The Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are back in the NHL playoffs. Here’s what you need to know

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After more than two years of uncertainty that has blanketed the sporting landscape, the NHL has returned to its first full season since 2018-19 and is set to drop the puck for the Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 2.

In keeping with its “return to normal,” the league restored its pre-pandemic playoff roster, as the top three teams in each division along with two wild card teams from each conference claimed offers for the spring tournament.

Four new teams make up this year’s Final 16, as the Calgary Flames, New York Rangers and Dallas Stars return to the playoffs for the first time since 2019-20, and the Los Angeles Kings join the playoffs playoffs for the first time since 2017-18.

Only three of Canada’s seven teams hold playoff berths — Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton — after the Canucks trailed by five points; Winnipeg’s surprisingly disappointing season; and the ongoing rebuilding of Ottawa and Montreal.

Canadian teams

Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Few players have done better this year than Matthews, Toronto’s top player and league leading scorer.Illustration by globe and post

Toronto Maple Leafs against the first round

The Leafs enter the playoffs with perhaps the highest expectations of all after a historic regular season that ranks as the best in franchise history. Toronto finished 54-21-7 (115 points), earning the Eastern Conference’s third-best record and sixth straight playoff appearance.

Few players have done better this year than Auston Matthews, Toronto’s top player and league top scorer. The 24-year-old filled the net but also cemented his stature as one of the great two-way center players in the game. Matthews’ 60 goals set a franchise record for most scorers in a season, surpassing Rick Vaive’s 54 goals (1981-82), while his 106 points were also good enough to tie for sixth in the league. NHL.

But the question raised by many Leafs fans over the past few years is what the team did when it mattered most. Toronto has bounced back to the first round of the Stanley Cup in each of the past five seasons, sometimes in heartbreaking fashion. The last time the Maple Leafs won a playoff series was in 2004.

Their first-round matchup is against the two-time defending Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The two clubs split the regular season series 2-2, scoring 28 goals in those games.

The most recent game between the two teams was on April 21, when the Lightning humiliated the Leafs 8-1 at Amalie Arena.

How the Leafs rose beyond homegrown hysteria into low expectation limbo

Calgary Flames left-winger Johnny Gaudreau. A key for the Flames this season has been a rejuvenated Johnny Gaudreau.Illustration by globe and post

Calgary Flames reinvigorated

After a disappointing 2020-21 season, the Flames entered a special leadership position this season, enjoying the familiarity of having head coach Darryl Sutter back for his second stint with the club, but without the longtime captain Mark Giordano, who was lost. in last summer’s expansion draft.

The Calgary Flames did not panic as they returned to the top of the NHL, despite a year of uncertainty due to COVID-19

Key for the Flames this season has been a rejuvenated Johnny Gaudreau, a breakout year from scrappy Matthew Tkachuk and a stellar goalie, courtesy of Jacob Markstrom.

After a useful first year with the Flames, Markstrom took a giant leap forward in 2021-22, leading the NHL in shutouts (9) while ranking in the top five in goals-against average (2.21) and the percentage of stops (0.922).

Offensively, Gaudreau reclaimed his status as the game’s premier point guard, with a career-high 115 points and plus-64 plus-minus production. The pending unrestricted free agent likely raised his entry price this summer.

The club’s biggest surprise, however, came from Tkachuk. Best known for his edgy style of play, the 24-year-old exploded for 42 goals, 104 points in 2021-22.

The Flames will build on their “big three” in a first-round game against the Dallas Stars, against whom they won the season series 2-1.

Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers will once again rely heavily on their punch down the middle with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, while hoping to pick up some secondary points and defensive assist along the way.Illustration by globe and post

Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers

The future of Connor McDavid, the best player on the planet, and arguably a close second best Leon Draisaitl, with the Edmonton Oilers was in question after the club were swept by the Winnipeg Jets in the first round. from last year’s playoffs.

But the Oilers stuck to the game plan, bolstering a defensive corps that has struggled in recent years with the addition of veterans Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci. They also injected more size and skill into their forward group by poaching Zach Hyman from the Leafs in the offseason and bailing troubled but offensively gifted Evander Kane midseason.

The club have found their stride in recent months, climbing near the top of the standings and securing the second seed in the Pacific Division.

