NHL Playoff Predictions: Eastern Conference First Round

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Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak takes a shot at the goal in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Boston.
(AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Rachael Millanta @rachaelmillanta Apr 17, 2023, 10:59 AM
  • Can the Panthers avoid a sweep vs. the Bruins?
  • Will the Maple Leafs finally make it to the second round?
  • David Pastrnak, Mitch Marner, and Jack Hughes will be players to watch.

The 2022-23 NHL regular season has wrapped up, and all attention has turned to Stanley Cup odds as the playoffs get underway. The eight Eastern Conference teams advancing to the postseason have been matched for the first round, with the format including the top three teams from each division and two Wild Card teams.

So which Eastern Conference players should you be watching in the first round? Here are three player predictions and four series predictions.

Stanley Cup Playoffs Predictions: First Round

David Pastrnak Will Record Over 10 Points

The Bruins have been untouchable all season, and even on a flawless lineup, Pastrnak has managed to shine bright. During the regular season, the 26-year-old right winger recorded 61 goals, 52 assists, 113 points, and 407 shots, ranking him second in the league on goals, third on points, and first on shots.

Pastrnak has played in 34 playoff games in his nine-year career and recorded 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists), so he’s no stranger to performing under pressure. 2022-23 has been his best year across all stats by far, so I’m expecting even bigger things this postseason.

It’s a big ask, but facing off against the Panthers, I think 10 points is basically a given for Pastrnak. 

Mitch Marner Will Record Over 6 Assists

Marner had the best season of his seven-year career in 2022-23, and that bar was already set very high. During the regular season, he recorded 30 goals, 69 assists, 99 points, and 196 shots, including a 19-game home point streak to set a franchise record — and the impressive stats don’t end there.

In December, 2022, Marner rode a 23-game point streak, surpassing Darryl Sitter and Eddie Olczyk (18 games) to set a Maple Leafs record. The streak was the longest in the NHL since 2015 (Patrick Kane, 26 games) and made Marner only the 12th player in league history to record a points streak of at least 23 games.

Going into the playoffs, I don’t expect the 25-year-old right winger to slow down. Marner has copped his fair share of criticism for previous postseason performances, but after recording two goals and six assists in seven playoff games last season, he’s proven that any drought he was dealing with is over.

In the first round, I think Marner recording at least six assists is very likely.

Jack Hughes Will Record Over 10 Shots

Hughes finished the regular season with 43 goals, 56 assists, 99 points, and 336 shots, ranking him eighth in the NHL in goals, 10th in points, and fifth in shots. His 99 points are also a new franchise record for a single season, breaking that of Patrik Elias (96).

In his fourth season in the NHL, this is Hughes’ first trip to the playoffs. While he’s been a player to watch since he debuted, 2022-23 has been a breakout year for the 21-year-old center, and I don’t expect him to take his foot off the gas in the postseason.

Meeting the Rangers in the first round, I think 10 shots by Hughes is a borderline conservative estimate. Keep an eye on the Devils star.

Florida Panthers vs. Boston Bruins

GAMEDATETIMEARENA
Game 1April 177:30 p.m.TD Garden
Game 2April 197:30 p.m.TD Garden
Game 3April 217:30 p.m.FLA Live Arena
Game 4April 233:30 p.m.FLA Live Arena
Game 5April 26TBDTD Garden
Game 6April 28TBDFLA Live Arena
Game 7April 30TBDTD Garden

Boston Bruins: 65-12-5
Florida Panthers: 42-32-8

Prediction: Bruins in five games.

In the 2022-23 regular season, the Bruins and Panthers met four times, each taking home two wins. The Bruins won their two home games, and the Panthers won their two, implying home ice advantage will be important in this series. Honestly, even though the Panthers finished the season well, I don’t think this will be a particularly difficult series for the Bruins. I’m picking it in five games, but I also don’t think a Boston sweep is out of the question.

Since the Bruins have the better regular-season record and, therefore, home ice advantage, Games 1, 2, 5, and 7 will be played at TD Garden in Boston, while Games 3, 4, and 6 will be played at ​​FLA Live Arena in Sunrise. 

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

GAMEDATETIMEARENA
Game 1April 187:30 p.m.Scotiabank Arena
Game 2April 207:00 p.m.Scotiabank Arena
Game 3April 227:00 p.m.Amalie Arena
Game 4April 247:30 p.m.Amalie Arena
Game 5April 27TBDScotiabank Arena
Game 6April 29TBDAmalie Arena
Game 7May 1TBDScotiabank Arena

Toronto Maple Leafs: 50-21-11
Tampa Bay Lightning: 46-30-6

Prediction: Maple Leafs in six games.

Toronto and Tampa Bay met three times during the regular season, with the Maple Leafs winning two games — one at home and one on the road. I certainly don’t think the Lightning will go down without a fight, but against Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, John Tavares, and a seemingly endless list of other stars on the Maple Leafs, the Lightning have a lot to be worried about, even if the Maple Leafs historically love to fall apart in the first round of the playoffs.

Since the Maple Leafs have home ice advantage, Games 1, 2, 5, and 7 will be played at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, while Games 3, 4, and 6 will be played at ​​Amalie Arena in Tampa.

New York Islanders vs. Carolina Hurricanes

GAMEDATETIMEARENA
Game 1April 177:00 p.m.PNC Arena
Game 2April 197:00 p.m.PNC Arena
Game 3April 217:00 p.m.UBS Arena
Game 4April 231:00 p.m.UBS Arena
Game 5April 25TBDPNC Arena
Game 6April 28TBDUBS Arena
Game 7April 30TBDPNC Arena

Carolina Hurricanes: 52-21-9
New York Islanders: 42-31-9

Prediction: Hurricanes in seven games.

In the regular season, the Hurricanes played four games against the Islanders and won three — one at home and two on the road. Of all the Eastern Conference matchups, I think this will be the tightest, even if the records don’t necessarily reflect it. 

I still think Carolina will have the edge, but New York’s Ilya Sorokin in net will be a major obstacle for the Hurricanes.

Since the Hurricanes have home ice advantage, Games 1, 2, 5, and 7 will be played at PNC Arena in Raleigh, while Games 3, 4, and 6 will be played at UBS Arena in Elmont.

New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils 

GAMEDATETIMEARENA
Game 1April 187:00 p.m.Prudential Center
Game 2April 207:30 p.m.Prudential Center
Game 3April 228:00 p.m.Madison Square Garden
Game 4April 247:00 p.m.Madison Square Garden
Game 5April 27TBDPrudential Center
Game 6April 29TBDMadison Square Garden
Game 7May 1TBDPrudential Center

New Jersey Devils: 52-22-8
New York Rangers: 47-22-13

Prediction: Devils in six games.

New Jersey and New York met four times during the regular season, with the Devils taking home three wins — two at home and one on the road. I expect the Hudson River rivalry will continue to be fierce, especially with the Rangers having pulled it together in the second half of the season after acquiring Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko. Still, I think the Devils will have the edge in this matchup, despite their lack of playoff experience.

Since the Devils have home ice advantage, Games 1, 2, 5, and 7 will be played at the Prudential Center in Newark, while Games 3, 4, and 6 will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

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About the Author

Rachael Millanta

Read More @rachaelmillanta

Rachael Millanta is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM focusing on Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Her work has been published in SB Nation, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Slackjaw Humor. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Rachael now resides in Chicago, Illinois.

Rachael Millanta is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM focusing on Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Her work has been published in SB Nation, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Slackjaw Humor. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Rachael now resides in Chicago, Illinois.