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There were some surprises from the first round of the playoffs, to say the least. The HabsWorld writers rallied back to come up with their predictions for the second round of the 2023 series starting with the series beginning on Tuesday.

Eastern Conference

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Florida Panthers

Norm Szcyrek predicts: Panthers in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Maple Leafs in 7 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Maple Leafs in 6 games
Allan Katz predicts: Maple Leafs in 7 games
Terry Costaris predicts: Maple Leafs in 7 games

(Norm) It appears that hell has frozen over because the Maple Leafs have finally won a playoff series for the first time in 19 years. Toronto was way overdue for a victory and had been eliminated in the first round the past six seasons in a row. It’s especially significant since Toronto lost game one seven to three, but did not allow that defeat to define their series. Mitch Marner lead his team with eleven points, and linemate Auston Matthews scored nine. Goalie Ilya Samsonov played a decent series, out-battling fellow Russian netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Panthers pulled off a miracle series win to defeat the Bruins in a stunning upset, one that I predicted in the first-round HabsWorld predicts article. Boston was limping into the playoffs with their top two centres injured and missing time for most of the series. Florida’s comeback to tie Game 7 with less than a minute remaining, and then win the game and series in overtime was a true triumph on Boston’s home ice. To amplify that Florida comeback, they trailed three games to one in this series, before winning the next three straight games. The trade to acquire Matthew Tkachuk has paid off huge for the Panthers, as he is leading his team with eleven points, tied for second in the league. Linemate Carter Verhaeghe scored that series OT game-winner, and he and defenceman Brandon Montour are both next on the team with eight points. I have to give the edge to Florida in this second-round series. Despite the fact that their playoff wins drop the ranking of their first-round pick that Montreal owns in this summer’s draft. the Panthers appear to have learned from last season’s playoff defeat in the first round.

(Kevin) The first few games of this series should be interesting as both teams will be fresh off significant emotional highs in their first-round victories. While the regular season stats prefer the Leafs, I would warn, much like I did in Round 1, that the Panthers were excellent down the stretch after a rough start. The Panthers are one year removed from a Presidents’ Trophy, so I think far too many people are looking past them. Will the Leafs be part of that group? One thing is certain, the Panthers are a match to the Leafs’ offence, with the same holes on the blue line and in goal. So this may come down to who between Samsonov and Bobrovsky can withstand the pressure that comes later in the series. Both raised their game to that moment in round 1, can they do it again?

(Brian) Full credit to Florida for coming back to beat Boston. I know I didn’t see that coming. But they are a weaker team than Tampa Bay, both up front and on the back end. The good version of Sergei Bobrovsky is better than Ilya Samsonov but ‘good Bobrovsky’ doesn’t show up too consistently; you never know what you’re going to get from him one period to the next let alone game-to-game. Meanwhile, how much of a weight has been lifted off Toronto’s shoulders by getting through the first round? Are they going to play casually for a couple of games or are they going to be locked in? I think it’s going to be more the latter than the former. The Panthers should be able to get a game or two but I think Toronto is the team to beat in the East now.

(Allan) And so it was asked why this hockey series, Panthers versus Leafs, is different from other hockey series? And a deep rumbling voice filled the sky, booming from behind the dark clouds, “This series is different because the glorious Habitants of Montreal have a stake in the Leafs winning that could mean the difference between a 17th pick in the summer draft and a pick 29th or worse.” In other words, the Maple Leafs need to win for Montreal’s sake. Normally this would seem, on the surface, an easy win for Toronto, but Toronto probably doesn’t understand easy when it comes to the playoffs. The Panthers will be picked by some for this reason and their incredible upset of Boston. Nonetheless when we all get down on our knees tonight and pray to Jean Beliveau, “Just give them one more series Big Guy… the Habs need at least two more diamonds in the rough to add to their collection and a 17 simply has better odds than 29. Go Leafs Go … oy.

