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NHL Power Rankings: Top 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs storylines

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs upon us, Pro Hockey Talk's Sean Leahy previews the Eastern Conference bracket, from the Lightning's quest for a three-peat to the Maple Leafs looking to exorcise half a century of demons.

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we continue to get you ready for the start of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the top storylines to watch ranging from Tampa Bay’s quest for another championship, to the possibility of a dark horse team making a run, and everything in between.

What all makes the cut this week?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Tampa Bay’s quest for a third straight Stanley Cup. Only two different franchises have managed to win three straight Stanley Cups in the post-Original Six era (the 1970s Montreal Canadiens and the 1980s New York Islanders), so the Lightning are trying to make some history. Will Andrei Vasilevskiy run out of steam? Did they adequately replace their depth? Can they put it all together again for another championship? Over the past five teams that won back-to-back Cups four of them lost in the second round in their bid for a three-peat, while the fifth lost in the First Round.

2. Will the Toronto Maple Leafs win a round? Franchise regular season records in wins and points, Auston Matthews’ 60 goals, and Mitch Marner’s 97 points will not matter if this team, and this core, loses again in the First Round. This current group has lost in the First Round five years in a row, while it has been 16 seasons since the franchise played a game in the Second Round. It is an outstanding team and a very fun team. But it has to do something this time of year to avoid being an annual punchline.

3. Pressure is on Colorado. The Avalanche are now at that point in their development where it becomes Stanley Cup or bust. They have been a top-tier team for three years now, have the best roster in the league on paper, and have yet to reach even the Western Conference Final with this core. If they go out in the Second Round again (or earlier) they are going to start to get the same heat teams like Tampa Bay and Washington got in recent years for not winning (until they did). They have been the odds on favorites all year. That brings pressure.

4. The Penguins core takes another run. For 16 years the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang Penguins have been mainstays in the playoffs and the most successful organization in the league during that time. The latter two players (and Bryan Rust, another two-time champion) are all unrestricted free agents after this season with uncertain futures. They may be playing in different places next season.

5. This is Edmonton’s chance to do something. The Oilers have looked like a completely different team since the coaching change and did not waste another year of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s prime, actually getting them to the playoffs. Now they have a chance to actually make a run. They are going to be heavy favorites against Los Angeles and would have a very good chances in a potential Second Round matchup against Calgary or Dallas. This is a manageable path, but it is going to require Mike Smith to continue his strong play from the end of the regular season.

[Related: 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs Predictions]

6. Goalie injuries in Carolina, Pittsburgh, Nashville. This is not the position you want to have uncertainty at in the playoffs. The Hurricanes (Frederik Andersen), Penguins (Tristan Jarry), and Predators (Juuse Saros) are all opening their First Round series with their starting goalies on the bench, with no timeline for when any of them will return. Carolina has the best backup situation of the three as long as Antti Raanta stays healthy, but how is Nashville going to get by Colorado without Saros? Might be the toughest task in the playoffs.

7. Sergei Bobrovsky shaking off his playoff struggles. The Panthers can score on any team in the playoffs, but the question is going to be if Bobrovsky can stop anybody. His career playoff numbers are among the worst in the league among active goalies and he was miserable a year ago before being benched. This is definitely something to watch.

San Jose Sharks v Minnesota Wild

David Berding/Getty Images

Getty Images

8. How will Minnesota handle its goalie tandem? Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot have been outstanding since they were united as a tandem at the trade deadline, and it gives Minnesota a strong last line of defense behind an already strong team. Fleury has had his playoff struggles in the past, but he has also had some very strong postseason performances. Will they continue to alternate? Will Dean Evason lean on Fleury’s track record and Stanley Cup resume?

9. Will the regular season goal scoring increase carry over to the playoffs? The 2021-22 regular season was one of the highest scoring seasons the NHL has seen in decades. But what happens now that we get to the playoffs? Do teams play more conservatively? Do referees look the other way at obstruction and interference and stick infractions? Does the fun get sucked out of the game like it always seems to this time of year?

10. Which goalie emerges for the Capitals, and will it even matter? The Capitals probably have the most unsettled goalie dynamic going into the playoffs with neither Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek taking the job and running with it. One of them has to start, but will any of them be good enough? And even if they are solid, will that matter against a Florida team that scores almost four and a half goals per game?

[Related: Why your team will (and will not) win the Stanley Cup]

11. Is Ville Husso the guy for the Blues? The Blues gave Jordan Binnington a massive contract extension that starts this season, but he has been awful in his past couple of playoff appearances and has been significantly outplayed by Ville Husso this season. The Blues have one of the deepest (and best) offenses in the league, but are not going to go anywhere if they can not keep the puck out of their own net. Husso is their best chance based on play this season, but he has almost no track record to speak of and is very much an unknown in the playoffs.

12. Which trade deadline acquisition will pay off the most? Will it be a blockbuster move like Claude Giroux in Florida? A smart move like Andrew Copp in New York or Rickard Rakell in Pittsburgh? Or perhaps Marc-Andre Fleury in Minnesota?

13. Which division champion will lose? Pretty much every year at least one division champion gets upset in the First Round, so odds are at least one of Colorado, Florida, Calgary, or Carolina is in danger. Carolina has a tough matchup and a goalie question. Florida has a goalie question. Those would be the two highest probabilities.

14. Veterans chasing their first Stanley Cup. Always something that gets a lot of attention this time of year. Joe Thornton, Claude Giroux, Mike Smith, Ryan Suter, and Joe Pavelski are all veterans in search of the elusive championship. Thornton will be the player that gets the most attention here given his age and the fact he is at the end of his career.

15. Rangers ready for a run? The pressure was on for the Rangers to make real progress this season and go from rebuilding team to playoff team. They are here. Now the question is if they are ready to take an even bigger step and make a serious run at the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1994. They have the goalie, they have the top-line stars, they have the top defender, and they tinkered with their complementary pieces at the trade deadline.

16. Can the Stars find enough offense beyond their top line to have a chance? This has been a year-long problem for the Stars. Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Pavelski have been excellent (dominant, even) all season, but the Stars do not get much offense beyond that trio. One line teams do not tend to do very well in the playoffs.

[Related: 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, TV information]

17. Potential last rides for Brown, Thornton, Bergeron? We already know Dustin Brown is retiring in Los Angeles, and Joe Thornton probably does not have many (if any) seasons remaining after this. But what about Patrice Bergeron’s future? Does he return to Boston? Retire?

18. Darryl Sutter’s defense locking down another playoff series. This is the time to shine for Sutter-coached teams. Locking things down in the playoffs and grinding games to a halt with a strong goalie. He did it before in Calgary, did it in LA, and now he is back in Calgary with a deep team and excellent goalie in a very winnable divisional bracket.

19. Will Nazem Kadri be able to keep things under control? Not a major storyline but definitely something to keep an eye on. He may not like carrying around that prior baggage from past suspensions, but sometimes you create your own storyline and Kadri has had three of his recent postseasons cut short by lengthy suspensions that have taken him out of different series’. Something about the playoffs makes him lose sight of where the line is. Colorado needs him in the lineup and on the ice.

20. Who can be this year’s Montreal? The past two Stanley Cup Finals have featured teams that entered the playoffs with little to no expectations (Montreal and Dallas). Is there another unexpected run to be had here? Nashville with a healthy Juuse Saros would have been a good possibility, but his injury makes it difficult to imagine. Could Dallas pull off an upset or two in the Pacific?