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NHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference semifinals preview

We have two divisional rivalries in the East semis, with the Panthers vs. Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils vs. Carolina Hurricanes set to face off in best-of-seven series.

It appears as though the Florida Panthers learned quite a bit in just one season. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy last year for the NHL’s best record, they were swept in the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, they just knocked out this year’s winner in the Boston Bruins, who set the NHL record for wins (65) and points (135) in a season.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs got revenge over the Tampa Bay Lightning. After falling to them in the first round just last season, they took them down in six games this year, ending their run at a fourth straight Stanley Cup Final appearance in the process.

As for the other series in the Eastern Conference, we had another seven-game series in the first round to set the New Jersey Devils vs. Carolina Hurricanes matchup. These teams battled until the bitter end of the regular season for the Metropolitan Division title, with the ‘Canes ultimately walking away with it.

Carolina is dealing with injury concerns, while the Devils were just pushed to the brink by the New York Rangers, so we should be in for an interesting series.

Panthers push through adversity

To win series (Odds correct as of 5/2/23)

Florida Panthers+170
Toronto Maple Leafs-200

As mentioned, the Panthers were the best team in hockey last season. However, they made significant moves in the offseason to make their team more balanced. They heavily relied on their offense last year but brought in head coach Paul Maurice.

Along with a trade for Matthew Tkachuk, Florida’s offseason acquisitions clearly paid dividends. Tkachuk ended the regular season tied for the fifth-most points (109) and brought physicality and grit to the defensive end of the ice. They’re the clear underdogs, but they’ve already proven they can overcome longer odds than that by eliminating the Bruins.

Maple Leafs lean on their stars

The Panthers series going the full seven games may be fresh on the minds of most NHL fans, but the Leafs can’t be ignored either. Despite having a star-studded roster led by Auston Matthews, they’ve continued to falter in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After a 7-3 loss to the Lightning in Game 1 of the first round, it looked as though they may be down that road again. However, thanks to Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares, they bounced back and got their revenge on their Atlantic Division rivals. We’re going to see some of the most elite skaters in the world in this series.

Hurricanes hurting on offense

New Jersey Devils-135
Carolina Hurricanes+115

Carolina was able to push through the New York Islanders in the first round, but it wasn’t without losses. The Hurricanes are a team that relies on their defense, which allows them to win games while not needing to light up the scoreboard. However, now without two of their top offensive weapons, their second round series may prove to be more difficult than anticipated.

Andrei Svechnikov remains on the injured reserve, while Teuvo Teravainen recently had surgery on his hand. Their lack of scoring was one of the primary reasons for the Isles extending the series to six games, and now facing a stout Devils defense, it will be interesting to see Carolina’s approach.

Devils dish out revenge

The Devils were by far the biggest surprise story of the NHL. They pulled off one of the biggest year-to-year turnarounds in history and were atop the Metropolitan Division for the first half of the year. After Carolina snatched it away from them, they’ll be looking for revenge in their second round series.

However, making it this far didn’t come without adversity. Their young team looked shaken at the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and lost each of the first two games, which were both at home. Despite that 2-0 deficit, they came back to force a Game 7 against the Rangers. Not only did they win, but they also did so in shutout fashion. 

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