In the first round, either the Carolina Hurricanes or the New Jersey Devils are likely to face the New York Rangers. No other series, according to Adam Proteau, will feature as much high-stakes drama.
While there are likely first-round series that will be thrilling to watch, there is no more high-stakes drama than what we are going to see between the second and third seed in the Metropolitan Division. We are starting to see some real separation in the standings now that the NHL's 2022-23 regular season is about three weeks away.
Yes, it is true that the almost certain first round matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lighting will be extremely compelling for a number of reasons. We will find out if the Buds are finally able to advance to the second round or if this is yet another season of post-season misery for them. However the Metro plays out, the New York Rangers, who are almost certain to finish third in the division, will face either the Carolina Hurricanes or the New Jersey Devils in Round 1.
We will bring the Hurricanes and Rangers together in a game that will be extremely difficult for one of those two teams if New Jersey succeeds in passing Carolina for first place in the Metro.
Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour has one of the best minds for the game, and the Hurricanes have been electric for the majority of the season. They are 21-6-1 and have not lost more than two games in a row since January 10. However, the Rangers have won eight of their last ten games, going 8-3-1, and they have defeated Carolina twice out of three times this season. Before the playoffs begin on Thursday night in Manhattan, the two teams will fight once more.)
Regardless, the Hurricanes and Rangers will not play a short series, and regardless of what happens, one of those teams will have a disappointing season.
The same holds true in the event that the Canes win the Metro and the Devils and Rangers meet in a first-round series.
The Devils' explosive start has slowed down somewhat of late, but they have maintained their outstanding 21-6-5 record since January 5 and acquired winger Timo Meier, arguably the most significant acquisition of the trade deadline. In contrast, the Rangers have performed admirably against the Devils, going 1-1-1 in their three meetings thus far this season (a fourth and final regular-season matchup is scheduled for March 30). And no other team made more significant moves prior to the trade deadline than the Blueshirts, adding star wingers Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko to the Rangers' roster for nothing.
We don't think either team will win the Devils-Rangers first-round series, so whichever team wins may not have much left to play for. It really is too close to call.
Listen, each playoff series in the first round will be worth watching. The best time of the year is during the playoffs' first round, and hope never dies. Getting to the top of a division after enduring a brutal regular season is an accomplishment. However, this is why first place matters, particularly this year in the Eastern Conference. The seventh-ranked team in the East, likely one of Pittsburgh, Florida, or the New York Islanders this season, will play the winner of the Metro. Compared to the Rangers, Hurricanes, and Devils, those teams have a lot more flaws.
The Metro series between the second- and third-best teams promises to be the best skill-versus-skill matchup of the first round, regardless of how it plays out. One of the Hurricanes, Devils, or Rangers will be eliminated by the end of the first round, and at least one of them will return home for the summer before earning the right to play hockey in May.
Nobody ever said it would be easy to win the Cup.