Five Potential First Round Matchups in the 2018 NHL Playoffs

2018 NHL Playoffs, Commentary, Long Read, Top Story


With less than one week remaining in the regular season, the playoff picture is becoming clearer. There are 10 teams that have clinched a playoff spot and, although some teams are already locked into their position, some spots are still up for grabs, allowing for speculation about what potential matchups would be most entertaining for fans.

Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild

Current Central Division foes, the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild have never faced each other in the playoffs. Since relocating to Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011, the Jets have just one playoff appearance, an opening round sweep by the Anaheim Ducks in 2015. What makes this potential series so enticing is that it would be a throwback to an era when the original Jets and the Minnesota North Stars were members of the Campbell Conference.

From the 1979-80 season, when the Jets were absorbed into the NHL, through the 1992-93 season, when the North Stars relocated to Dallas, the North Stars had a 26-20-3 record against the Jets. Since the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, the two teams have played each other 36 times. The series has been a near-split with the Jets holding the edge with a 17-16-1-2 record.

The Jets and Wild are likely to face each other in the first round of the playoffs. This season, the Jets have won three of the four games against the Wild but at 5-on-5 the Wild have dominated play. (Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

This season, the Jets have won three of the four games against the Wild and hold a plus-four goal differential in the series. They have won their games by scores of 4-3, 2-1, and 7-2 while the Wild won their game 4-1. Although the Jets have been the better team record-wise, they have been dominated by Minnesota at 5-on-5.

The Jets have been a sub-50 percent team in Corsi For and control of shots, scoring chances and high-danger chances against the Wild. The only category they are at 50 percent is in control of goals as both teams have scored eight goals at 5-on-5.

How Does this Series Become a Reality?

The Jets have clinched a playoff berth and are nearly a lock to finish second in the division. They are five points behind the Nashville Predators and have a 10-point lead over the Wild. All that has to happen is for the Wild to maintain their position.

The Wild punched their ticket to the Playoffs with a 3-0 win over the Oilers and, as of this writing, sit third in the Central Division. Dropping out of that spot and into a Wild Card spot means facing the Predators in the first round instead of the Jets.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Arguably the best rivalry in hockey, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers really don’t like each other. In the Sidney Crosby-era, the two teams have faced each other three times in the playoffs: 2008, 2009 and 2012. The 2008 encounter was in the Eastern Conference Finals which the Penguins won. The 2009 and 2012 matchups were in the opening round with the Penguins winning the 2009 series and the Flyers winning the latter.

Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers

This picture was taken after the Flyers ousted the Penguins in six games during the opening round of the 2012 Playoffs. That was the last time the two teams faced each other in the postseason and it was one of the best series in recent history. (Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE)

The three series have been notable for the visible hatred each team has for the other with the penalty minutes and physicality increasing each occurrence. During the opening round of the 2012 Playoffs, a series the Flyers won 4-2, there were 312 penalty minutes. These included 11 game misconducts and four fighting majors. Game three was the most intense with seven game misconducts and four fighting majors. All in a game the Flyers won 8-5.

As both teams were part of the 1967 Expansion, their history is extensive, facing each other 285 times in the regular season. The Flyers have been the better team with a 153-92-30-10 record. This season has been a different story with the Penguins winning all four games, including two in overtime. In all four matchups, at least six goals were scored.

The Penguins have also controlled play at 5-on-5 against the Flyers, with a 51.3 percent Corsi For and are controlling at least 51 percent of shots, scoring chances and goals. This season has also not had the hatred of previous playoff matchups with just 74 combined penalty minutes and two fighting majors.

How Does this Series Become a Reality?

The Penguins have clinched a playoff berth and are in second place in the Metropolitan Division which the Washington Capitals have already won. The Penguins are two points ahead of the third place Columbus Blue Jackets which have 94 points, the same total as the Flyers. For the Penguins and Flyers to meet in the first round, the Flyers have to leap over the Blue Jackets. This a real possibility with the Flyers having the easier remaining schedule.

Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins

Danny Briere was dominant for the Flyers the last time they faced the Penguins in the playoffs. With a new group of players forming their core, how will they fare against the Penguins if the two teams meet each other in the first round? (Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)

If the Penguins and Flyers do meet, expect a hard-hitting and physical series involving an abundance of penalty minutes. Both rosters have players who were present for the 2012 meeting that hatred is all but certain to re-surface. A series would also be high-scoring as neither team has received particularly good or consistent goaltending and both have elite offensive talent.

Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers faced off in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals in what was one of the biggest comebacks in sports history. Down 3-0 in the series and forced to go to overtime in game four, the Flyers came back to win the series in seven games and eventually reached the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins and Flyers also played each other the following season in the conference semifinals, which ended in a four-game sweep of the Flyers.

