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With the regular season behind us, the HabsWorld staff has gazed into their crystal balls and is sharing their predictions on the sixteen teams that will start the 2023 playoffs. These predictions will be split into two parts, covering the games set to begin Monday evening and Tuesday evening.

Eastern Conference

Florida Panthers vs Boston Bruins

Norm Szcyrek predicts: Panthers in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Bruins in 5 games
Peter Longo predicts: Bruins in 4 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Bruins in 5 games
Allan Katz predicts: Bruins in 5 games

(Norm) Boston was the most dominant team this season, breaking records for most wins and points. It’s clear they responded extremely well to incoming coach Jim Montgomery, who helped improve the squad’s record by 28 points. Despite their level of dominance, I expect this to be a much closer series than others will expect. Boston’s offensive style is focused on controlling the puck, but that can break down when the intensity of high-pressure playoff hockey comes up. Florida’s pass-first strategy coupled with high-pressure forechecking may be enough to throw Boston off their game. In a parallel situation, the Tampa Bay Lightning suffered from their overconfidence against Columbus in their 2019 playoffs series loss, despite having a dominant season. The goalie for Columbus that year was Sergei Bobrovsky, who is now with the Panthers. An X-factor to consider is the health of Bruin Patrice Bergeron, who left the game against the Canadiens. Without their elite two-way centre healthy, it could be a big handicap for Boston’s playoff success. As a Habs fan, I have to admit I am biased against the Bruins. However, this series has the makings of an epic upset, which is why I am leaning toward a Florida win.

(Kevin) Everything on paper suggests that the Bruins should demolish the Panthers here. The two teams are quite capable offensively, but the Bruins are miles better defensively. The Bruins dominated the league all season long, while the Panthers struggled to win away from Sunrise. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that we may be in for an upset here. Maybe it’s because the Bruins have known their fate for so long while the Panthers had to remain red-hot right until the end which might be a significant advantage here. Still, I can’t bring myself to pick the Panthers

(Peter) Despite being a Habs fan I have to (gulp) vote for Bruins on this one. They are a juggernaut with a record-setting regular season performance and a generally healthy group. Forwards, defence, and goaltending are all advantages for the Bruins. No contest on this one.

(Brian) This may be a rare series where Montreal fans will cheer for Boston to lock in the 17th selection for the Habs. I know that Presidents’ Trophy winners typically don’t do well in the playoffs but this isn’t a typical team that finished first in the standings. No, the Bruins are a tier above the typical top finisher. They are loaded up front and have a back end that’s much better after adding Hampus Lindholm last year and Dmitry Orlov at the deadline. In goal, they have the best goalie in the league, at least based on his performance this season. That’s a difficult combination to beat. Florida is certainly a good team and if they were in a different matchup, I might be inclined to pick them. But heading into a series with the hope that a third-string goalie (Alex Lyon) is going to keep up his hot streak is playing with fire. Florida has the firepower to keep it close but I think goaltending will be a problem for them, leading to an early exit.

(Allan) The Panthers fought and clawed through their own mediocrity to scrape into the playoffs. Their award is the big, bad, hungry, record-breaking Bruins. This is not going to be the mountain the Bruins fall on. Or is it the sword they will not fall on? They ain’t falling here! Just to give one fact that almost says it all. The Boston Bruins scored 128 more goals than they gave up. The Panthers scored 17 goals more than they gave up.

New York Islanders vs Carolina Hurricanes

Norm Szcyrek predicts: Hurricanes in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Hurricanes in 5 games
Peter Longo predicts: Islanders in 7 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Islanders in 7 games
Allan Katz predicts: Hurricanes in 6 games

(Norm) The Hurricanes and Islanders met in the 2019 playoffs, with Carolina sweeping that series. This time around, things could be different. Carolina will miss their best sniper Andrei Svechnikov, who is out for the season. Despite that loss, the team still managed to win their division. That may be in part due to ex-Hab Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who scored 24 points in his last 32 games, to help pick up the slack from the loss of Svechnikov. I like the way the Islanders finished the season so strongly, and they had great goaltending from Ilya Sorokin. On paper, the Hurricanes won took three out of four games against the Islanders, and they were superior in both special teams categories, as well as goals scored and goals against. The Islanders will put up a yeoman effort, but I expect the Hurricanes will advance to the next round.

