2023 NHL Eastern Conference Second Round Playoff Predictions

The first round of the NHL playoffs intrigued and entertained many fans and analysts. The best regular season NHL team of all time was eliminated after going up three games to one versus last year’s President’s trophy winners. Toronto finally won their first playoff series in 19 years. New Jersey continues to shock the NHL world after their elimination shutout of the Rangers. Carolina proved they can take care of business with flexible goaltending and no Andrei Svechnikov. Four fantastic teams will show audiences why they made it this far, but only two elite teams will go to round three. It’s time to predict which two have the best chance of advancing to the conference finals.

#8 Florida Panthers v. #5 Toronto Maple Leafs

One captain’s dream will come true: an eastern conference finals appearance against the best team in the Metropolitan. The winner of this series has a great chance of taking home the Stanley Cup due to their depth, determined mentalities and all-out efforts in play.

No one had this second round matchup even as a distant thought. The Florida Panthers led by their head coach Paul Maurice and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky pulled off the biggest upset in NHL history. The Toronto Maple Leafs finally ended their 19 year curse and got past the first round, and they did it against this decade’s reigning eastern conference champions. Both teams bring confidence, high octane offense and grit. While most would laugh it’s fair to say the winner of this series has a great chance of not just going to the Stanley Cup finals, but winning their first title this century.

Serious fans and analysts should go over film on Auston Matthews’ play from last series. His half dozen blocked shots in a series clinching game shows how far he’s come from being a pure goal scorer. The addition and leadership of Ryan O’Reilly has changed the locker room into perennial loser to a determined team believing they can win it all by executing the small and physical parts of the game on a near religious basis.

No team matured faster than last years President’s trophy winning Panthers. They also shot-block well, but there are other factors tilting in their favor. Paul Maurice’s explicit tirade after lackluster performances and losses to more physical teams such as Ottawa reversed Florida’s trajectory. NHL Network analysts have broken down the Panthers playing the side of the rinks perfectly while fresh coaching has heightened physical play near the net and excellence in reading defensive coverages. They’re behind only said Senators in penalty minutes, meaning they can fight and cause a lot of trouble no matter how smooth a game goes. Even better, the defense is rock solid with Aaron Ekblad finally playing every game in the postseason.

The series will be determined by who’s better in net every night. Florida has the luxury of starting Sergei Bobrovsky or Alex Lyon if either falters. The Leafs are dependent on Ilya Samsonov due to Matt Murray’s season ending injury. Samsonov has to win almost every game by playing close to perfect against a more determined team, and he hasn’t been in these spots before unlike Bobrovsky. Regardless of who wins, this might be the best series in round two.

Upset of round two: Panthers win series 4-2

#3 New Jersey Devils v. #2 Carolina Hurricanes

Captain Jordan Staal and the Hurricanes offense have to play their best against a young and care-free Devils team that loves causing chaos.

This might be the most polar matchup of round two. New Jersey defies every expectation this season and keeps making storylines no matter the topic. Whether it’s their top four offense in the league or the emergence of Akira Schmid in net, nothing seems to dampen the mood in Newark. Captain Nico Hischier and star Jack Hughes lead the offense while veteran defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves keep the defense steady and alert. One of the best advantages for the Devils is their loose style of play while having fun and expecting to learn more lessons than coach Lindy Ruff can teach.

ESPN commentator Dominic Moore said it best when Carolina played the Islanders at the start of last series, “Safe is suicide.” The Hurricanes have to take risks just like when they unexpectedly got past the Washington Capitals five seasons ago. Carolina has the better roster and more veteran team like the Rangers did, but pressure is building on coach Rod Brind’Amour to get the team out of the second round or conference finals.

Just like Florida and Toronto, the winner of this series will be the one with better goaltending. While Frederik Andersen will start and play more this series after Antti Raanta sputtered, the Hurricanes have the option to make a switch if things don’t go well with Andersen. Akira Schmid’s comparison to Devils and league legend Martin Brodeur is worthy praise, but even Brodeur struggled at times in the playoffs and it sunk New Jersey’s chances at a championship. Perhaps Schmid takes out another team that spent lots of money upgrading the roster. It might be harder with how coach Brind’Amour’s been in similar situations both as a player and coach.

Prediction: Hurricanes win series 4-2

Eastern conference first round picks record: 1-3


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