Predicting the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Predicting the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Credit: Tim Heitman / Dallas Stars

The Defending Big D staff weigh in on who stays and who goes home in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Starting out East and then moving through the West, here's what we think happens in each round. What series are you looking forward to the most? Which will be the biggest surprise?

Boston Bruins (A1) vs Florida Panthers (WC2)

  • Taylor B: lol at the idea of a juggernaut like Boston being beat by a team that staved off others’ ineptitude to make the playoffs. Bruins in 4.
  • Wes: If Florida had a goalie, a real goalie, this one might be fun. The Panthers scored 290 goals this season, third among Eastern Conference playoff teams. Matt Tkachuk was also in the non-McDavid MVP conversation. Not too shabby! Trouble is, the Bruins are a wagon, an all-timer with a Selke winner, Norris nominee, 60-goal scorer, and a .938 starting goalie. There is no position in which Florida can realistically claim an advantage over the Bs. That means Florida needs to goalie their way to victory, or hope the Bruins buy in to their own hype. Neither seems likely. Bruins in 4.
  • Tyler: When the Tampa Bay Lightning tied the record for most wins a few years back, they followed it up by getting swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. The Florida Panthers, who won the Presidents’ Trophy last year, are much better than that Blue Jackets team, but there will be no Cinderella story this time around. Bruins in 5.
  • Mark: Whenever I pick the Bruins to win, they always lose. Of the teams in the East, Florida isn’t the worst matchup, but how in the world can you not pick the B’s? Bruins in 6.
  • Taylor N: The Boston Bruins have been unbelievable this year. The struggling Florida Panthers won't be any match for the depth and goaltending that Jim Montgomery has. Bruins in 4.

Toronto Maple Leafs (A2) Tampa Bay Lightning (A3)

  • Taylor B: This might be the closest series in the Eastern Conference, and as much as it might be weird to see Toronto make it through to the second round, this feels like the year they do it. But everything has a price. Maple Leafs in 7.
  • Wes: Will this finally be the year!? With “just” 98 points, this is the first time in a hot minute Tampa Bay feels vulnerable. They didn’t even win the Cup last season! That said, does Toronto have the goalie to get it done? Should we worry that Auston Matthews’ production dropped by 20 goals and 21 points versus last season? It’s a battle of sports narratives! “They never win” versus “They never lose!” At the end of the day, I won’t pick against the Lightning until they lose, and won’t pick the Leafs until they win, even if my head says that might be a bit silly. Lightning in 7.
  • Tyler: Even with COVID-19 breaks factored in, Tampa Bay has played a lot of hockey the past three seasons. They also, quite simply, don’t look as strong this year. Besides, which is funnier – Toronto losing in the first round again, or finally winning only to get swept by the Bruins (or lose another Game 7 heartbreaker)? Maple Leafs in 6.
  • Mark: THIS IS THE YEAR. The Lightning have been using Duck Tape and goaltending to hold it all together, but eventually it has to fall apart. Toronto will win a series!!! Maple Leafs in 5.
  • Taylor N: Tampa Bay may not be the same team that had three Stanley Cup Final appearances but Andrei Vasilevskiy is still Andrei Vasilevskiy. And the Toronto Maple Leafs are still the Toronto Maple Leafs. Lightning in 7.

