NHL Eastern Conference playoffs: Washington Capitals vs Florida Panthers series preview and predictions

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Ryan Hodges


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.Born and raised in St. Louis. My sports fandom started with my local teams and has only grown broader and broader since day 1. I love having action all around the sports world, but my primary betting interests and handicapping lie with the NHL and MLB. I combine experience playing and coaching those sports with obsession, fandom, observations, trends and more to bring you the most knowledgeable insight possible for your picks. For Ryan Hodges media enquiries, please email contact@pickswise.com.
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The NHL playoffs are finally here! Typically we would have wrapped up the first round by the end of April, but the last few seasons have been thrown off by the pandemic. But nevertheless, we’ve finally arrived at the 2022 NHL playoffs. One of the most intriguing matchups will be the President’s Trophy-winning Florida Panthers against #8 seeds the Washington Capitals. Washington’s seeding was not determined until game 82, as they fell just short of surpassing Pittsburgh to make the Metropolitan Division’s top 3.

Florida has been a juggernaut all season. The Panthers lived up to and surpassed preseason expectations despite a coaching change early on when Joel Quenneville stepped down. Washington has a great playoff pedigree and had a strong second half of the campaign. They will not be an easy out. Despite the Panthers finishing with the most points in the NHL during a season that had a ton of parity, this matchup may be more interesting than the pure seeds and regular-season standings suggest. Let’s take a look:

Breaking down the Washington Capitals

The Capitals had a strong start to the season and a strong end to the season. Their December, January, and February left plenty to be desired. But they had a strong enough March and April to play themselves into contention for the Metro’s top 3 instead of the wild-card spot they ended up with. The Caps have been playing playoff hockey for a month and have a great resume of playoff experience.

When it comes to surface-level stats, the Capitals scored the 10th-most goals per game in the NHL. They ranked 13th in the league in goals allowed per game. Their power play was below the league average at 23rd and their penalty kill was right around the average at 12th. They ranked 14th in shots on goal and 6th in shots against, 13th in goals scored at 5 on 5 and 12th in goals against at 5 on 5. Fortunately for the Caps, they are comfortable on the road as they had the league’s best road point percentage at .683. They will need to lean on that strength up to 4 times in this series.

At 90.21%, the Capitals had the lowest team save percentage of the 8 Eastern Conference playoff teams. They will need their goaltending to step up to have a chance in this series. As one would expect, the Caps were led in points by Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuztnetsov and John Carlson. Those players are also 3 of the top 4 minutes-eaters for Washington. Any success Washington has will surely be through some combination of those players. The Capitals have been successful when they are scoring goals rather than preventing them. If the Capitals’ offensive production can even remotely keep up with that of the Panthers, they will give themselves a chance.

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Breaking down the Florida Panthers

Florida has been an absolute force since the first drop of the puck in game 1 of 82. They started hot and never looked back. Although they are led by Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart on the front end, Florida is legitimately a 4-line deep team with a balanced and consistent attack. On the back end, the Panthers also have a strong defensive core that was led for most of the season by Aaron Ekblad until he suffered a lower body injury in March. Ekblad is a certified Norris Trophy contending defenseman in the NHL. His status is unknown for the first round. But if he plays, even if he is not 100% healthy, the Panthers’ chances will improve.

The Panthers bullied much of the league this season. The stats they put up were silly video-game numbers. Florida led the NHL in goals scored per game (4.11), shots on goal per game (37.3), goals scored at 5 on 5 (219, 2.67 per game), home point percentage (.829), goals scored at home (4.66) and shots on goal at home (40.4). They finished with a +1.16 goal differential per game and +1.76 per home game. Like Washington though, the Panthers will need their goaltending to improve. Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight have not exactly been a liability, but if there is an Achilles heel of this Panthers team, it is goal prevention. If the Panthers can sustain their ridiculous offensive production averages, or even go close, they will make it tough for the Caps to hang with them.

Check out our Maple Leafs vs Lightning series preview

Washington Capitals vs Florida Panthers series prediction: Panthers 4-2

The Panthers took the season series by winning 2 of the teams’ 3 head-to-head matchups, one of them in overtime. All 3 were 1-goal games and both teams collected points in 2 of the 3 matchups. All of the games were in November, but these are largely the same rosters with the same strengths and weaknesses. These teams present a tough matchup for each other, but the Panthers are just that much better.

Head to head, the Panthers have a statistical advantage in goals scored per game (4.11-3.29), power play percentage (24.4%-18.8%), faceoff percentage (48.2%-47.1%), goal differential (+94-+30), goal differential per game (+1.16-+0.37), shots on goal per game (37.3-31.43), shot differential (+547-+199), shot differential per game (+6.67-+2.42) and save percentage (90.71%-90.21%).

The Panthers no longer are the fresh face in the playoffs. This roster has been to the playoffs and experienced hard hitting, fast-paced, tightly played games and heartbreaking exits. The Panthers sprinted through the finish line and are still playing well. Tthey are mostly healthy, they are experienced, they are deep, and they are well-coached. Washington will not make it easy. But it’s Florida’s time to make a run. The Panthers should take care of business against the Capitals in the first round.

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