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NHL Power Rankings: The playoff teams after Game 2, plus MVPs for the rest


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The playoffs have finally arrived and they’ve been nothing short of electric. Upsets, comebacks, surprises, blowouts, goals, saves, fights, chaos — the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs have it all.

Given how chaotic the opening two games have been across the board, it’s already getting tricky to figure out what to expect from each team. And how to rank them. Luckily, that’s exactly why The Athletic pays The Rankings Boys the big bucks. We have this down to a science.

This is a perfect ranking of the 16 playoff teams right now. No notes. No debates. When we look at the comments section, we’d better see only the following: “Wow, nailed it.” Because we did.

As for the 16 losers … err … non-playoff teams, we picked each team’s MVP.

1. Boston Bruins

Last Week: 1
Tied 1-1 against Florida
Sean rank: 1
Dom rank: 1

There’s no point in pretending anything is going all that well for the Bruins. They’re controlling expected goals with just four players on the ice at five-on-five (the first line of Pavel Zacha between Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk, plus Trent Frederic). Linus Ullmark locked down Game 1, then tanked in Game 2.

It might be because we’re level-headed. It might be because we’re stubborn. It’s certainly not because either of us has a low opinion of their opponent, because we don’t — more on that shortly. But a few meh periods against the Panthers and an injury to Patrice Bergeron simply isn’t enough to make us trash the 82-game run Boston just assembled. They’re the most successful team in regular-season history! A lot of people don’t know that!

Now, if it’s more of the same — losing at five-on-five, getting uneven play from Ullmark and/or Jeremy Swayman and crossing their fingers for Bergeron’s return — after, say, splitting the games in South Florida? It might be time to reassess. But we’re not there yet.

2. New York Rangers

Last Week: 6
Up 2-0 against New Jersey
Sean rank: 2
Dom rank: 4

In 8:40 of power-play time, Chris Kreider has scored four power-play goals, all via some sort of deflection. He’s ridiculous. The Devils should consider not letting him do that. Another way to look at it: In the entire 2022 postseason, only four players had more power-play goals than what Kreider has managed in six periods of hockey.

If you picked the Rangers to beat the Devils, that — the Rangers’ up-front skill and playoff experience — is almost certainly the sort of thing you thought about. Patrick Kane’s presence is another. And boy, Game 2 was a vintage experience on that front. It’s probably unwise to bank on full-game dominance from Kane, at this point in his career. But the highs, as we saw in his three-point Thursday night, can still make up for the rest of it.

3. Edmonton Oilers

Last Week: 2
Tied 1-1 against Los Angeles
Sean rank: 4
Dom rank: 3

Edmonton’s third period on Wednesday night felt important. The Oilers had just blown a two-goal lead to the Kings for the second straight game and were faced with two options: Win the final 20 minutes, or leave home down 2-0 against a serious underdog. All the post-deadline goodwill they built up would’ve vanished, and the questions they faced in past seasons would’ve resurfaced. And that would’ve been fair.

Instead, they slammed the door with even-strength goals by two players not named Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl (Klim Kostin and Evander Kane), a perfect period from Stuart Skinner and a decisive territorial win in the last 20 minutes. All’s well that ends well. If the Oilers continue getting production from guys like Kostin and Derek Ryan, they’re likely to keep that pre-playoff bandwagon full and rolling.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

Last Week: 3
Tied 1-1 against Tampa Bay
Sean rank: 5
Dom rank: 2

The range of landing spots for the Leafs in the Power Rankings this week was wider than any other team heading into Game 2. That’s what happens when the team lays a massive egg in Game 1 in what could be a franchise-defining series. If there’s been a higher stakes Game 2 in the opening round we can’t remember it. If the Leafs lost, it wouldn’t have been out of the question to rank them 16th. Thankfully for two huge Leafs fans, especially Sean, that didn’t happen. Not even close.

The Leafs needed to respond after an unacceptable Game 1 performance and they could not have offered a better answer than the one they delivered in Game 2. Toronto won 7-2 with what might have been its most dominant performance of the season, with the team never once taking its foot off the gas. That was the most important factor as the Leafs just kept throttling a very good Lightning team.

If they can keep up that level of play throughout the playoffs this really might be the year. But that’s a huge ask when it comes to this team.

