Sixteen teams enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs with championship aspirations. Only one, however, hopes to cap off a historic regular season appropriately.
The Boston Bruins enter the postseason under a gigantic microscope following an otherworldly 65-12-5 campaign.
Despite the year-end disparity in the standings, a handful of potential opponents could derail Boston’s dream season. Here’s a look at the five teams who pose as viable threats to the Bruins’ hopes of hoisting their first Cup in 12 years.
Somehow, Boston’s stingy D held Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl off the scoresheet in their last meeting. Yet, the Oilers received significant contributions from their depth scorers in their come-from-behind victory at TD Garden in early March.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins joined McDavid and Draisaitl in the 100-point department. Zach Hyman picked up where he left off in Toronto during his first season in Edmonton. A healthy Evander Kane provides more lineup versatility for the high-octane Oilers.
But Edmonton’s defense also improved after landing Mattias Ekholm at the trade deadline. They ended their regular season with a nine-game win streak, allowing a mere 14 goals during that stretch.
The high-powered Oilers didn’t sacrifice their explosive offensive structure after a productive end-of-season stretch from goalie Stuart Skinner and the defensive system in front of him. As they await the Los Angeles Kings in Round 1, the Oilers appear primed to embark on another deep playoff run.
The defending champs are finally healthy and ready to defend their title.
The Bruins ran into the injury-plagued Avs twice in December. They endured an entire year without their captain, Gabriel Landeskog (knee). Reigning Norris winner Cale Makar and perennial Hart Trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon also missed time. Neither encountered a dip in production following their return(s) to the lineup.
Alexandar Georgiev provided an upgrade in net after Darcy Kuemper signed with Washington in the off-season. Mikko Rantanen embarked on a career season spending a chunk of the season without his two talented linemates in MacKinnon and Landeskog. With solid complimentary pieces supporting them, including J.T. Compher and Devon Toews, the Avs join the Oilers, Golden Knights and Stars as the favorites to represent the Western Conference in June.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Will the Lightning finally run out of gas after three straight appearances in the Final?
Perhaps their mediocre record during the home stretch provided an indicator. Or, maybe, the Bolts went into cruise control knowing they’d encounter another first-round matchup with the Maple Leafs.
Either way, discounting Tampa’s chances at yet another Cup isn’t too wise. While they might appear ripe for the taking, the battle-tested Lightning won’t go away quietly.
This year’s roster isn’t as deep. But a featured core of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman will always provide Tampa with a fighting chance.
The Bolts enter the 2023 playoffs in somewhat unfamiliar territory as underdogs. They’ll undoubtedly embrace that role if they get past the Leafs. But, the Bruins will hardly feel overwhelmed by Tampa’s aura in a potential second-round showdown.
The most recent team to eliminate the Bruins from the playoffs will have their hands full in their first-round matchup against the trap-happy New York Islanders.
Yet, of all the teams in the East, the Hurricanes pose the toughest matchup against the Bruins. That’s saying something even with the season-ending injury to the dynamic Andrei Svechnikov.
In some ways, the Hurricanes possess similar depth to the Bruins. Both teams have four balanced lines that present nightmare matchups.
Last season, Carolina deployed captain Jordan Staal and its third line to keep Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk in check. Because of the home ice advantage, it allowed them to pose other mismatches, primarily on Boston’s bottom six. A stingy defensive core led by Jaccob Slavin will also allow Rod Brind’Amour to exploit certain matchups during a potential third-round series.
But the Bruins will have a clear advantage in goal with either Linus Ullmark or Jeremy Swayman. Like Florida‘s goaltending platoon of Alex Lyon, Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight, the Canes rotated through their featured cast of Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta and Pyotr Kochetkov.
Even during a late season hiccup, the Canes navigated their way to a crowded top of Metropolitan Division. They won’t have an easy path to get to a possible matchup with the Bruins. A potential second-round series with the Rangers or Devils awaits Carolina if they get past the Islanders.
New York Rangers
The Broadway Blueshirts loaded up their depth at the deadline, acquiring prized acquisitions Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko. Their newest veteran playmakers provide Stanley Cup experience from their respective tenures in Chicago and St. Louis.
The Rangers held a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final before dropping four straight to the Lightning a year ago. The disappointing setback will only provide further motivation to take the next step toward perennial Cup contenders.
Kane and Tarsenko complement a solid core featuring Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Chris Kreider, captain Jacob Trouba and reigning Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin. They maneuvered their way through a tough Metro bracket last season, beating the Penguins and Hurricanes in seven games. They’ll have a difficult path again this spring, beginning with their Round 1 matchup against their tri-state rivals in New Jersey.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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