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The 2022 playoffs are upon us and while the Habs won’t be participating this time around, there are some intriguing matchups in the opening round.  Our writers offer up some predictions on the series that start on Monday.

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay vs Toronto

Allan Katz picks: Maple Leafs in 7
Brian La Rose picks: Lightning in 7
Kevin Leveille picks: Lightning in 6

(Allan) Tampa Bay has a troika of former Habs in Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, and Corey Perry. All three can and have contributed to the Champions. There are a lot of mosquitoes and strippers in Tampa and for some bizarre series of reasons a great hockey team. Toronto has no former Habs, but I did live and work in Toronto for a few years and most of my close relatives live in Toronto. As a former Montrealer, this is going to be painful to say; I want Toronto to keep winning until they play Edmonton or Calgary for the Cup then I want them to be humiliated.

(Brian) The Maple Leafs are in better shape compared to a year ago in terms of both their offensive and defensive depth. They have a good enough forward group to largely match Tampa Bay’s impressive depth up front which neutralizes one of the Lightning’s bigger strengths. Having also seen Tampa’s back end get picked apart for odd-man rushes by Montreal this season (not exactly an offensive juggernaut) and knowing that Toronto is a team that scores a lot in transition, this also works in Toronto’s favour. I’m also leery about fatigue for the Lightning after two long playoff runs. But goaltending is a big question mark for the Leafs. If Jack Campbell plays like he did against the Habs last year, they win this series and it probably doesn’t go the distance. But he hasn’t looked good for a while and that could be their downfall in a few games. I think that pushes it to seven games and with Toronto’s history and Andrei Vasilevskiy at the other end, I like Tampa’s chances in that scenario.

(Kevin) The series that will get the most media coverage will be my shortest analysis. Toronto simply doesn’t hold up defensively or in the goaltending department. Tampa does hold up with the goal-scoring prowess of the Leafs. Having said that, the Leafs finally get a series where the pressure isn’t entirely on their shoulders, and this will create a much better series than it should. However, unless Tampa falls apart and Toronto can end this quickly, both teams’ history in long series will come to the forefront and the Lightning still come out ahead. The Lightning are by far the team I dislike the most in this league, and I spent all last year’s playoffs picking against them with unfavourable results. I hope they continue to prove me wrong as I pick the Lightning in six.

Boston vs Carolina

Allan Katz picks: Hurricanes in 6
Brian La Rose picks: Hurricanes in 7
Kevin Leveille picks: Bruins in 7

(Allab) Boston has Mike Reilly who was a part-time defenceman for the Habs while Carolina has Max Domi and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, two players who had some fun moments in Montreal. For some reason, I appreciate the hot head Domi over the sometimes flaccid Kotkaniemi (though I loved his one fight). I’m picking Carolina 4-2 even though I refuse to believe there is an NHL team in Carolina.

(Brian) Winning the Metropolitan Division gave Carolina the ‘reward’ of a tougher first-round opponent than if they had dropped down to second place.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re a strong team but the Bruins are a team that’s a lot more battle-tested than the Hurricanes who haven’t looked great in their last two playoff appearances.  Frederik Andersen isn’t 100% healthy and while we remember him for his struggles at times in Toronto, he’s probably going to be a Vezina candidate this season and is a big part of their success.  Boston matches up fairly evenly and if Andersen misses the whole series, they can definitely take this.  I do think Andersen gets back partway through and Carolina is able to pull out a very narrow victory.

(Kevin) I hated this matchup for the Hurricanes last time it happened, and I hate it again this season. There’s no denying that Carolina has more skill up front, but there’s also no denying that they rely heavily on their transition game to get there, and the Bruins are excellent at limiting those transition chances. They are patient and intelligent in the neutral zone and have built an excellent blue line to mitigate the chances when they do occur. The Canes have improved their depth and their blue line, but will it be enough to get by the Bruins. The key to this series might be in the blue paint. Jeremy Swayman is relatively untested, and neither is Linus Ullmark. Andersen has had his own playoff demons, but that’s assuming he can even play. Whether it’s Andersen or Antti Raanta, their space will be contested far more as the Bruins are far more physical than the Canes. I just see this as a terrible matchup of style of play for the Canes. Bruins in 7.

