G Logan Thompson (21 wins)


  • C Mark Schiefele (42 goals)
  • LW Kyle Connor (31 goals, 80 points)
  • D Josh Morrissey (60 assists, 24:13 average TOI/game)
  • G Connor Hellebuyck (37 wins)

Both teams, who met in the 2018 Western Conference Final (won by Vegas in five games), return to the postseason after missing last year.

Winnipeg, who led the Western Conference with a 29-14-1 record on January 16 before going 17-19-2 in their last 38 games, could hold an offensive advantage with Schiefele, Connor, and center Pierre-Luc Dubois (27) all finishing with more than 25 goals. While Vegas also had three players north of 25 (Marchessault, Eichel, right-wing Reilly Smith: 26), they do not possess the finishing ability that Winnipeg does. Those three players are viewed more as playmakers.

Thompson, who is 26 and finished with a respectable .915 save percentage and 2.65 goals-against average in 37 games during his first full NHL season, does not have any postseason experience. That could be a huge disadvantage for Vegas, who is going up against Hellebuyck (tied fourth in the NHL with a .920 save percentage, was 11th with a 2.49 goals-against average in 64) who has 35 games worth of postseason experience.

Eichel, who had a nice first full season in Vegas after missing three months with a herniated disc replacement last season, will make his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut after 476 career regular-season games. The 26-year-old finished the season with four goals and 15 points in his last 11 games, which included a nine-game point-streak.

While this is a one vs. eight matchup, this could turn out to be anything but with a goalie like Hellebuyck and some dynamic forwards up front for Winnipeg.

Odds to win – Vegas: -175; Winnipeg: +145

Prediction: Vegas in 6

Pacific No. 2 Edmonton Oilers vs. Pacific No. 3 Los Angeles Kings

Regular-season leaders:


  • C Connor McDavid (64 goals, 89 assists, 153 points)
  • C Leon Draisaitl (52 goals, 76 assists, 128 points)
  • C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (37 goals, 67 assists, 104 points)
  • LW Zach Hyman (36 goals, 83 points)
  • D Darnell Nurse (23:29 average TOI/game)
  • G Stuart Skinner (29 wins)


  • RW Adrian Kempe (41 goals)
  • C Anze Kopitar (28 goals, 74 points)
  • LW Kevin Fiala (49 assists, 72 points, 1.04 points-per-game)
  • D Drew Doughty (26:14 average TOI/game)
  • G Pheonix Copley (24 wins)

The two teams meet in the first-round for the second straight season after Edmonton took a seven-game set in 2022 but both teams are looking much scarier than they did at this time a year ago.

Obviously, all eyes are on Edmonton’s offense as they had four forwards average more than a point-per-game, including McDavid who had a historic season where he set career-highs in all categories. While Los Angeles had a few key contributors up front, the play of Edmonton’s forwards grabs all of the storylines heading into this series.

After Los Angeles acquired goaltender Joonas Korpisalo and defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov from the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 28, the team allowed the third-fewest goals (2.33) but was below average on the penalty kill (77.4%). With a struggling penalty kill, Los Angeles better improve or stay out of the box entirely as Edmonton’s man advantage clicked at a 32.4% rate. No other team was better than 26% on the power play.

Los Angeles has not won a postseason series since 2014, when they played in their third consecutive Western Conference Final and won their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. Edmonton, who finished the season 14-1-0 in their last 15 games, was swept by the eventual champion Colorado Avalanche in the third round last season.

These were two of the best teams in the last half of the regular season and the winner of this series could very well come out of the West.

Odds to win – Edmonton: -225; Los Angeles: +185

Prediction: Edmonton in 7

Central No. 1 Colorado Avalanche vs. Wild Card No. 1 Seattle Kraken

Regular-season leaders:


  • C Nathan MacKinnon (42 goals, 69 assists, 111 points)
  • RW Mikko Rantanen (55 goals, 105 points)
  • D Cale Makar (49 assists, 1.10 points-per-game, 26:23 average TOI/game)
  • G Alexandar Georgiev (40 wins)


  • C Jarred McCann (40 goals, 70 points)
  • D Vince Dunn (50 assists, 64 points, 23:40 TOI/game)
  • C Matthew Beniers (24 goals)
  • D Adam Larsson (23:38 TOI/game)
  • G Martin Jones (27 wins)

The defending Stanley Cup Champions, who will remain without captain Gabriel Landeskog for the entire postseason, will start their quest to repeat against Seattle, who clinched their first postseason berth in franchise history in just their second campaign and will be without left-wing and 2022 Stanley Cup Champion Andre Burakovsky for the opening round.