Going back to the 1970’s when both teams were among the league’s best, the two often met in the postseason. Their first encounter in the playoffs was in the 1974 Stanley Cup Final which the Flyers won 4-2. That series had some of the game’s elite talent including Bobby Clarke, Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr. They also played each other in the 1976 Prince of Whales Conference Final also won by the Flyers, and the 1977 and 1978 conference semifinals, both won by the Bruins.

Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers

With a long history of facing each other in the playoffs, a Bruins/Flyers series in the 2018 Playoffs would be entertaining. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the regular season, they have played each other 195 times. The Bruins have been the better team with a record of 105-60-21-9. This season, they have played three games with the Bruins emerging with a 2-0-1 record and a plus-three goal differential. They have also dominated 5-on-5 play with positive metrics across the board.

How Does this Series Become a Reality?

A series between the two teams requires the Bruins maintaining their lead in the Atlantic Division and the Flyers finishing ahead of the New Jersey Devils. Currently, the Bruins have a two-point lead in the division while the Flyers are tied for third place in the Metropolitan Division but just one point up on the second Wild Card spot. Both the Flyers and Devils have three games remaining, giving ample opportunity for this matchup to become a reality.

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

For the Capitals and Penguins, the story line will remain how Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals cannot get past Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. The teams have faced each other three times in the Crosby/Ovechkin era, all in the second round, including the past two seasons. In all three instances the Penguins emerged in close series, all going at least six games.

Until the Capitals are able to defeat the Penguins and advance, Ovechkin’s legacy will continue to be questioned despite him performing in the playoffs. This season, the Capitals have flown under the radar a bit after losing key defensemen and depth scoring last offseason. They have still managed to win the Metropolitan Division and have a chance to face their nemesis, the Penguins, in round one this year.

Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals

The Penguins and Capitals have faced each other three times in the playoffs during the Ovechkin/Crosby era. All three matchups occurred in the second round with Crosby’s Penguins winning all three series. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

In the regular season, the Penguins hold the edge in the all-time series with a 108-92-16-5 record in 221 games. This season, the teams have split the four games against each other. The Penguins have won by scores of 3-2 and 7-4 while the Capitals have victory margins of 4-1 and 3-1. At 5-on-5, the Capitals have been the significantly better team, controlling over 66 percent of goals and over 50 percent of scoring chances. This is unsurprising given Pittsburgh’s struggles at 5-on-5.

In their four games against each other, the Penguins scored six of their 12 goals on the power play. If they meet in the first round this postseason, the series will likely be defined by which team can score the more timely goals. Both teams have great offenses and neither have been too good at preventing goals.

How Does this Series Become a Reality?

This series is unlikely to happen in the first round. Since the Capitals have already won the division, it requires the Penguins falling from their current position of second place to the first Wild Card spot. It is a possibility, however, as they have just a two-point lead over the Blue Jackets in third place and the Flyers in the first Wild Card position. Both Columbus and Philadelphia also have one more game remaining than the Penguins and the Penguins and Blue Jackets play each other on Apr. 5.

Any of the California Teams Facing Each Other

It is not uncommon for the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings to face one another in the playoffs. Of the past 10 postseasons, five have featured at least one series between two of the teams. Most recently, the Sharks and Kings met each other in the first round of the 2016 Playoffs which the Sharks won 4-1. That series was vindication for the Sharks after they blew a 3-0 lead to the Kings in the first round of the 2014 Playoffs.

San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings

When the Sharks and Kings face off in the playoffs, it is always a tough matchup. The teams have split the four series played against each other with the most recent meeting occurring in 2016. (John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports)

Of the California matchups, the Sharks and Kings have played each other the most in the past 10 years, meeting on four occasions and splitting the series. Additionally, the Kings and Ducks faced each other in the 2014 Western Conference Semifinals and the Sharks and Ducks met in the 2009 first round. Four of the past 10 playoffs have also featured all three California teams, most recently in 2016 and a strong chance of happening this year.

This season, the Sharks have had the advantage over the other two teams, with a season record against the Ducks of 3-0-1 and the Kings of 3-1-0. All-time, the Sharks also hold the advantage over the other two teams, winning the regular season series against both. Between the Ducks and Kings, the Kings have been the better team.

How Does this Series Become a Reality?

Two of these teams are guaranteed to meet in the first round. With the Vegas Golden Knights already clinching the Pacific Division and the Calgary Flames eliminated, the two and three seeds in the division and the Wild Card positions are up for grabs. The only question is which two of the California teams will meet.

Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks and Kings have met each other just once in the past 10 postseasons. The Kings won that series 4-3 en route to a Stanley Cup. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Currently, the Sharks and Kings are setting up for an encounter but there is only a three-point difference between the second place Sharks and the Ducks in the first Wild Card spot. With the Sharks having clinched on Apr. 2 via a Colorado Avalanche loss and gaining some separation from the Ducks and Kings, it appears that a first round series between the California teams will include the Sharks. All that is left to happen is for the Kings or Ducks to step up and grab the third position in the Pacific Division.

*All stats came from Hockey-Reference and Natural Stat Trick



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