Pondering paths for Panthers, Avalanche

Pondering paths for Panthers, Avalanche

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2021-22 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

After a busy Tuesday in the NHL, it’s not yet clear if the Colorado Avalanche or Florida Panthers will end up winning the Presidents’ Trophy. There’s also room — not much, but some room — for the Golden Knights to wrestle the final remaining playoff spot from the Stars.

Yet we already know that the Avalanche clinched the West and the Panthers locked down the East. However the Presidents’ Trophy race goes, both the Panthers and Avalanche will hold home-ice advantages for at least three rounds of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The only way the Presidents’ Trophy really matters is if it’s Avalanche vs. Panthers in a series that would feel a whole lot different than the last time the franchises met in a Stanley Cup Final.

So, we know enough to plot out possible playoff paths for the Panthers and Avalanche. Let’s take a look for each team.

The playoff path ahead for the Panthers

By beating the Panthers on Wednesday, the Bruins distanced themselves from a first-round matchup vs. Florida. Right now, the Panthers will instead face whoever falls short of the third seed in the Metropolitan Division: the Penguins (currently third) or the Capitals (second Wild Card spot now, too far to pass the Bruins).

During the regular season, the Panthers followed similar patterns against both the Capitals and Penguins. Florida began with an OT win, lost a close game, then won by a single goal. The Panthers wouldn’t admit this either way, but maybe the preference would boil down to Tristan Jarry‘s availability? Or maybe Alex Ovechkin‘s murky injury situation would swing it?

One interesting nugget is home/road records. The Panthers have been a beast at home, now 34-7-0. Interestingly, the Capitals have been road warriors, going 25-8-6 away from home (where they’re just 19-16-6).

On one hand, it seems cruel to run away with your conference (and maybe win the Presidents’ Trophy) and then have to face Sidney Crosby and a solid Penguins team or Ovechkin (if healthy) and a solid Capitals team. But it could have been worse — possibly starting with the Bruins.

Things get spicier if the Panthers advance. There’s a “pick your poison” element to facing either the official second seed Maple Leafs and likely third seed Lightning. Again, this may come down to health in net. Few would put more faith in Jack Campbell and/or Petr Mrazek (even if they were healthy) instead of Andrei Vasilevskiy, mileage or not.

If the Panthers made it to the third round, then the Metro bracket could spit out all sorts of scary opponents. The Hurricanes rank as one of the few teams deep enough to counter Florida’s war chest on offense. The Rangers are already better than they previously looked, but even if the Panthers hog the puck, Igor Shesterkin could steal a series.

All things being equal, a second round matchup seems likely the steepest hurdle. But strange things happen in the playoffs.

Avalanche begin with a chance for revenge, also should expect trouble in second round

For those who still view the Avalanche as a fairly new juggernaut, this may seem strange. But they’re highly likely to get a chance to exact previous playoff revenge in the first round.

Most likely, the Avalanche will draw either the Stars (who stunned them in the Second Round in 2020) or the Golden Knights (who spurned them in last year’s Second Round showdown).

Not long ago, the Golden Knights loomed as a potential nightmare first-round opponent. They’ve been their own nightmare as much as anything else lately. While that collection of talent could put it together, goalie issues and general dysfunction likely make the Golden Knights look far-from-imposing to the Avalanche.

In the broadest ways, the Stars present a similar challenge to the Avalanche as they did during those odd bubble playoffs. Dallas plays stingy defense, and while the name recognition isn’t there with goalies, they’ve been getting solid-enough work. Most importantly, even the Avalanche might struggle to either stop or outscore the trio of Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, and Jason Robertson.

Overall, those strike as reasonably manageable matchups for the Avalanche, and the Predators qualify as such too. (They could be quite vulnerable if they slip to the second wild card and Juuse Saros isn’t healthy.)

If the Avalanche advanced, they’d feel some of the Panthers’ pain in drawing a tough second-round opponent either way. Both the Blues and Wild are ending the season on hot notes. Smart team-building has each team presenting more scoring options than before, and their goaltending duos look palatable-to-strong. The Avalanche can’t be thrilled to ponder that both the Wild and Blues have the sort of players who can frustrated Nathan MacKinnon, such as former Selke Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly.

In the Pacific, the Flames present the biggest threat (they even have a +88 goal differential, slightly ahead of the Avalanche’s +80). Calgary’s put together in a way that just screams “playoff form.”

It’s one thing to play defensive hockey and hold on for your life, as the Stars and Predators likely would hope to do against the Avalanche. It’s another thing to actually be able to hog the puck on your own. The Flames rank as one of the teams most likely to pull that off.

If the Avalanche were to get to the third round and not face the Flames, then an improving Oilers squad could also be an interesting threat.

From what we know right now, it seems like the path is slightly clearer for the Avalanche than it looks for the Panthers. Of course, this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so it’s probably safest just to assume that everything we assume is actually wrong.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (sorted by points percentage)

ATLANTIC DIVISION
Panthers vs. Capitals
Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

METROPOLITAN DIVISION
Hurricanes vs. Bruins
Rangers vs. Penguins

CENTRAL DIVISION
Avalanche vs. Stars
Wild vs. Blues

PACIFIC DIVISION
Flames vs. Predators
Oilers vs. Kings

TODAY’S KEY GAMES

Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET
Coyotes vs. Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Panthers – clinched No. 1 seed in Eastern Conference
Maple Leafs – clinched
Lightning – clinched
Bruins – clinched
Red Wings – eliminated
Sabres – eliminated
Senators – eliminated
Canadiens – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Hurricanes – clinched Metropolitan Division title
Rangers – clinched
Penguins – clinched
Capitals – clinched
Islanders – eliminated
Blue Jackets – eliminated
Flyers – eliminated
Devils – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Avalanche – clinched No. 1 seed in Western Conference
Wild – clinched
Blues – clinched
Predators – clinched
Stars – 98.7%
Jets – eliminated
Blackhawks – eliminated
Coyotes – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Flames – clinched Pacific Division
Oilers – clinched
Kings – clinched
Golden Knights – 1.3%
Canucks – eliminated
Ducks – eliminated
Sharks – eliminated
Kraken – eliminated

draft lottery

Getty Images

DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE (via Tankathon)

18.5% – Canadiens
13.5% – Coyotes
11.5% – Kraken
9.5% – Flyers
8.5% – Devils
7.5% – Blackhawks (*conditional)
6.5% – Senators
6.0% – Red Wings
5.0% – Sabres
3.5% – Ducks
3.0% – Sharks
2.5% – Blue Jackets
2.0% – Islanders
1.5% – Jets
0.5% – Canucks
0.5% – Golden Knights (*conditional)

“Beginning this season there will be a limit on the total number of selections (10) a team participating in the lottery can move up in the event it wins one of the lottery draws, a change announced by the NHL on March 23, 2021. Only the top 11 seeds will be eligible to receive the No. 1 selection in the 2022 draft.”

The 2022 NHL Draft Lottery drawing will be held May 10

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE

Connor McDavid, Oilers – 122 points
Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers – 115
Johnny Gaudreau, Flames – 113
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 109
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 106
Kirill Kaprizov, Wild – 105

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 60 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 55
Chris Kreider, Rangers – 52
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 50
Kirill Kaprizov, Wild – 45
Kyle Connor, Jets – 45
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 44

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Push for the Playoffs: Pondering paths for Panthers, Avalanche originally appeared on NBCSports.com



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