5. Carolina Hurricanes

Last Week: 8
Up 2-0 against the Islanders
Sean rank: 3
Dom rank: 6

Rod Brind’Amour had a right and a reason to be “pissed” after beating the Islanders on Wednesday night. He’d just lost yet another top-six forward, in Teuvo Teravainen, until next fall, courtesy of an uncalled slash by J.G. Pageau. It’s boring to keep harping on the Hurricanes’ dwindling supply of game-breaking talent at forward, but it’s also the single biggest reason they seem a few spots low for a team that’s halfway to the second round.

Has it mattered all that much yet? Depends on how you look at it. The Hurricanes’ expected goal total is in line with their actual total (six) for the series, but they haven’t quite looked themselves overall, with a narrow edge over the Isles at five-on-five. Antti Ranta helped negate that in Game 1 (26 saves on 27 shots), but Game 2 was a bit more dodgy. Seth Jarvis beating Ilya Sorokin with an absolute snipe on Wednesday night was a good sign for the Canes.

6. Colorado Avalanche

Last Week: 4
Tied 1-1 against Seattle
Sean rank: 7
Dom rank: 5

It took four periods for the Avalanche to show up, but once they did they really did.

The opening game loss was a bit of a surprise for the defending champions, but even more surprising was the opening period of what should’ve been a response game. If we could only use one word for that it would be “disaster.” The Avalanche went down 2-0 and struggled to generate much of anything offensively — it looked like a 2-0 deficit in the series was likely.

And then the switch was flipped. Colorado scored two goals in 48 seconds in what turned into a furious onslaught of chances, an avalanche of offense some might say.

The most impressive Av in the second period though was Alexandar Georgiev who came up huge with several ten-bell saves. If not for Georgiev the Kraken could’ve easily put the game out of reach, but Georgiev held Colorado in there.

The split series is not ideal, but after the Avalanche finally woke up the Kraken looked seriously outmatched.

7. Tampa Bay Lightning

Last Week: 10
Tied 1-1 against Toronto
Sean rank: 6
Dom rank: 8

If you want a nice encapsulation of how the Lightning’s 7-2 Game 2 loss to the Maple Leafs went, here you go: Their top player according to GSVA was Corey Perry, who had seven Leafs ahead of his 1.72. Second was Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Third was Patrick Maroon. Tampa Bay’s big names were nowhere to be found. None of that seems like a great sign.

Of course, this is the Lightning we’re talking about. There’s a decent chance that, at some point during the game, they went into power-saving mode for Game 3. Toronto had extra juice on Thursday night. It wouldn’t have been the worst idea to conserve energy and reap the benefits of coming-off-a-playoff-loss Andrei Vasilevskiy.

8. Dallas Stars

Last Week: 7
Tied 1-1 against Minnesota
Sean rank: 8
Dom rank: 7

The Stars would rather have Joe Pavelski in the lineup, but that’ll have to wait until (at least) Game 5 of their first-round series against the Wild. Their 7-3 win in Game 2, though, was a nice consolation prize — and not just because Roope Hintz came through with a hat trick. We’re used to seeing that sort of thing from the Stars’ top players.

The bigger deal, and a nice illustration of why this version of the Stars is better positioned for sustained success than the last couple, was that players like Wyatt Johnston and Evgenii Dadonov handled their business at five-on-five. Yes, having Jason Robertson-Hintz-Pavelski is a major advantage. No, they cannot be relied upon each and every game.

9. Vegas Golden Knights

Last Week: 9
Tied 1-1 against Winnipeg
Sean rank: 10
Dom rank: 9

Of the six higher seeds that lost Game 1 none looked more listless than Vegas. The Golden Knights struggled to generate much of anything, especially in the third period where the team never had any legitimate comeback threat. Vegas had just 28 percent of the expected goals at five-on-five — ouch.

Game 2 looked like it was headed in the same direction early with the Knights falling 1-0 in the first while once again getting throttled in terms of chances. After the first intermission, though, everything changed. The Golden Knights started looking golden again. Vegas scored two goals in quick succession to take the lead, including Jack Eichel’s first career playoff goal and then did the same thing in the third period en route to a 5-2 victory. Finally, they looked like the team that finished a full 16 points ahead of the Jets.