Connor McDavid and Oilers to open playoffs after rollercoaster season

The Oilers will once again rely heavily on their center punch with McDavid and Draisaitl, while hoping to pick up some secondary points and defensive assist along the way. Their first-round game against the Los Angeles Kings, who finished third in the Pacific Division, is intriguing, given the Oilers’ 3-1 regular season record.

The Kings have surprised many fans this year, with remnants of the early 2010s dynasty continuing to play around a franchise thought to be in rebuilding mode.

The Oilers’ offensive firepower could prove too much for the Kings without defenseman Drew Doughty, who continues to recover from a wrist injury, but the Kings have limited McDavid and Co. to three or fewer goals in three of their four meetings. this season.

Lightning Dynasty? Is the Florida Panthers Cup tied?

You would have to go back 40 years to see the last time a franchise won three consecutive Stanley Cups. The Islanders dynasty of the 1980s won four straight, tying the Canadiens’ four-game streak to end the 1970s.

New York Islanders’ Mathew Barzal and Tampa Bay Lightning’s Erik Cernak battle for the puck during the third period at UBS Arena April 29.


Since that time, several dynasties have graced the NHL, but none has won three in a row. The Lightning will have the chance to carve their name alongside the great dynasties of hockey history this spring, led by the same explosive core that helped them win the last two championships.

Meanwhile, across the state, the Panthers, who became an NHL franchise in 1993, made the playoffs in a third straight season for the first time in franchise history. It’s also the first time the Panthers have held a seed and Presidents’ Trophy honors.

Additionally, the Panthers have scored 340 goals this season — the most in a single season in the salary cap era. They have also scored five or more goals in 32 of 82 games.

The Panthers have yet to add their name to Lord Stanley’s trophy, but look set to do so in the playoffs.

The Globe’s Marty Klinkenberg recently wrote about the rise of hockey in Florida and the intrastate rivalry that fueled the success of both teams.

Will the Leafs goaltender hold them off?

Grief and disappointment have embodied the feelings of many Leafs fans at this time of year for the past half-decade. This season, the club have a 60-goal goalscorer and a strengthened defensive corps, but a big question mark in the crease.

Jack Campbell entered this season the undisputed starter after a breakout 2020-21 campaign. The 30-year-old has struggled in the streak at times, allowing four or more goals in six of 16 starts since the All-Star break.

Although he finished 7-0-2 April, Campbell’s consistency still wavered at times. A seven-game series against the high-octane Lightning offense will be a great test for Campbell and the Leafs.

Playoffs with full buildings are a ‘return to normal’ for the NHL

When the Maple Leafs host the Lightning and the Oilers host the Los Angeles Kings in town on Monday night, it will be the first playoff games in Canada with full arenas since 2019. Matthews called the return of fans to full capacity “something something we all look forward to.

It’s perhaps fitting that Toronto and Edmonton are bringing sold-out crowds back after those cities hosted the 2020 bubble playoffs. The 2022 playoffs should be the furthest thing from those dark days, though the league keep an eye out for potential border and virus issues that may arise without warning.

Entering a full 82-game season for all 32 teams now after the addition of the Seattle Kraken is cause for celebration in the NHL, which is on track to complete the playoffs before July 1.

“All of this indicates that we’re back,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “And it’s great to have our fans back. It’s great to have our game on a more normal schedule. A bit later than usual, but we’ll sort that out next year.

First round matches

Eastern Conference
  • Florida Panthers (Atlantic Division 1) vs. Washington Capitals (Wild Card 2)
  • Toronto Maple Leafs (Atlantic Division 2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (Atlantic Division 3)
  • Carolina Hurricanes (Metropolitan Division 1) vs. Boston Bruins (Wild card 1)
  • New York Rangers (Metro Division 2) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (Metro Division 3)
Western Conference
  • Colorado Avalanche (Central Division 1) vs. Nashville Predators (Wild card 2)
  • Minnesota Wild (Central Division 2) vs. St. Louis Blues (Central Division 3)
  • Calgary Flames (Pacific Division 1) vs Dallas Stars (Wild card 1)
  • Edmonton Oilers (Pacific Division 2) vs Los Angeles Kings (Pacific Division 3)

With files from The Associated Press

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