The Stanley Cup Playoffs are here.
The Boston Bruins had a season for the ages as they won the Presidents' Trophy with the NHL's best record for the fourth time over the past 10 campaigns. The Bruins also tallied an NHL single-season record 135 points, which topped the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens' record of 132 points. Meanwhile, after completely missing the postseason last year, the Vegas Golden Knights earned the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are one of the most exciting times of the year in any sport. For casual fans that may not have a favorite team to root for, we've got you covered with the teams and players that you need to be cheering for throughout the postseason.
Throughout the season, it was abundantly clear that Connor McDavid is the best hockey player on the planet. After all, McDavid recorded 153 points (64 goals & 89 assists) and helped lead the Edmonton Oilers to the second-most points in the Western Conference behind only the Golden Knights. McDavid tallied the 15th-most points in NHL history and the eighth-most in team history behind several of Wayne Gretzky's magical seasons.
Simply put, it benefits the sport the deeper McDavid carries the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Like Patrick Mahomes in the NFL and LeBron James in the NBA, McDavid makes highlight reel play after highlight reel play, and makes impossible feats seem downright pedestrian. If you haven't seen much of McDavid on a sheet of ice, you're in for a treat. He'll weave his way through an entire defense and make your jaw drop. Rooting for greatness is never a bad thing.
The Toronto Maple Leafs may have had a terrific regular season, but that's really become irrelevant at this point. That's because the Maple Leafs have failed to make it out of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the last six seasons. In fact, Toronto hasn't won a playoff series since the 2003-04 season, when they defeated the Ottawa Senators in seven games in that year's Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
It seems like a crime that star center Auston Matthews hasn't embarked on a deep postseason run, and he's in his seventh professional season. Much like McDavid, the sport benefits from a player like Matthews chasing the Stanley Cup for as long as possible. After topping the 60-goal mark a season ago, Matthews scored 40 goals this season -- and that could almost be viewed as a down year. That's just because of how talented Matthews truly is. Fans will want to get a glimpse of Matthews on the ice for as long as possible this postseason.
Who doesn't love a shot at greatness? The Colorado Avalanche won their first Stanley Cup since 2001 last June when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning. Coming off of that Stanley Cup, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for the defending champions. The Avalanche have been decimated by the injury bug throughout the regular season. At various points, Cale Makar, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Artturi Lehkonen have all missed significant periods of time.
The Avalanche will definitely have their work cut out for them with captain Gabriel Landeskog slated to miss the entire postseason due to a knee injury. Still, this is a team that is oozing with talent and is more than capable of repeating as Stanley Cup champions. It's quite possible that Makar could put Colorado on his back much like he did during the 2022 playoffs. Guys like Makar and MacKinnon are certainly worth tuning in for as they can score from just about anywhere on the ice. Obviously, we saw the Lightning win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021, but it's also a pretty cool sight to witness a team hoist the Cup in consecutive campaigns.
If you like a true underdog story, the Seattle Kraken are the team for you. Just don't be alarmed when you see the team's mascot, Buoy, descend from rafters during one of Seattle's playoff games. In just their second season as an NHL franchise, the Kraken are postseason bound.
This is a team that won just 27 games a season ago, but had an eventful offseason in which they added the likes of Andre Burakovsky and Oliver Bjorkstrand. In addition, Matty Beniers excelled as the team's top-line center in his first full NHL season, and he will likely earn Calder Trophy honors as the league's top rookie because of it. Beniers' play also resulted in a strong year for fellow forward Jared McCann, who scored a career-best 40 goals. The Kraken were one of the Wild Card teams in the West, so they likely won't be favored in many games throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Still, it's going to be fun to see playoff hockey in the Pacific Northwest.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights really broke the mold during their inaugural season in 2017-18. This was a team that defied expectations and advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season. Five years later, the Golden Knights haven't sniffed the Stanley Cup Final again after that fateful season. In fact, Vegas missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs all together last season after acquiring star center Jack Eichel in a blockbuster trade with the Buffalo Sabres.
Despite being one of the league's newer teams, T-Mobile Arena offers one of the most electric atmospheres to watch a hockey game. It can be downright deafening if you're attending a home game in Vegas. Those kind of atmospheres are awesome to see, and they ramp up even more when the postseason rolls around. Plus, it'll be nice to see Eichel finally get to take part in the playoffs for the first time in his NHL career.
Next to the Kraken, the Carolina Hurricanes are probably the next in line if you love rooting for the underdog. It may seem surprising that the Metropolitan Division winners would be an underdog, but injuries haven't exactly been kind to Carolina. The Hurricanes traded for winger Max Pacioretty last summer, and Pacioretty suffered a torn Achilles shortly after being acquired. Pacioretty then returned in January for just five games before tearing his Achilles again, and he is now lost for the season. If that wasn't bad enough, fellow winger Andrei Svechnikov suffered a season-ending knee injury in March.
The Hurricanes have played the bulk of the 2022-23 season without Pacioretty in the fold. For that reason, they've been more equipped to deal with that particular loss, but Svechnikov is one that definitely could hurt as the postseason progresses. A great deal of pressure will shift to goal-scoring threat Sebastian Aho along with strong goaltending. Seeing Carolina embark on a deep Stanley Cup run would be extremely entertaining, and who doesn't love the team that everybody is counting out.