We are officially more than two thirds of the way through the NHL season and things are heating up. The field for the playoffs isn’t set yet, so I’m going to take a look at the teams in the eastern conference and predict which eight teams will make the playoffs and rank them from 1-8 based on how far I can see them going this year.

1: Florida Panthers

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Sam Bennett on ice for the Panthers. He was traded from Calgary in 2021.

The Florida Panthers are absolutely smoking hot right now. They’ve won 5 of their last 6 and are being led by Jonathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett, who have 83 points and 24 goals respectively.

I fully expect the Panthers to add to their already stacked team by signing or trading for someone before March 21st. An interesting piece could be Seattle Kraken veteran defenseman Mark Giordano. He would help Florida on the back half of the ice as well as in the locker room where he would become an instant leader.

I can very much see Florida winning the cup this year. I expect Florida and Colorado to play in the Stanley Cup finals.

2: Carolina Hurricanes

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Sebastian Aho celebrates a goal.

Carolina is being led by Rod Brind’amour who is a candidate for coach of the year. Carolina has won 9 of 12 and will be playing a big game against Toronto this Thursday. They are hoping to extend their lead in the Metropolitan division and come out of the regular seasons as division champions.

If they can hold their lead they’ll be Metropolitan division champions for the very first time. They’ll tie the Rangers and Penguins with the second most Metro Championships in the division’s short history. First place belongs to Washington who has won 5 of the 7 division titles since it was founded.

Carolina plays hard nosed hockey. They’re fast, they’re gritty, and they out work almost every team they play. They’ve outscored their opponents 13-9 in their last five games and are following Sebastian Aho’s lead as he tries to take the Hurricanes deep into the playoffs. I expect Carolina to lose to Florida in the Conference Finals, but could see them being upset earlier than that as well.

3: Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning have won two straight Stanley Cups and are looking for a third. Without a doubt the Lightning are one of the deepest and most experienced teams in the league. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been great in goal all year and is always reliable in the playoffs.

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Tampa Bay will be looking to three-peat this year.

Tampa Bay is such a great team and I expect them to push deep into the eastern Conference. If any team has a chance of beating Carolina before the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s Tampa Bay.

4: Toronto Maple Leafs

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Toronto’s last playoff victory was in 2004

Toronto is a young team on the rise that has a lot of hope in its future. Unfortunately, Toronto is still haunted by its past. The Leafs have not been to a Stanley Cup since 1967 and have not won a Playoff series since 2004. It’s time for them to change that.

Auston Matthews leads the league in goals with 45 in 56 games. Mitch Marner is also having a great year with 39 assists, which isn’t even the best on the team. The Maple Leafs have 7 players with 25+ assists and 6 players with 32+ assists.

Toronto is built to score and they play a great style of hockey. However they’re 2-4 in their last six and need to make sure they carry momentum into the playoffs. I expect Toronto to drop in the second round to some of the more experienced teams like Pittsburgh or Washington.

5: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins were struggling earlier in the year but now are on a very streaky run. Since November 13th this has been the order of Pittsburgh’s results: 3 losses, 5 wins, 3 losses, 10 wins, 3 losses, 6 wins, 4 losses, 4 wins, 3 losses, 3 wins, 2 losses, 2 wins.

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(left to right) Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang celebrate a Pittsburgh goal.

Basically, the Penguins are having trouble staying consistent. They play great for a few games and then look bad for a few more in a row. This is concerning to have happened because in the playoffs if you drop three straight your season might as well be over.

Jake Guentzel has stepped up into the shoes Crosby left unattended this year. Guentzel has 28 goals to Crosby’s 20 this year, and already has six points in five games in March. I expect Pittsburgh to either upset the order of things or fall in the first round.

6: Washington Capitals

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Ovechkin is chasing down Gretzky’s goal record, but first must pass Jaromir Jagr and Gordie Howe.

Now hear me out. I know the Capitals are the ‘last team in’ in the Eastern Conference, but the Caps are playing well right now. Their goalies are starting to play as they should and Alex Ovechkin is leading them with 36 goals in his 17th season.

The Capitals are 4-1 in their last five and have won 6 of 10. They’re coming off of a tough first two months of 2022 and are hoping to start getting big wins before the playoffs come around.

If the Caps can get their team back to full health and head into the playoffs on a winning streak, I’d watch out. Washington was the best team in the Division for more than 3 months at the beginning of the season and they’re starting to work their way back there. I think the Caps can beat anyone when they’re hot. 

7: New York Rangers

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Kreider celebrates one of his 38 goals so far on the season.

The Rangers are .500 in their last eight games but have been led this season by Chris Kreider who has 38 goals on the year, which is already the most he’s ever scored in a season by 10 goals.

Kreider brings to the Rangers what they’ve been lacking the past few years, which is scoring. The Rangers are up there in the Metro Division for goals scored and have found a phenomenal goalie in Igor Shesterkin.

Were it not for Shesterkin I’m fairly confident the Rangers would be out of the playoffs. Kreider has had a phenomenal season but it’s easy to score meaningful goals when your goalie is stopping everything. I expect the Rangers to fall in the first round.

8: Boston Bruins

The Bruins are really, really hot right now, so don’t take me putting them at 8 as disrespect. I know the Bruins have won 4 of 5 and 9 of their last 11 games. They’re a solid team that plays good defense but was plagued early in the season by lack of scoring.Boston Bruins: 2021-22 NHL season preview | Pro Hockey Talk

The Bruins are +20 in goal differential but have only 180 goals scored which is lower than every team on this list except for the Rangers. It’s actually worse than one team not in the playoffs, the Columbus Blue Jackets who have 199 goals for.

I expect Boston to fall in the first round to either Tampa Bay or Florida. Boston is good but I don’t see them upsetting one of the top seeds.

 


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