    Carolina Hurricanes (M1) vs New York Islanders (WC1)
  • Taylor B: It seems the “sexy pick” here is to have the Islanders upset the Hurricanes, but I, for one, do not subscribe to that. Carolina is too complete of a team. Hurricanes in 5.
  • Wes: In some respects this is similar to the Bruins/Panthers series. Carolina led the non-Boston NHL in points while the Islanders had to fight for their playoff lives down the stretch. The Isles are also missing Matty Barzal, which should matter a ton for a light-scoring team (only 242 goals this season). What the Islanders do have, or who more specifically, is Ilya Sorokin. Having the season’s best goaltender goes a long way towards playoff success. Throw in a couple of ill-timed Carolina Hurricanes injuries, and this is the series upset fans are watching. It will be closer than it has any right to be. Hurricanes in 7.
  • Tyler: Carolina is a mystery to me – they’ve had several significant injuries, subpar goaltending, and a lack of superstar performances from their forwards, yet they finished second in the league in points. Maybe Andersen gets hot at the right time, but I think Ilya Sorokin steals this one from them. Islanders in 7.
  • Mark: The Islanders are just the type of team that a Division winner doesn’t want to play in the first round. Low event, great goaltending and enough guys who’ve been through the playoff wars to make the team dangerous. Canes high event style is a major contrast - and one that hasn’t dominated in the playoffs. Hurricanes in 7.
  • Taylor N: The Carolina Hurricanes have been dominant all season. They are a very tough team to play against despite their success not making any sense on paper. Hurricanes in 6.

New Jersey Devils (M2) vs New York Rangers (M3)

  • Taylor B: The Rangers have the great equalizer with Shesterkin in the net, and the Devils have a fun(?!) offense for a change. But we’ve seen how that worked out for a high-flying Lindy Ruff-coached team before. Rangers in 6.
  • Wes: This series is going to suck a lot of media oxygen out of the room. Even if we put aside coastal bias, there is a lot to talk about. For the Rangers, it’s Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin, and high-profile deadline acquisitions Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko. For the Devils, it’s the holy-crap breakout of Jack Hughes, underappreciated brilliance of Dougie Hamilton, and this year’s big catch Timo Meier. As good as the Devils are, sometimes hockey is simple. Vitek Vanecek is not Shesterkin. Rangers in 6.
  • Tyler: It’s hard to count out Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Dougie Hamilton, but the Rangers counteract that with Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Adam Fox. This one comes down to goaltending, and the Rangers have the clear edge, plain and simple. Rangers in 6.
  • Mark: The Devils are this years "it" team. They're young and play with pace. Rangers have the advantage in net, but for once, young skill wins out. New Jersey in 7.
  • Taylor N: New Jersey has figured out how to be extremely successful with a relatively young team and unstable goaltending. The Rangers also always seem to come up short. But this will be a chippy series. Devils in 7.

Vegas Golden Knights (P1) vs Winnipeg Jets (WC2)

  • Taylor B: Mark Stone may be alive yet, and the Golden Knights have an incredible home ice atmosphere. The Jets should just be happy to be here at all. Golden Knights in 6.
  • Wes: If you’re Winnipeg, you’re hoping for a Rick Bowness series. Lean on superlative goaltending and hope Guys-Who-Have-Scored-Before consistently get you one more than the other guys. Squint your eyes, and you can kind of see it working. Vegas only recently got Mark Stone (multiple back surgeries) back into the lineup and at one point relied upon 2023 Jonathan Quick in net. An injury here, a bad goal there, you could see it all collapsing. Which is what people said most of the regular season while Vegas was on their way to winning the Western Conference. It will be closer than we think, but the 2023 Jets are not the 2020 Dallas Stars. Golden Knights in 5.
  • Tyler: Connor Hellebuyck has the potential to lead the Jets on a Cinderella run. Unfortunately, the rest of the team seems to be a bit dysfunctional these days – as long as the Golden Knights’ goaltender (whoever it ends up being) does a decent job, they should get the job done. Golden Knights in 5.
  • Mark: Rick Bowness has Vegas’ number. He has the goaltender and karma on his side. Jets in 6.
  • Taylor N: Rick Bowness' system and goaltending may give Vegas a tough time but that same system also hinders the team from doing what is required to do to win: score. Golden Knights in 5.