Colorado’s offense was led by career-best seasons from MacKinnon and Rantanen and the team finished the season 7-0-1. However, the two combined for 97 of the team’s 274 (over 35%) goals. Only left-wing Arturri Lehkonen (21) hit the 20-goal plateau besides MacKinnon and Rantanen. Meanwhile, Seattle had double the amount of Colorado’s 20-goal scorers with McCann, Beniers, right-wing Daniel Sprong in addition to left-wing Jaden Schwartz (21 each), and right-wings Oliver Bjorkstrand and Jordan Eberle (20 each). Left-wings Eeli Tolvanen (18) and Brandon Tanev (16) also came close.

For the second straight season, neither of Seattle’s goaltenders pitched a save percentage above .900 (Jones: .887 in 48 games, former Colorado netminder Philipp Grubauer: .895 in 39). That could doom Seattle against an elite Colorado offense, which averaged 3.86 goals-per-game (third) from March 6 onward. On Colorado’s side, Georgiev has never started a postseason outing.

While many of Seattle’s forwards had career years, McCann had just hit the 50-point plateau for the first time last season, Dunn had never gone more than 35 in a campaign, right-wing Jordan Eberle had 60 for the first time in eight seasons, and right-wing Daniel Sprong (46) never scored more than 20. With these numbers bound to drop back to earth at some point, how will Seattle respond? They better hope it is that none of these numbers will drop soon.

With Seattle missing one of their best forwards and Colorado, the much more experienced team, rolling, expect a quick series.

Odds to win – Colorado: -275; Seattle: +220

Prediction: Colorado in 4

Central No. 2 Dallas Stars vs. Central No. 3 Minnesota Wild

Regular-season leaders:


  • LW Jason Robertson (46 goals, 63 assists, 109 points)
  • C Roope Hintz (37 goals)
  • D Miro Heiskanen (62 assists, 25:29 average TOI/game)
  • G Jake Oettinger (37 wins)


  • LW Kirill Kaprizov (43 goals, 75 points)
  • LW Matt Boldy (31 goals, 63 points)
  • RW Mats Zuccarello (45 assists)
  • D Jonas Brodin (22:51 TOI/game)
  • G Marc-Andre Fleury (24 wins)

Two of the NHL’s best to finish out the regular season will go head to head as Minnesota finished 19-5-7 (.726 points percentage), fifth since February 10, and Dallas went out on a six-game winning-streak and 17-5-2 (.750), tied for fourth since February 24.

Both have balanced scoring as Dallas had seven players with at least 20 goals (center Max Domi scored two in 20 games after being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks) and Minnesota had seven with at least 15 but Boldy, their second-leading goal scorer, tallied at least eight more than everyone else on the team besides Kaprizov.

These teams are also mirror images of each other defensively as Dallas’ average of 2.62 goals-against per game ranked third and Minnesota’s of 2.67 was sixth. On the penalty kill, Dallas’ 83.5% efficiency was good for third and Minnesota’s 82% rate was 10th. While both offenses are deep, there will likely not be a lot of room for either one of them to work with. Whoever does will be in good shape. Minnesota blueliner John Klingberg spent his first eight NHL seasons in Dallas before signing with the Anaheim Ducks, who dealt him in March, as an unrestricted free agent last summer.

Minnesota could have a goalie controversy with Fleury, who earned a .908 save percentage and 2.85 goals-against average in 46 regular-season games, and Filip Gustavsson, who ranked second in the NHL with both a .931 save percentage and 2.10 goals-against average in 39 as a 24-year-old. For Dallas, Oettinger was one of the league’s best as he tallied a .919 save percentage (tied for sixth) and 2.37 goals-against average (seventh) but started 62 games. Will he be able to keep it up, especially since neither of Minnesota’s goalies were relied on so heavily?

This will be a close series with two very good offenses and defenses going toe-to-toe.

Odds to win – Dallas: -140; Minnesota: +115

Prediction: Dallas in 6

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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2 Responses to 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs First-Round Preview: Toronto Under Pressure To Break Through, Battle Of The Hudson, Boston Top Storylines

  1. Prevent Defense says:

    Thank you Harrison B. for the excellent analysis and Playoff primer!

    All sixteen playoff teams have special players and personalities. The elite ones like TOR, EDM, BOS and DAL have lots of pressure to succeed.

    This playoffs is “Extra Popcorn” for me since PIT is a non-participant!

    Caps will be back in this pool very soon. Again, Well Done!

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