With the Winnipeg Jets’ 4-3 victory over the Seattle Kraken on May 1, the NHL’s 2021-22 regular season has come to a close. There were 28 Weekly Lost & Found editions this season, and now with No. 29, we move into the postseason. This week, we’ll take a look at some surprising non-playoff teams, and give some Stanley Cup Playoffs predictions.
First, let’s look back on THW’s 2021-22 Predictions, cast on Oct. 12, 2021. In the Eastern Conference, our crew at THW predicted the four Atlantic Division teams correctly but had the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers making the playoffs over the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Out West, we predicted the Jets making the playoffs over the Nashville Predators, and the Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks making it over the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings.
It’s always interesting to look back on past predictions and see how the year played out. Most didn’t have the Kings being any sort of a factor this season, but they finished third in the Pacific with 44 wins. Similarly, the Islanders had high expectations after multiple deep playoff runs the past few years. Over 2,600 NHL games have been played this season, so let’s get ready for some more and jump into the inaugural Weekly Lost & Found playoff edition.
Lost: Vegas Golden Knights, New York Islanders Missing Playoffs Among Biggest Surprises
The Golden Knights managed to do what no other team could do this season: they acquired Jack Eichel. Eichel managed 14 goals and 25 points with a plus-3 rating in 34 games with them this season. However, the team went 15-14-5 with a minus-1 goal differential over that span.
Aside from five-on-five issues, their special teams proved to be unreliable and would have been a detriment if they had made the postseason. Their power play since acquiring Eichel was just 16.9 percent, slightly down from their 18.4 percent conversion rate this season. Similarly, their 73.7 percent penalty kill was below their 77.4 percent season rank. They’ll be missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The Golden Knights have a lot to figure out this offseason. They’ve mortgaged a lot of their future to win now, and have several contracts they’ll have to deal with in order to be salary cap compliant to start next season. It’ll be interesting to see the direction this team will go in, as all signs point to trying to right the ship with the group they have.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division, the Islanders were coming off back-to-back Conference Final appearances. Many had them penned to win the Stanley Cup this season; albeit the THW team had them losing in the Stanley Cup Final to the Colorado Avalanche.
They started the season on a 13-game road trip and found themselves on an 11-game winless streak from November into December. They ended that, but never really caught stride. They finished the year 16 points out of the second wild-card spot, trailing divisional foe Washington Capitals and fifth in the division overall.
Contrary to the Golden Knights, their special teams weren’t bad. The power play finished at 22.1 percent, 12th in the NHL, and their 84.2 percent penalty kill was fourth. Despite a strong start to the second half, injuries and the hole already dug were too much for the Islanders to climb out of. One of the bright spots was Brock Nelson’s 37 goals and 59 points in 72 games, both career-highs.
The Golden Knights have a lot to consider regarding their salary cap, while the Islanders have Nelson and a lot of their forward corps under contract for at least the next two years. It would be wise to keep an eye on what steps each general manager takes this summer to help their teams find their way back to the postseason.
Found: Stanley Cup Playoffs Predictions
Here we go. The tables are set and the team Twitter accounts have likely sent out the hype video tweets. For our purposes with the Weekly Lost & Found, we’re going to start off our analysis from each Conference Final. However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t let you know how we got there, so we’ll start off with a speed round… go!
A note from the author: these predictions are subjective to this writer and do not reflect the views of the entire THW team.
- Avalanche def. Predators
- St. Louis Blues def. Minnesota Wild
- Flames def. Dallas Stars
- Kings def. Edmonton Oilers
- Florida Panthers def. Washington Capitals
- Tampa Bay Lightning def. Toronto Maple Leafs
- Boston Bruins def. Carolina Hurricanes
- Rangers def. Penguins
- Avalanche def. Blues
- Flames def. Kings
- Lightning def. Panthers
- Rangers def. Bruins
Western Conference Final
It isn’t surprising to hear the Avalanche have made the Western Conference Final, especially considering THW’s team predicted it ahead of the season. However, getting by the Predators and Blues won’t be a walk in the park. In seven games between the two teams, the Avalanche are 3-2-2. However, dependable goaltending and their several superstars should help give them the edge.
On the flip side, the Flames are 4-0-2 against their two opponents and have seen explosive offense from their stars in Johnny Gaudreau and his 40 goals and 115 points, and Matthew Tkachuk’s 42 goals and 104 points in 82 games, respectively. Jacob Markstrom and his 37 wins and league-leading nine shutouts has thrown his hat into the Vezina conversation as well.
The Flames are going to pull this one out. While they went 1-2-0 against the Avalanche this season, their goaltending gives them the edge. The Flames had a better penalty kill while the Avalanche had a slightly better power play this season, but that penalty kill along with Markstrom should be the difference. The Flames would reach the final for the first time since losing the 2004 Stanley Cup.
Eastern Conference Final
The Lightning will make it to the Conference Final for the third year in a row, but won’t have the easiest path to get there. First, they’ll have to beat a Maple Leafs team that is desperate for a playoff series win. Though they’re in luck as they went 2-1-1 against the Leafs this season. Then they’ll face the President’s Trophy-winning Florida Panthers. This holds the potential to be an incredible series that the hockey world deserves to see. They’ve split their season series with the Panthers two games apiece.
The Rangers will make the Conference Final for the first time since losing to the Lightning in the 2014-15 Eastern Conference Final. They’ll have an arguably easier time than the Lightning. They’ll face the Penguins, who they beat three-of-four times this season and the Boston Bruins who they beat two-of-three times. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin is a frontrunner for the Vezina and a Hart Trophy hopeful, while they’ve seen great depth contributions from newcomers like Frank Vatrano and Andrew Copp.
The organization will exorcise some demons and defeat a Lightning team that’s played maybe the most hockey of any team over the past few years. Take that and add a playoff series against Auston Matthews, a 60-goal scorer, and a sure-to-be very physical in-state series. In addition, the Lightning haven’t beaten the Rangers this season.
Stanley Cup Final
This is a tricky one. The Rangers and Flames played each other just twice, and both games took place early on in the season. The Flames won by a combined score of 11-1. However, that was before the Rangers really caught their stride. Following that second loss, a 6-0 shutout, they went 12-2-0 with 50 goals scored.
The two teams are pretty evenly matched. The Flames have four 30-plus goal scorers, with no one else above 18; while the Rangers have just one, Chris Kreider with his 52 goals, but four total above 20 goals. They’re also pretty close defensively as the Flames led the NHL in goals-against with 139 while the Rangers were close behind in fifth with 148. The Rangers had the better power play, while the Flames had the better penalty kill, but that too was close. Goaltending is also a tossup.
It could be a great Stanley Cup Final filled with physicality and skill that…the Rangers are going to win. Aside from the fact that they have something to prove against the Flames this season, they have been getting key contributions from players they didn’t have when they last played the Flames. That depth is going to give them the edge and bring the first Stanley Cup since 1994 to Broadway.
This is the best time of the year. While the Golden Knights, Islanders and 14 other teams have a ton to think about, 16 teams will play for the greatest trophy in sports. For playoff coverage, the rapidly approaching NHL Entry Draft and more, stick with The Hockey Writers.
Sean Raggio lives for hockey. He will be covering the Seattle Kraken, and is a co-host of “What’s Kraken” for THW. Sean gained experience in writing for television, print and radio while studying journalism at Quinnipiac University and being an active member in the student media organizations there. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out on Twitter! A link can be found at the bottom of his articles, such as this one.