The most important development of the night was the play of Mark Stone. He looked rough in the playoff opener but really started to round into form as Game 2 went on. He had two goals and an assist in the third to go along with some strong impacts at five-on-five. If he’s back, so is Vegas.

10. Minnesota Wild

Last Week: 11
Tied 1-1 against Dallas
Sean rank: 9
Dom rank: 10

The playoffs are the time to lean on your starting goalie — especially if he happened to finish second in the entire league in save percentage (.931) and just made a franchise record 51 saves in a Game 1 victory. Coaches can make a lot of quizzical decisions when the stakes are highest, but there may not be a more baffling one in these playoffs than Dean Evason starting Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 2. It went about as poorly as possible with the Stars putting up seven on Fleury. No disrespect to the future Hall of Famer who had a strong second half himself, but Gustavsson is The Guy for the Wild.

We’ll see if it really bites the Wild — their chances are still very strong with Joel Eriksson Ek likely back this series, Joe Pavelski likely out, and a split going back to Minnesota — but either way it felt like a real missed opportunity.

11. Florida Panthers

Last Week: 13
Tied 1-1 against Boston
Sean rank: 11
Dom rank: 11

Not saying we’re super geniuses or anything, but take a look at what we figured was The Big Question going into the series — looking pretty good after Game 2! The Panthers are up 7-6 in goals and are taking a split series back to South Florida after dominating the expected goals share so far. That’s a strong team, one that was a lot better than their record and goal differential suggested … with the Bruins indeed looking a bit more vulnerable than expected.

The biggest takeaway from Game 2 was how much Florida was able to generate against a normally stingy Bruins team. The Panthers were the top-rated offensive team per The Model going into the playoffs and Game 2 was a perfect example as to why.

Boston not having Patrice Bergeron is obviously a big deal here, but give the Panthers credit. They finally look like the team many expected they would be when the season began.

12. Winnipeg Jets

Last Week: 17
Tied 1-1 against Vegas
Sean rank: 12
Dom rank: 12

The big question surrounding Winnipeg ahead of their series against Vegas was whether their best players would show up. Game 1? No problem. Blake WheelerPierre-Luc Dubois and Kyler Connor — all three, coming off a protracted post-All Star Game scoring drought — all scored in a 5-1 win. It was decisive.

And, of course, it didn’t last all that long. In Game 2, they were done in by some rough early luck, some bad decisions once they tied things up at 2, and a great performance by Mark Stone down the stretch. It happens. Painful as that loss seems, they’ve put in good work.

13. Los Angeles Kings

Last Week: 12
Tied 1-1 against Edmonton
Sean rank: 13
Dom rank: 13

Gotta give it to the Kings, they’re a resilient bunch. They fought back from a 2-0 and 3-1 deficit in Game 1 to win in chaotic comeback fashion. And then they made things very interesting in Game 2 with another two-goal comeback before falling just short. They’re hanging in there against an Oilers team that everyone seems to be picking to win it all.

The key thing for Games 3 and 4 will be what they do in the matchup game against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl because right now the Kings are playing with fire there. McDavid has been outscored 2-0 at five-on-five matched up primarily against Phillip Danault, but he has 70 percent of the expected goals. Draisaitl hasn’t been as dominant in terms of xG, but he does already have three points at five-on-five playing primarily against Anze Kopitar. Will Los Angeles stick with that or switch it up?

14. New Jersey Devils

Last Week: 5
Down 2-0 against the Rangers
Sean rank: 15
Dom rank: 14

Of all the favorites going into the playoffs, none looked more vulnerable than the Devils. They’re inexperienced, play a style that isn’t always conducive to postseason success, and lack size and physicality. Staring them down was a very strong Rangers team with an advantage in all three categories. So far it’s gone as poorly as possible for the Devils who look like a team that has been completely figured out by the Rangers. New Jersey is a shell of the team that was so successful during the regular season. The Devils look cooked.

Maybe things can change on the road, but in their first trip to the postseason this group just looks out of their depth. Shooting themselves in the foot by scratching solid defensive defender Jonas Siegenthaler doesn’t help matters either.

