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2021-22 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals Preview

May 30, 2022 Playoff Previews

The Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers Game 7 is why I never bet, even though I'm right more often than wrong. I'm never wrong when I have a strong feeling, but I rarely get those. The first six games went as they should, with the home team winning each one. If you only looked at the stats for Game 7, you would assume the Hurricanes won because they did what they usually do. They outshot the Rangers, won more faceoffs, and dominated the zone possession time. But they lost. They took two dumb penalties right after Mark Messier, and Chris Chelios said not to do that in the pregame. Their usually reliable penalty kill didn't hold. Then Seth Jarvis and Antti Raanta got injured. Their rookie third-string goalie comes in and gives up a goal on his second shot, and the game is over. If those penalties and injuries hadn't occurred, this seems like a game they would have won. But that's not what happened. We usually have one blowout Game 7 every year, and this was that one.

I'm sorry I suggested the Florida Panthers had a shot at winning. That was the worst playoff performance since the Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Tampa Bay Lightning. They couldn't do anything right. The power play was awful, all those career years and nobody showed up, and they had so many mental mistakes. They kept trying to pass the puck through nonexistent lanes on the power play. And I don't know what that was at the end of Game 2. You leave your man in the front of the net for a guy who is covered behind it. If the guy wasn't covered, I'd give him the benefit of the doubt because he could do a wrap-around. But there's no excuse for that. Game 4 was their best game, and they still couldn't win. Dreadful. There was no excuse for this either.

I'm really not interested in watching the Lightning participate in their sixth conference final in eight years. I'd like to see something different. The Golden State Warriors are also going to their sixth finals appearance in eight seasons, but it seems different with guys like Wiggins and Poole contributing. On a side note, I told my dad after the first round it would be Celtics vs. Warriors. I didn't have a feeling about it, though. I'm glad I didn't bet on that either because the Celtics almost choked away that Game 7. Last year after the first round, I had a very strong feeling the Suns would go to the finals and lose, although no idea to who. That's exactly what happened. Such a weird feeling. I don't watch much basketball either. Just a handful of playoff games. I am looking forward to this finals, though. I've wanted this match-up for a few years now. Anyway, this Lightning team is virtually the same. I wish they'd disappear for a while and come back with different players.

The Calgary Flames should have won Game 5 to force Game 6. There was a slight kicking motion, so the goal should have been disallowed, but there was no reason to do that since it was already going in. I give Mike Smith a lot of crap, but that goal from past center ice is hard to stop. It's harder than a breakaway. I let one in from center ice once. They're hard because you don't expect them, and they're hard to track and judge.

I'm curious about how the Oilers would have done against the Dallas Stars, and I wanted to see every combination of Flames, Stars, Oilers, and Avalanche in the playoffs. Obviously, that's not realistic, and I'm mostly happy with what we've gotten so far.

M2 New York Rangers vs. A3 Tampa Bay Lightning

Season Series: 3-0 Rangers

Playoff Series History: 1-0 Lightning

What We Learned: The Lightning rolled easily over an inept Panthers team. The Rangers defied odds again and survived the Hurricanes.

Stars to Watch: Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Ross Colton, Ondrej Palat, and Steven Stamkos lead the Lightning in playoff scoring. Brayden Point is still injured. Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Andrew Copp, Chris Kreider, and Artemi Panarin lead the Rangers. All the Rangers stars have really delivered in key moments. But I can't say the same for the Lightning. It's usually their role players that shone brightly when needed.

Goalie Problem: This will be an entertaining goalie duel. Don't expect many goals. Andrei Vasilevskiy enters this series with a streak of five shutout periods and a blistering SV% in Game 7's. Igor Shesterkin is starting to heat up.

X-Factor: The powerplay may decide this series. You won't get many by the goalies during five on five, especially with the defensemen in this series.

Fun Fact: The Rangers giveaway the puck the most by far this postseason. The Lightning always convert turnovers into key goals. Those could also be what decide the series. Chris Kreider has three game-winning goals this playoffs, while Filip Chytil and Ross Colton have two.

Prediction: I really don't know about this one. Both these teams are hard to predict and are very even on paper. You can never count out the Rangers, but the Lightning haven't lost back-to-back games in eons. However, it's hard to argue with coming back from a 3-1 series deficit and two or more goal deficits in those final three games and then beating a team that had won seven straight home playoff games. It's also hard to argue with being the defending two-time Stanley Cup champs. I can honestly see both teams winning. The winner of the first game will probably win the series. I'm leaning toward Tampa Bay.

C1 Colorado Avalanche vs. P2 Edmonton Oilers

Season Series: 2-1 Avalanche

Playoff Series History: 1-1

What We Learned: The Avalanche continued their dominance and might have had two sweeps if not for releasing the gas peddle. The Oilers grew up quite a bit against the Flames after doing their usual stupid things in Game 1.

Stars to Watch: Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen lead the Avalanche in playoff scoring. Nazem Kadri heated up against the Blues. He needs more consistency, and they'll need a big series from him. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are averaging 2.17 points per game this playoffs. Evander Kane leads everyone with 12 goals. I mentioned they couldn't be stopped when on the same line, and boy was that true. They even did it more than I thought they would. I'm surprised Kane isn't on the first power play. Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played great against the Flames, and they need that to continue if they want to win this series.

Goalie Problem: Darcy Kuemper was decent enough, but it'll be challenging to handle the Oilers and all those shots. Mike Smith had another mixed bag performance. His pros outweigh his cons, but he's not the goalie to stop the Avalanche. However, he did better than expected against the Flames. He can't afford to make mistakes, and he'll face just as many shots.

X-Factor: The Avalanche can play any style, while the Oilers prefer a high-scoring game with a fast-paced style. The Oilers will win those games based on the season series, and the Avalanche will win the defensive ones. However, the Avalanche's two wins were in overtime and the shootout. I'd like to see if the Avalanche can dictate the play like the Jets did and the Kings sometimes did.

Fun Fact: These are the two highest playoff-scoring teams at 4.3 goals a game. Teams rarely score more goals in the first than the other periods. But the Oilers are extremely low, scoring only 17% of theirs in the first period.

Prediction: If everything went right, this was the Oilers' ceiling. Anything beyond this would be surprising. It's not that they can't win. It's they shouldn't. The Avalanche have paid their dues and have been building to this. The Avalanche have only had one bad playoff game and been outshot twice. The Oilers don't have the playoff experience to stop them. McDavid might be too much to handle, but Colorado has the best chance to shut him down. I will say the Oilers played as well as they ever have as a team against the Flames. Draisaitl played better while hurt. Here's hoping he stays hurt. He does less stupid things. He deserved a lot of credit for setting up the series-clinching goal. But nothing seems to phase this Avalanche team. The fact that they blew a 3-0 lead, and then MacKinnon goes down and retakes the lead, shows you their mindset. And they only lost that game because the puck took a funny bounce in overtime, and nobody could find it. This will truly be a battle of wills between McDavid and MacKinnon. But I think MacKinnon's will be stronger, and the Avalanche have a better defense. Here's hoping for a banger of a series. Avalanche in a long one.

Alex Mueller
Alex has played floor and ice hockey but never anywhere near NHL level. He's been writing this column since 2013. He's finishing up his first novel entitled Bobby Sterling vs Truth. He loves exploring the outdoors and photography.