HomeNewsLet the NHL playoffs begin

Let the NHL playoffs begin

It’s the third straight year of the National Hockey League Stanley Cup playoffs without the hometown Philadelphia Flyers. We continue the tradition of suggesting a few things on each of the 16 teams to watch during the next two months of exciting playoff hockey.

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Boston Bruins

Their story: The Bruins set an NHL record for wins in a season en route to a 65-12-5 record, which is pretty incredible in the salary cap era. The city of Boston, although spoiled in championships, has actually seen only one Stanley Cup (2011) in the last 50 years. They’ve been back to the final twice since ’11 with this core. Will the third time be the charm?

Philly flavor: Nothing NHL-wise, but defenseman Connor Clifton is from Long Branch, New Jersey and played high school hockey at Christian Brothers Academy.

Root for him: Guys like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are easy to root for but they have both won in 2011. David Pastrnak, who scored 61 goals this season, didn’t break into the league until 2014.

Carolina Hurricanes

Their story: The Hurricanes won the Metropolitan Division by edging out New Jersey by one point and will have home ice through at least two rounds. Carolina won its only cup in 2006 and hasn’t been back to the final since then. It will be a challenge as Andrei Svechnikov and Max Pacioretty are both done for the season.

Philly flavor: Former Flyer Rod Brind’Amour has made the playoffs all five years of his coaching tenure in Carolina and is one of the most respected coaches in the league. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was traded to the ‘Canes from Arizona at the trade deadline and has helped out on the second power play.

Root for him: Big-bearded Brett Burns escaped sinking San Jose and will have a legit chance to win with Carolina.

Colorado Avalanche

Their story: Colorado is the defending Stanley Cup champion and will look to go back-to-back, which was last accomplished by Tampa Bay in 2021. However, the Avalanche will not have captain Gabriel Landeskog this time as Colorado confirmed he will not return this season.

Philly flavor: Nothing really obvious.

Root for him: Bowen Byram. The young defenseman had his share of concussions to begin his promising career and seems to be back to full health. He lives in Cale Makar’s shadow, but probably not for long.

Dallas Stars

Their story: One of the sneakiest good teams in the playoffs, the Stars are flying just below most radars as they finished second in the Central Division. They have all the pieces and aren’t far removed from a Stanley Cup final appearance in 2020. The Stars’ only championship was in 1999.

Philly flavor: Bit of a stretch but former Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese now holds the same position with the Stars.

Root for him: It’s gotta be Joe Pavelski, right? Now 38, the former seventh-round pick is contributing to arguably the best top line in the league.

Edmonton Oilers

Their story: The Oilers limped into the Western Conference final last year but were swept by the Avalanche. They are the hottest team entering this year’s postseason, led by Connor McDavid, who recorded 64 goals and 153 points. The Oilers’ last Cup was 1990.

Philly flavor: Not much, presently.

Root for him: Connor McDavid, 100 percent. We said this last year about Nathan MacKinnon: He’s a superstar and it’s time for him to win.

Florida Panthers

Their story: Last year, the Panthers were the Presidents Trophy winners and fizzled out in the second round. This year, they squeak in as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Perhaps the lack of expectations will do them some good as the Cats search for their first Cup.

Philly flavor: Former Flyers and longtime Lehigh Valley Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon was pressed into action due to injuries and has put the team on his back during an incredible late season run. The Panthers also have Sergei Bobrovsky, Radio Gudas and Nick Cousins.

Root for him: Lyon. He is one of the nicest and most engaging athletes you’ll ever meet. Wishing nothing but the best for him.

Los Angeles Kings

Their story: L.A.’s rebuild didn’t take as long as some expected as the Kings are in the playoffs in back-to-back years. L.A. won it in 2012 and 2014 and a few pieces like Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty still remain from that dynasty.

Philly flavor: Zack MacEwen gets a shot at the playoffs after the Flyers dealt him to the Kings at the deadline.

Root for him: Goalie Pheonix Copely of North Pole, Alaska has been quite the success story as the Kings said goodbye to two-time Cup winner Jonathan Quick this year.

Minnesota Wild

Their story: The Wild are in the playoffs again for the 10th time in the last 11 years. They’ve never made it past the conference finals and seem like one of the bigger wild cards heading into the playoffs. Their fate could depend very much on the health of Karill Kaprizov.

