2023 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs preview

April 17, 2023
Two postseason mainstays — Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals — missed the playoffs, but there are 16 star-studded contenders to get to know before the fun begins…
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✏️ The details

The Stanley Cup Playoffs feature 16 of the league’s 32 teams — eight from the Eastern Conference and eight from the Western Conference. Within each conference, the top three teams in each division (Atlantic and Metropolitan in the East, Central and Pacific in the West) as well as the two next-best teams in each conference (the wild cards) make the playoffs.

Each of the four playoff rounds is a best-of-seven-game series. In each conference’s first round, the second wild card team (with the worst record) takes on the division winner with the best-record, while the first wild card team (with the better record) faces the conference’s other division winner. The remaining two series pair the No. 2 and No. 3 teams from the same divisions.

  • For example, the Boston Bruins won the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference, and the Carolina Hurricanes won the Metropolitan. Since the Bruins had the better record, they’ll face the Florida Panthers while the ’Canes take on the NY Islanders.

And all teams are playing for one thing: the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup, the hardest trophy to win in sports. No guts, no glory.

🏆 The top teams

Boston Bruins (Atlantic): The big bad Bruins are the big bad team to beat after their historic regular season. Boston set the all-time record for most wins in a season and most points, and now their power play — their greatest weakness — is finally clicking at exactly the right time. Beware these bears.

Colorado Avalanche (Central): Overcoming their slow start and early season injuries, the Avs stormed from behind to repeat as division champs. And, with the exception of captain Gabriel Landeskog, they’re finally healthy, as a handful of injured standouts return in hopes to win the Stanley Cup yet again.

Toronto Maple Leafs (Atlantic): The Leafs’ past glory days may sound like folklore *cue the ’67 jokes,* but this might be the year the Buds survive the first round. Their youthful core has matured, and with the addition of defensive veteran Ryan O’Reilly, their depth has never been greater. Needless to say, Toronto fans are ready to (hopefully not) get hurt again.

💪 The contenders

Edmonton Oilers (Pacific): It’s been almost 35 years since Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier’s ’80s dynasty squad won the Cup for Edmonton, and now a different dynamic duo — Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — will look to get the job done again. They’re slick, more playoff-savvy than ever, and hungry to hoist the Cup.

Vegas Golden Knights (Pacific): They already topped the Western Conference standings and now they’ll be donning their postseason armor alongside captain Mark Stone, who’s returning from back surgery just in time for the squad’s main quest. Now go, cat, go.

Carolina Hurricanes (Metropolitan): This bunch of jerks back-to-back division champs have blown away the competition all season. With the offensive prowess of Sebastian Aho (who’s especially strong against their first-round opponent NY Islanders), they may just surge their way to a second franchise Cup.

Dallas Stars (Central): The Stars shone bright in the competitive Central Division, led by the sparkling play of two standouts: 100-point-scoring left winger Jason Robertson, andlockdown ’tendy Jake “the otter” Oettinger. Time will tell if they can turn their regular season success into a deep playoff run, though.

🏇 The dark horses

Tampa Bay Lightning (Atlantic): After a Cup-less two years, the back-to-back 2020–21 champs are ready to strike again. The Bolts may have finished sixth in the Eastern Conference, but the benefit of their postseason experience can’t be understated.

Winnipeg Jets (Central): Despite just sneaking into the playoffs, they’re entering the postseason with new momentum after winning three of their last four games, largely on the back of former Vezina Trophy–winning ‘tendy Connor Hellebuyck. But are they really ready to whiteout the competition again?

Seattle Kraken (Pacific): They might be the new kids on the block, but the Kraken are playing like vets, making their playoff debut in just their second NHL season. As you might expect from a team of young guns, they’re all about the offense, netting an average of 3.52 goals per game, good for fifth in the league. Time to unleash.

NY Rangers (Metropolitan): After last year’s run to the Eastern Conference finals, this storied squad looks quietly poised for a repeat. Left winger Artermi Panarin and center Mika Zibanejad put up big point totals this season, but the Rangers really shine in the crease thanks to reigning Vezina Trophy–winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin.

👀 Players to watch

Auston Matthews, center, Maple Leafs: The reigning Hart Trophy winner has been the heart of the Leafs’ rebuild since the 2016–17 season, but has yet to lead his squad past the first round in his six playoff appearances. That said, with 24 points in his last 19 games, this former No. 1 draft pick is in peak form to finally complete the mission.

Connor McDavid, center, Oilers: McDavid secured his first 50-goal season (the fastest active player to do so), became the fifth fastest player in NHL history to score 800 goals, and handily led the league in points and goals this season. Now to nab the only trophy to fail to grace his mantle — the coveted Cup.

David Pastrňák, right winger, Bruins: The man known as “Pasta” brought plenty of sauce this season, becoming just the 23rd player in NHL history to notch a 60-goal season. Pastrňák’s netted 49 career game-winners — plus, his moves are just as cool as his lewks.

Ilya Sorokin, goaltender, Islanders: The Isles just snuck into the playoffs, largely thanks to Sorokin’s lockdown play. The ’tendy boasts a .924 save percentage (third best in the league), not to mention a league-leading six shutouts on the year. He’s a brick…wall.

Nathan MacKinnon, center, Avalanche: This franchise star is thirsty for the two-peat. He broke the 100-point mark for the first time in his career this season and, despite recovering from an upper-body injury, MacKinnon’s leading the league in even-strength minutes, during which his Avs significantly outscored their opponents. Watch out.

📺 How to tune in

There’ll be near-daily playoff hockey over the next month and a half, leading to the start of the Stanley Cup Final in early June. The journey beginswith the puck dropping on four series tonight before the other four get underway tomorrow.

  • If you’re in the States, you’ll be able to flip between ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, TNT, and TBS for all the action before TNT handles the Final. And in Canada, catch the spice on the ice on either Sportsnet or CBC.