Western Conference

St. Louis vs Minnesota

Allan Katz picks: Wild in 7
Brian La Rose picks: Blues in 7
Kevin Leveille picks: Wild in 7

(Allan) This classic series has former Habs Marco Scandella and his one goal and two assists in his Montreal career versus Nicolas Deslauriers and his scintillating 12 goals in his Hab career. Other than that, the teams are very close so I have to use the Habs as tiebreakers and give the series to Minny four games to three.

(Brian) For me, this is the most interesting series in the first round. There is already a pretty good rivalry between the two teams and they are very evenly matched. The Wild aren’t Jacques Lemaire’s old team anymore, a prodding defensive squad. No, they’re an up-tempo, offence-first team led by Kirill Kaprizov and an impressive top six. They also have a strong one-two punch in goal. St. Louis, meanwhile, is very well-rounded and a bit more solid on the back end than the Wild. But they also have a big question mark in goal as Ville Husso is inexperienced and Jordan Binnington has struggled mightily. In the end, I think Husso will do well and the Blues are a bit more battle-tested which should give them the edge to take a Game 7 on the road.

(Kevin) Despite Minnesota getting the number two seed, it is worth noting that these teams were separated by a total of four points and that St. Louis has more regulation wins, a better goal differential, though the most noteworthy record to follow is that of Minnesota at home with an impressive 31 wins. The battle in front of the net is as intriguing as the battle-tested Marc-Andre Fleury takes on what I believe to be Husso to start, with a proven Binnington not too far back should Husso struggle. For the skaters, these rosters are built similarly. They don’t have much star power on the back end, but both have a deep and capable group of defenders. Up front, the Wild rely heavily on their top line, whereas St. Louis will spread out their scoring a bit more without the 108 points of Kaprizov to rely upon. The Blues have more options of guys that could get hot to take over the series, but with Kaprizov and a game 7 in Minnesota, I’m going to pick the Wild in a hard-fought 7-gamer.

Los Angeles vs Edmonton

Allan Katz picks: Oilers in 6
Brian La Rose picks: Oilers in 6
Kevin Leveille picks: Oilers in 6

(Allan) Edmonton should win the series but let’s dig deeper. L.A. boasts Phillip Danault and I believe all Hab fans wish him the best. To make it tougher on me, I have lived in L.A. for over 30 years. Edmonton has the great Zack Kassian who drove into a tree as a member of the Habs and never played a game. Then there’s Brett Kulak who always seemed like a nice guy. The team is Canadian and I have stayed Canadian and have never applied for American Citizenship. Never been to Edmonton, but I hear they have a nice mall. The tiebreaker is the great Jewish talent Zach Hyman who boasts the same last name as my father’s first name.

(Brian) The Oilers certainly benefited from being in a weak division with this matchup. Full marks to the Kings for getting to the playoffs when few expected it and Danault has had success shadowing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the past which will help. But Los Angeles isn’t a great offensive team and Drew Doughty is done for the year. There’s only one way the Kings win this series and that’s if Edmonton’s goaltending falls off a cliff. It could certainly happen given the track records of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen but since their midseason coaching change, their defensive structure has been much better. I’ll factor in their goaltending having two clunkers which makes this a six-game series instead of four.

(Kevin) I think this is the most interesting matchup of the first round as two teams will go strength against strength as the Oilers try to score and the Kings try to defend. Will McDavid be able to keep his composure with Danault draped all over him throughout? Can Draisaitl get through Anze Kopitar? Will the Oilers’ blue line and goaltending hold up? The pressure seems to be entirely on Edmonton, and we’ve seen them miss at this task before. Isn’t this a little too similar to the matchup they couldn’t get through last season when facing the Jets? To me, there are two main differences here. Firstly, the Oilers entered last year’s playoff playing okay hockey, but they had peaked prior. This year, they seem to be playing really well entering the post-season and that can be a big factor. The other is that neither Jonathan Quick nor Calvin Petersen is Connor Hellebuyck. So for those two reasons, as well as my own desire to see a playoff version of the battle of Alberta, I’m going to pick the Oilers in 6.