The Stanley Cup Playoffs could also be known as the Narrative Christmas.
The storylines that arise from this magical time from May to June essentially shape how we talk about the game for the year ahead, defining legacies and cementing superstars on hockey’s biggest stage.
This year’s playoffs are no different. So, before diving straight into the chaos of the first round, here are the 10 most pressing playoffs 2022 scenarios.
1. Can the Lightning Three-Peat?
We haven’t seen a hat-trick since ET was in theaters. So congratulations on all that parity, Gary Bettman. I guess it worked wonders.
If there’s one team that’s capable of moving forward in the modern NHL, it’s the Lightning. This is just a remarkably deep team from top to bottom, able to weather the loss of a few key support pieces in the offseason thanks to their management group’s bold approach to acquiring replacements.
Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow both left in free will? Oh it’s cool. Meet Branden Hagel and Nick Paul.
The Lightning are just an enviably tough group at every position, with a deep forward body, a towering blue line led by perennial Norris contender, and a goaltender who can win a playoff series virtually on his own. .
The rigors of playing more hockey than any other team in the last three years might be their only downfall. But even then, this three-round case is also not extravagant.
2. Can the Maple Leafs win an inning?
Being a Leafs fan is something of a Sysephian effort. You spend the entire regular season methodically pushing that boulder up the hill, only to knock it back down as soon as you see the top, crushing you along the way.
This is the deepest Maple Leafs team in the salary cap era. Heck, it might even be the deepest since players quit on-chain between periods. They are so good.
Toronto’s forward group is led by a 60-goal Hart favorite, one of the league’s deadliest point guards who finally found his shot this season, and John friggin’ Tavares. The blue line, meanwhile, has eight bodies each capable of logging quality NHL minutes, one of which is the 2019 Norris winner who actually plays on the third pair.
The goalkeeper, frankly, is the only major question mark. And even then, Jack Campbell showed his ability to transform into a world beater for months.
The adversary is formidable. But the Leafs have all the tools to break the curse this year. It’s just up to them.
3. Jumbo Joe’s Last Shot in a Cup
We all want Joe Thornton to be happy, don’t we?
This is almost certainly Jumbo Joe’s last season in the NHL. The guy is a senior whose body is currently held together by duct tape and dryer lint, having played just 34 games this season due to injuries and, well, declining play.
After a 24-year odyssey that has proven fruitless so far, this playoff represents what will likely be Thornton’s ultimate chance to win that elusive Stanley Cup.
It is imperative that he gets it. And finding himself at one of the best attacking clubs in modern history who have just completed the President’s Trophy, he has a good chance of doing so.
4. Can hurricanes survive without Freddie Andersen?
The Hurricanes are on the verge – painfully close – of taking this crucial next step in their organizational progression. The rosters they’ve iced over the past three years have gone deep, made even better by perennial contender Jack Adams guiding them behind the bench.
But it always seemed to end the same way, with the Canes’ annual Achilles’ heel eventually revealing himself as goalkeeper.
This season seemed different.
The Hurricanes took a chance on 30-year-old Frederik Andersen, who was coming out of an injury-plagued two-year final in Toronto. It was a risk, but a calculated risk. And, didn’t you know, it paid off! Andersen has been incredible in Carolina, posting Vezina-worthy numbers in 2021-22 that made all Canes fans feel like this year would break the tide.
Then Andersen got injured. And that belief is gone.
Andersen was ruled out for at least Game 1 of the Hurricanes’ first-round series against the Boston Bruins. The timing of his return is unclear at this stage, and even if he does return, it remains to be seen how good a veteran keeper battling another major injury will be when he’s thrust into the pressure cooker of the playoffs.
Antti Raanta has been solid in the past. But losing Andersen hurts. Really bad.
5. Is this the last penguin dance?
Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin are free agents this summer. Each player has suffered serious injuries in recent years, with Malkin missing more than half of this season due to his own illness, and both find themselves closer to their 40th birthdays than 30s.
It’s likely only one of those two franchise stalwarts will return to Pittsburgh next season. And given Letang’s significant health issues and reports that he is seeking a $10 million annual figure for his next contract, he could be the odd one out.
Basically, this is the last time we see the Crosby-Malkin-Letang Penguins shoot for a Cup. All good things come to an end. And with three rings to show for, this thing was certainly good.
But the end is near. Can they come out on top?
6. Is it finally Colorado’s year?
God, it’s such a good team.
It would be a travesty if the Avalanche didn’t win the Cup this season. They are arguably the deepest team in the league from top to bottom, are set to welcome Gabriel Landeskog back into the roster after a 30-game absence and face a relatively smooth path to the final. which begins with a team of Stars on offense. .
The stars (pun intended) align. And after seeing their Cup aspirations dwindle in the second round for the past two years, now is the best time for the Avalanche to finally reach the heights for which they are destined.
It turns out there’s a big X-Factor at play…
7. Can Nazem Kadri stay the course?
It would be cool if Nazem Kadri didn’t lose the lead in the playoffs this year.
Kadri can say there was no ill intent in the headshot he threw at Blues defender Justin Faulk in the first round last season, which earned him an eight-game suspension. And I would even tend to believe it. He doesn’t appear to be a malicious person. But three straight playoff series ending thanks to three different illegal blows to the head as a member of two different organizations is either an incredibly troubling trend or the biggest coincidence in modern memory.
I go with the old one.
A free agent this summer, Kadri has a personal interest in not hampering his team’s success this time around. He’s just too good to pull out of a series anyway, and if he can walk that line without crossing it, Kadri could be the extra jolt the Avs need to ride out the bump.
8. Can Florida overcome its playoff problems?
The Panthers are arguably the best offensive team of the salary cap era. That offensive power has seen them through more than a few dead ends this season with their firepower, with the Panthers recording 24 wins from behind. That’s over 40 percent of their total total!
This dance with the devil is very good. But the playoffs are a different beast, offering tighter margins and fewer open chances with which to work that magic. Can the Panthers continue to walk the tightrope they have when the stakes are higher than ever?
I guess we’ll find out.
If any team can do it, it’s them.
9. Can Johnny Gaudreau make the playoffs?
To say that Johnny Gaudreau has taken a big step forward this season would be an understatement. After a summer of trade rumors and uncertainty surrounding his future in Calgary, Johnny Hockey burst onto the scene with a performance worthy of Hart that answered all questions about his potential as an NHL superstar.
That is to say, except one.
The playoffs have not been kind to Gaudreau throughout his career. While his 19 points in 30 playoff games doesn’t sound alarming, few would argue that Gaudreau faded when the spotlight shone brightest in recent years, never leading the Flames beyond the second round.
Will this time be different? Sure it could be.
Gaudreau is playing the best hockey of his career — and possibly his life — while the Flames have arguably put together their most complete roster since that magical 2003 Cup run.
The stage is set. It’s time for Gaudreau to deliver.
10. Will McDavid be in his first-ever cup race?
Look, I’m just glad we can finally see Connor McDavid playing playoff hockey again. And it’s time for the team with the best player to finally benefit.
What happens next is anyone’s guess.
McDavid is a one-man wrecking squad – a player good enough to drag his team through a playoff series almost single-handedly with his game-changing skills that opposing coaches have yet to find the answer to.
All the Oilers have to do is get out of his way.