(Kevin) The Canes’ offensive strategy relies on cycling and being patient. This is a terrible matchup for their offence as the Islanders are very patient defensively. Expect a low-scoring series where Carolina carries a vast majority of play. The Isles will need Sorokin to get really hot to stand a chance in this series, but I do think they win a few and keep it interesting

(Peter) I’m going against the grain on this one. The Hurricanes are down Pacioretty and Svechnikov placing more emphasis on Sebastian Aho and team depth scoring. On the flip side, the Islanders are finally getting healthy and will have Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat in the lineup which rarely happened this season. Adding these two top-line players to your lineup will bring much-needed offence and keep the Canes from dominating. The Isles aren’t as strong on defence as the Canes, but have the game-breaker in net with Sorokin playing at the top of his game.

(Brian) I remember making this comment in the past and having it come back to bite me but I don’t trust Carolina in the playoffs. They’re missing Svechnikov, a key part of their offence, not to mention Pacioretty, a winger whose replacements acquired with his cap space aren’t lighting it up. Their goaltending is good but how reliable is it? It’s certainly not as strong as  Sorokin who is capable of stealing a couple of games on his own. I expect he will do so. The Islanders aren’t the most talented of teams but they’re quite comfortable playing low-scoring games and the core of this team is battle-tested. They should get Barzal back as well. I think it’s all even through six games and then Sorokin goes and steals a 1-0 or 2-1 game to pull off the upset.

(Allan) There is no reason either team couldn’t win this. I like the well-balanced home and away record of the Hurricanes over the Islanders who were not a good road team.

Western Conference

Minnesota Wild vs Dallas Stars

Norm Szcyrek predicts: Stars in 4 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Stars in 6 games
Peter Longo predicts: Stars in 5 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Stars in 6 games
Allan Katz predicts: Stars in 6 games

(Norm) This should be a series that Dallas dominates. They boast an excellent offence, a steady defence, and are top five in both special teams categories. Superstar Jason Robertson cracked the 100-point mark for the first time in his young career. Veterans Jamie Benn and Joe Pavelski were the next-highest scorers, providing solid two-way play. The two teams faced each other in the 2016 playoffs, with Dallas winning in six games. The Wild’s X-factor is their star scorer Kiril Kaprizov. He was injured back in early March but did return to play two of the last four games. With him in a questionable state of health, I am going to lean towards a Stars series win.

(Kevin) The Stars would be my pick to win it all this season if not for their head coach. I find their roster composition is the best in the league in that they have the best mix of talent, depth, skill, physicality, and ability to play any style of play that will be required to get through a team. They get a decent test right out of the gate in the Wild. Robertson will have to be on his game as he gets a game-breaker challenge in Kaprizov. Jake Oettinger will have be sharp as he goes toe-to-toe with a strong tandem. Dallas also has the better blue line with Heiskanen highlighting the series as the best defender. However, coach Peter DeBoer has a scary history of getting some galaxy brain in the playoffs in all his previous NHL tenures. I think the Stars overcome it here though.

(Peter) Dallas has a great blend of veteran performers (Benn, Pavelski, Seguin) and youthful stars (Robertson, Hintz). Goaltending is near the top of the league with Oettinger and solid defense led by Heiskanen. Dallas was amongst the top defensive teams and top offensive teams and came into the playoffs on a hot streak going 8-2 in their last ten. The Wild have two great goalies which have covered up the gaps in the team most of the year. There is limited offence and limited team depth. Both are going to be exposed against Dallas.