(Terry) For a Habs’ fan, cheering for the Boston Bruins to defeat the Florida Panthers in order to secure the number 17 pick in this year’s draft was quite unpalatable. Now having to do so for Toronto is quite the indignity. On paper, the Leafs are a superior team. However, they have a Michel Therrien-quality head coach and I still question the grittiness of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. Florida may be on the same path as the St. Louis Blues from 2019 or the LA Kings of 2010. Having said this, Toronto’s depth has dramatically improved from last season. Its top players have only begun to scratch the surface of their playoff potential. If Florida can neutralize both Ryan O’Reilly (who was the hero in St. Louis’s miracle run) and Mark Giordano, the Leafs will fold like a cheap tent.

Western Conference

Dallas Stars vs Seattle Kraken

Norm Szcyrek predicts: Stars in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Stars in 6 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Stars in 6 games
Allan Katz predicts: Stars in 6 games
Terry Costaris predicts: Stars in 6 games

(Norm) Much like every playoff year, the first round has its share of upsets. It’s easy to put Seattle defeating the Stanley Cup-defending Colorado Avalanche in that category. Seattle’s team plays such a balanced group effort, they helped to wear down the Avalanche. They deployed a quick-strike counter offence that gave Colorado defenders little time to reorganize. That strategy helped provide the Kraken with many strong offensive opportunities, several of which they capitalized on. Yes, it’s true the Avalanche were banged up and missing some key veterans, but I’ll give credit to the Kraken for coming up big. Forward Oliver Bjorkstrand scored both goals for Seattle in their series-clinching game. Bjorkstrand also scored the series winner against Tampa Bay in 2019; until Florida defeated Boston this round, that 2019 upset was one of the biggest NHL upsets in league history. Dallas surpassed Minnesota for a first-round victory in six games. Centre Roope Hintz put on a scoring clinic, producing twelve points in that series to lead the NHL, which was five points ahead of the team’s second-highest scorer Jason Robertson. Dallas boasts a team only one point behind Colorado in the standings. Their power play ranked third in the league and managed to produce nine goals with the man advantage against Minnesota in the first round. I believe the key to this series will land on how well the Stars’ bottom six forwards perform since Seattle’s depth up front is very strong. Former Habs Max Domi and Evgeni Dadonov have scored seven points total in the first round to help Dallas’ depth. To me, the Stars will align in the sky and Dallas will outperform Seattle on the ice to win this series.

(Kevin) The advantage of not having pressure paid off dearly for the Kraken and they continue to be the underdog in this series. The Kraken’s pack mentality allows them to be deadly on the road, but they are coming off the huge high of dispatching the defending champions. In contrast, the Stars did what they were supposed to do in dispatching the Wild, did so in less than seven games, and are somewhat surprised with home-ice advantage. Seattle is surprisingly the better scoring team, but they now face a team that will aim to suppress the offence and play a more typical playoff style. I can’t see the inexperienced Kraken faring well in that atmosphere.

(Brian) Seattle pulled off another upset I don’t think many saw coming. (I had Colorado being the easiest pick of the first round and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.) They’re a deep team, albeit one without a true top line and Philipp Grubauer was a lot better than he was during the season. I don’t see that being sustainable. Dallas’ attack is quite underrated; they were better offensively than the Avs with way better goaltending. Jake Oettinger stole some games in the Minnesota series and as he’s facing a weaker offence, I think he will be the difference-maker in this series. The Kraken turned some heads in the first round but I don’t think this is the start of a miracle playoff run for them; that stops here.

(Allan) What do Evgeni Dadonov, Max Domi, and Joel Hanley have in common? They are not only the best players on the Dallas Stars, but they are former Habs whose illustrious careers led the Habs, like Moses… into the desert. Okay, some of those statements aren’t true, but all three have played with the Habs, are on the Stars team and Domi was an appreciated agitator talent. Meanwhile, Seattle has that great young French Canadian superstar Matty Beniers. The only problem is Matty was born in the great city of Hingham, Massachusetts. (Two guesses if I used spell check on Massachusetts.) So for all those reasons and the fact the Stars were exactly half a goal better per game over the whole season in +/-, the Stars’ Star Jason Robertson is playing while the Kraken have a 40 goal scorer Jared McCann who is hampered by an injury, gives the Stars the edge. Regardless, how fun is this for Kraken fans!!!

(Terry) Seattle’s surprising, fairy tale season will come to an end. This is a very good expansion team but Dallas has a superior roster. Enough said.