Philly flavor: Ryan Hartman, who had a brief stint in orange, has called Minnesota home for the last four seasons.

Root for him: Marc-Andre Fleury is 38 and still shows flashes of greatness.

New Jersey Devils

Their story: The Devils went from 63 points to a 112-point juggernaut in just one year. Former No. 1 overall picks Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier have become pillars of success in Newark. Ironically, a franchise that enjoyed the services of Martin Brodeur for two decades will have its season hinge on whether its goaltending stands up. New Jersey’s last Cup was 20 years ago.

Philly flavor: Assistant coach Ryan McGill played 134 games with the Flyers many moons ago.

Root for him: Can we even root for the Devils? Probably not. At least they don’t play the neutral zone trap anymore.

New York Islanders

Their story: The Islanders missed the playoffs last year after back-to-back years in the conference finals. The Isles famously won four straight championships in the early ‘80s. It’s been 40 since their last one.

Philly flavor: Nothing to speak of, unless former linesman Leon Stickle is still helping them out somehow.

Root for him: New York seems to have a bunch of guys who stuck around through the dog days like Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee.

New York Rangers

Their story: Not long after announcing it would rebuild, the Rangers have some of the most talented players in the league on their roster, including mid-season acquisitions Vlad Tarasenko and Patrick Kane. Things are getting juicy in the Big Apple. The Rangers have won one Cup (1994) in the last 83 years.

Philly flavor: Not much but Gord Murphy is behind the bench as an assistant coach.

Root for him: Do we have to? Chris Kreider has played his entire career (733 games) there.

Seattle Kraken

Their story: For the first time in franchise history, the Kraken are heading to the playoffs. The team enjoyed a 40-point leap in the standings from its inaugural season. They don’t have many stars but the atmosphere in Seattle should be something special.

Philly flavor: Former coach Dave Hakstol is getting Jack Adams consideration in his second season with the Kraken. Martin Jones is the backup goalie.

Root for him: Pretty much all of them. Most of these guys were castoffs taken in the 2022 NHL Expansion Draft.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Their story: The Lightning have looked sluggish at times but that can be expected for a team that has been to the Stanley Cup Final the last three years, and won it twice in that span. Will they once again flick the switch? Or are they too tired to make another run?

Philly flavor: Former Flyer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare keeps ending up on contenders and former Flyers draft pick Pat Maroon keeps collecting rings. Brian Elliott is once again the backup but don’t expect to see him if Andrei Vasilevskiy remains healthy. Also, Ross Colton of Robbinsville, New Jersey has become a solid contributor.

Root for him: The dynasty. Three Cups in four years is a rare feat we haven’t seen since the 1980s Oilers.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Their story: Another great regular season won’t mean a thing unless the Maple Leafs make it past the first round. In order to do so, they’ll have to slay the dragon of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have won the Eastern Conference the last three years. Call me crazy, but I think this is finally the year they get it done. The Leafs haven’t won since 1967.

Philly flavor: Wayne Simmonds still has something left to give as a bottom-six player. Erik Gustafsson has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise and Luke Schenn has found his way back to Toronto after all these years.

Root for him: Easy one in Mark Giordano. The former captain of the Flames is now 39 and is still a great defenseman, despite maybe losing a little off his fastball.

Vegas Golden Knights

Their story: Vegas missed the playoffs last year for the first time in its brief history. The Golden Knights were back with vengeance this season, finishing with the best record in the Western Conference with 111 points.

Philly flavor: Nolan Patrick is on the roster but hasn’t played all season due to injury.

Root for him: Take your pick: Jack Eichel will finally make his postseason debut and Jonathan Quick has a chance to rekindle his playoff magic as he tries for his third Cup.

Winnipeg Jets

Their story: The Jets leveled out after a free-fall from first place in the Western Conference nearly ended up in missing the playoffs. With Connor Hellebuyck in net, the Jets have the ability to steal games, and perhaps a series or two.

Philly flavor: Sam Gagne, who is 33 and has played more than 1,000 games, is on his seventh NHL team and is a serviceable bottom-six forward.

Root for him: Blake Wheeler has had a fine career and it would be pretty cool to see him handed the Cup (likely first) even after having the “C” removed from his sweater.

Mark Zimmaro
Mark Zimmaro
Mark Zimmaro is a reporter for the South Philly Review. Follow him on Twitter @mzimmaro or email at mzimmaro@newspapermediagroup.com
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