NHL playoff series: Check out all the first round matchups
The bracket for the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs is (nearly) complete.
The Eastern Conference first-round matchups locked into place Thursday night as most teams completed their regular season schedule. The playoff picture in the West will not be fully complete until Friday, when the defending champion Colorado Avalanche take on the Nashville Predators in the final game of the 2022-23 NHL regular season. If the Avs win, they will overtake the Dallas Stars for the Central Division title and will play the wild card Seattle Kraken in the first round. If the Avs lose Friday, they will begin their title defense against the Minnesota Wild.
Here’s a look at every first round playoff series that is set in stone (with team seeds in parenthesis).
(This post will be updated)
Boston Bruins (Atlantic 1) vs. Florida Panthers (Wild Card 2)
The Bruins (65-12-5) enter the playoffs having completed the best regular season of all time by wins (65) and points (135). That, of course, puts a lot of pressure on them to perform. They will look to avoid the fate of the 2018-19 Lightning, who lit up the NHL with a then record-tying 62 wins only to be swept in the first round. Boston will play last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Florida Panthers (42-32-8), who rallied for a playoff spot after an uneven season under first-year coach Paul Maurice.
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Toronto Maple Leafs (Atlantic 2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (Atlantic 3)
This rematch of last year’s seven-game first-round series has been inevitable for months. The Maple Leafs (50-21-11) are making their seventh straight playoff appearance, but they have not won a series since 2004. They swung a big trade before the deadline, acquiring 2019 Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly, with the hopes of changing that. Tampa Bay (46-30-6), meanwhile, has been stumbling its way into the postseason, but it would be foolish to count the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions out.
Carolina Hurricanes (Metro 1) vs. New York Islanders (Wild Card 1)
Carolina had an uneven close after it lost dynamic forward Andrei Svechnikov for the season due to injury. Still, the Hurricanes (52-21-9) are the Metro champions for the third straight year. Standing in their path as they begin what they hope is a deep playoff run is the Islanders (42-31-9). New York could be a tough out. Ilya Sorokin is one of the best goalies in the NHL, and the Islanders’ core has plenty of postseason experience after back-to-back final four appearances in 2020 and 2021.
New Jersey Devils (Metro 2) vs. New York Rangers (Metro 3)
The longtime rivals get reacquainted in their first playoff series since the 2012 Eastern Conference final. This was a breakout year for the Devils (52-22-8), who have only made the playoffs once since they fell to the Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. They broke the franchise’s all-time points record while Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, put together the best offensive season in team history. The Rangers (47-22-13), looking to build on last year’s conference final appearance, picked up a pair of stars at the trade deadline in Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko.
Vegas Golden Knights (Pacific 1) vs. Winnipeg Jets (Wild Card 2)
After missing the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s young history last season, the Golden Knights (51-22-9) are back in the postseason, claiming their fourth division crown in six years and the conference’s No. 1 seed. Jack Eichel, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, is set to make his long-awaited postseason debut with Vegas, and the Golden Knights could be getting another big boost with the potential return of captain Mark Stone. They will be playing the Jets (46-33-3), who did just enough to hold onto a playoff spot following a serious second-half swoon. Still, Winnipeg has Connor Hellebuyck, one of the league’s better goaltenders, and a core that’s made several playoff runs together at this point (though only one especially deep one).
Edmonton Oilers (Pacific 2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (Pacific 3)
The Oilers (50-23-9) enter the playoffs red-hot after winning 14 of their last 15 games. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins paced a league-leading offense as they became the first trio of teammates to record at least 100 points since the 1995-96 Penguins. McDavid’s season in particular was historic; he became the first player since Mario Lemieux in that 1995-96 season to record 150 points. All told, the Kings (47-25-10) will certainly have their hands full, but they pushed the Oilers to seven games in the first round last year and they’ve gotten great play from goalie Joonas Korpisalo since he came over via trade. Could he be the difference this year?
Battle for Connor Bedard
For all the teams not taking part in the playoffs, attention turns to the offseason and the NHL draft. One of the other big battles solidified Thursday night was the ‘race’ for last place, with the reward being a 25.5% chance of picking generational talent Connor Bedard with the first overall pick. The Anaheim Ducks (23-47-12), who ended the season on a 13-game losing streak and won just 13 games in regulation all year, have the best lottery odds after finishing 32nd in the NHL with 58 points. They needed help, though, and they got it Thursday – the Columbus Blue Jackets, who play their final game Friday, defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime to move one point clear of the Ducks. Had the Blue Jackets lost their final two games in regulation, they would have locked up the top lottery odds with 57 points.