(Brian) I think Dallas is a real threat to come out of the West.  Oettinger is a strong goaltender who has an absolutely outstanding track record in the playoffs, albeit a limited sample. They’re one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league and, very quietly, they have a deep attack with five players with over 70 points. They have about as balanced of a group as anyone in the West. Meanwhile, Minnesota doesn’t have a true starter in goal and it feels like they’ll be platooning or hoping someone has the hot hand. That works in the regular season, but less so in the playoffs. I liked a lot of their deadline moves to get deeper up front but their attack is still nowhere near as threatening as the Stars. That will be the difference as Dallas moves on.

(Allan) The teams are evenly balanced, but I like the Stars’ better offensive punch to win out at the end.

Los Angeles Kings vs Edmonton Oilers

Norm Szcyrek predicts: Oilers in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Oilers in 5 games
Peter Longo predicts: Oilers in 6 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Oilers in 7 games
Allan Katz predicts: Oilers in 6 games

(Norm) Most signs point to the Oilers defeating the Kings this postseason. The two teams met last year and Edmonton won in seven games. The Oilers finished the season white hot, on a nine-game winning streak, and taking eighteen of their last twenty-one games. This season, Connor McDavid was an even more dominant player in the NHL setting personal bests in goals, assists, and points. When it comes to defending him, the Kings have ex-Hab Phillip Danault and Anze Kopitar to try to neutralize McDavid. In goal, the edge goes to the Kings, who have a strong tandem with Pheonix Copley and Joonas Korpisalo. The Oilers’ goaltending is weaker, with rookie Stuart Skinner and disappointing veteran Jack Campbell. On defence, the Kings have a slight edge but it will not be enough to keep Edmonton from proceeding to the next round.

(Kevin) I don’t like this matchup at all for the Kings and predict this series to be the shortest of the first round (I’ll almost certainly be wrong since I didn’t predict a single sweep). A quick roster comparison gives Edmonton the advantage up front by a significant margin. The Kings have the better blue line, but the margin between the two isn’t as huge as it once was, with Mattias Ekholm’s acquisition at the deadline seemingly acting as a calming influence on the rest of the group. The goaltenders are mostly unproven for both squads, and I’m certainly not about to pretend Copley can be the difference in a series where he’s facing Draisaitl and McDavid. Then consider Edmonton is coming in red hot, going 9-0-1 in their last stretch of the season. Seems to me like it’s a talented team peaking at the right time.

(Peter) A rematch of last year’s playoffs that went to 7 games, I expect this year will be a close series as well. similar. Edmonton features a powerhouse offence led by the two best players in the NHL with a strong contingent of secondary scoring and has the edge in overall team depth. And Edmonton’s trade deadline pick-up of Ekholm has really solidified the back end for the Oilers. The Kings, meanwhile, have a top centre of their own in Kopitar and have one of the best defensive centers in the league in Danault. Lots of good young developing in support. Goaltending is not a strong suit for either team, so unless one of them goes on a hot streak this series will be determined by offense. Pretty tough to bet against the top player on the planet after the season McDavid just put together.

(Brian) This is the tightest one in the West to call. Edmonton’s firepower is simply elite and McDavid and Draisaitl ran roughshod over playoff opponents last year. I think they’re capable of doing so again. But can they get enough goaltending? That’s where it gets iffy as I don’t trust  Skinner or Jack Campbell to carry them to victory. Los Angeles, meanwhile, has a balanced attack and a certain middleman that used to play for Montreal who has proven to be effective in containing top stars in the postseason. Joonas Korpisalo has fit in better than expected, giving them the top-level goaltending that they’ve been lacking all season. If he continues that in this series, the Kings could pull off the upset. In the end, I think Edmonton’s overpowering attack is enough to get them through this round but it won’t be easy.

(Allan) What an awesome series this will be. Picking the Edmonton Superstars to pull this one out. The Oilers cannot lose this, much like the Maple Leafs, this does not bode well for either team. The Kings are good, but the true King plays on the other team.