Edmonton Oilers (P2) vs Los Angeles Kings (P3)

  • Taylor B: Where does Connor McDavid go after that insane regular season? Is he enough to drag his team to the Stanley Cup Final? Maybe not, but it’ll be enough to get out of the first round at least. Oilers in 6.
  • Wes: Los Angeles made the tough call to move on from Jonathan Quick, and in so doing fixed their biggest flaw. Joonas Korpisalo is not in the elite tier necessarily, but when you go from shaky to solid behind a very good team it can have the same game-stealing effect. It’s going to have to be game-stealing, because Conor McDavid turned this season’s MVP conversation into a discussion over second place. One player, we are told, cannot win a hockey playoff series, but is McDavid a “player” at this point, or something else entirely? Did you know Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored 104 points? Oilers in 6.
  • Tyler: The Kings are a good team, but the Oilers are just downright scary. Call me a Stuart Skinner truther. Oilers in 4.
  • Mark: Every year, a team from Alberta goes up against a team from SoCal and goes home unhappy. This year, maybe not. The team that finds a goaltender will win, but its possible neither team does, in which case, you go with McDavid. Oilers in 7.
  • Taylor N: This will be the same match up as last season for the Edmonton Oilers and the LA Kings. However, these are not the same Oilers. They've added defense and found a rookie goaltender that has been able do what last year's Oilers couldn't. Oilers in 6.

Colorado Avalanche (C1) vs Seattle Kraken (WC1)

  • Taylor B: I think this has the potential to be a super fun series, and the two teams have played each other tight all season long. I’m not sure the Kraken get their first series win in the postseason, but it’s probably not as easy of an out as some might think. Avalanche in 6.
  • Wes: I do not trust the Kraken. Their two leading scorers - Jared McCann (70 points) and Vince Dunn (64 points) - only barely outscored Leon Draisaitl (128 points). Their starting goaltender could be Martin Jones (.887 sv%) or it could be Philip Grubauer (.895 sv%). The Kraken compliant that by being the league’s 21st-best power play and 21st-best penalty kill. Yes, Colorado is dealing with injuries (Gabe Landeskog will not play this post-season), but let’s be realistic. Avalanche in 5.
  • Tyler: Seattle is far from a “we’re just glad we made it” team after the season they had, but that doesn’t mean they’ll go far. Colorado isn’t completely healthy, but it’s hard to imagine them falling here. Avalanche in 5.
  • Mark: Seattle has had a magnificent run, but they don’t have the goaltending to take out the defending champs. Avalanche in 4.
  • Taylor N: Seattle has surprised everyone this season but they probably won't surprise us with a Round One victory. However, the Colorado Avalanche is held together by tape currently. Avalanche in 6.

Dallas Stars (C2) vs Minnesota Wild (C3)

  • Taylor B: After being around the team all season long, there’s just something intangible about this team that makes you think this year could be magical. It won’t be an easy one, but they’ve got the benefit of health on their side while the Wild struggled to stay healthy at the end of the regular season. Stars in 5.
  • Wes: Put history aside for a second. The Dallas Stars are top 10 in Goals For, top 5 goals against, top 5 power play, and top 3 penalty kill. Miro Heiskanen doubled his previous offensive best while sacrificing exactly nothing defensively. Jason Robertson did something Mike Modano never managed, and Jake Oettinger established himself among the NHL’s very best. Tyler Seguin is healthy and has functional offensive linemates. Joe Pavelski’s roommate just co-led league rookies in scoring, and Jamie Benn is thinking he’s back. Being the favored team comes with a whole new set of worries, but Dallas is better in a vacuum and healthier at the moment. Let’s see how they handle expectations. Stars in 5.
  • Tyler: I’m usually pessimistic when it comes to the Stars’ playoff chances. But I actually think they will go the distance this year. Minnesota started to fade and get hurt at the wrong time, and I’m not sure they’ll right the ship in time. Stars in 6.
  • Mark: Come on. You think I’m gonna pick the wanna be Stars? Stars in 6.
  • Taylor N: The Stars are heading into the playoffs on a six game win streak. They've got what other past successful Stars teams didn't. Couple that with a shell of the Minnesota Wild team, the Stars should be able to take care of business. Stars in 6.