15. Seattle Kraken

Last Week: 15
Tied 1-1 against Colorado
Sean rank: 14
Dom rank: 15

Two games in, it’s safe to say that the Kraken’s hopes for an extended series against Colorado hinge on Philipp Grubauer. In Game 1, he tossed up a GSAx of 2.52 and helped negate all that Avalanche star power. In Game 2, he was pedestrian — and boom, 3-2 loss.

On the skater end of things, Seattle is going to need something out of Matty BeniersJared McCann and Jordan Eberle. The three have zero points between them and are losing the five-on-five battle overall.

16. New York Islanders

Last Week: 12
Down 2-0 against Carolina
Sean rank: 16
Dom rank: 16

No series is over until you lose on home ice and so far the Islanders have not lost on home ice. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they’re going back home down 2-0 leaving little margin for error. The Islanders had a lot of upset potential going into the playoffs against Carolina and even though they’re down in the series that notion doesn’t feel quite off base. They’ve lost two very close games and have kept the expected goals battle tight, which is a huge deal against the Corsi Canes.

It ain’t over yet — we’re still big believers in Our Isles. We’ve never doubted them ever, not even for a second, and that will not be changing now.

17. Buffalo Sabres

Last Week: 17
Record: 42-33-7
Sean rank: 17
Dom rank: 17

MVP: Rasmus Dahlin

We all love Tage, but he slowed down to finish the season, enough to give Rasmus Dahlin the edge. Dahlin might have been the only Sabre who defended well this season and will end up on many Norris ballots after a monstrous breakout campaign.

18. Ottawa Senators

Last Week: 18
Record: 39-35-8
Sean rank: 18
Dom rank: 18

MVP: Brady Tkachuk

We’ve said it here before: If Tkachuk finds a way to improve his finishing skills — or just has a sustained hot streak — he’ll have a monster season and jump into the elite-elite tier of wingers. At the moment, after a year in which he potted 35 of his 50 expected goals, he’ll have to settle for Sens MVP. That ability to generate chances allows Tkachuk to narrowly edge out Tim Stützle, who’s approaching elite status himself.

19. Calgary Flames

Last Week: 19
Record: 38-27-17
Sean rank: 19
Dom rank: 19

MVP: Tyler Toffoli

It’s tempting to put “no one” for such a disappointing season, but Tyler Toffoli was not among that disappointment. He set career highs in goals with 34 and points with 73.

20. Pittsburgh Penguins

Last Week: 20
Record: 40-31-11 
Sean rank: 20
Dom rank: 20

MVP: Sidney Crosby

The Penguins scored 261 goals this season. Crosby was on the ice for more than half of them (131). We’re running out of ways to say just how acutely the front office wasted another prime season from a 35-year-old all-time great.

21. Vancouver Canucks

Last Week: 21
Record: 38-37-7
Sean rank: 21
Dom rank: 21

MVP: Elias Pettersson

For a team so close to the bottom, Elias Pettersson might actually be the least valuable player this year. He was worth 4.7 wins this season, the difference between Vancouver finishing seventh and 11th in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes. He’d be on a lot more Hart trophy ballots if the Canucks even came close to sniffing the playoffs.

22. Detroit Red Wings

Last Week: 22
Record: 35-37-10
Sean rank: 22
Dom rank: 22

MVP: Dylan Larkin

This felt like an important year for Larkin, and it worked out well. On the ice, he further solidified his status as a capable first-line center, buoyed by a major uptick in power-play production (31 points, more than doubling his career high), and signed a big-time contract extension that should keep him Detroit long-term. He’s a cornerstone there, no doubt.

23. St. Louis Blues

Last Week: 23
Record: 37-38-7
Sean rank: 23
Dom rank: 23

MVP: Pavel Buchnevich

Jordan Kyrou led the team in points, but his play without the puck was a disastrous part of St. Louis’ fall from grace. Pavel Buchnevich was much stronger in that regard at both ends of the ice while scoring 67 points in 63 games, an 87-point pace. He’s turned into a heckuva player.

24. Nashville Predators

Last Week: 24
Record: 42-32-8
Sean rank: 24
Dom rank: 24

MVP: Juuse Saros

No goalie in the league faced more shots than Saros (2,009 to John Gibson’s 1,982), and only Ilya Sorokin finished with more goals saved above expected (50.2 to 45.1). Most of the Preds’ post-deadline bounce was because of him.

25. Montreal Canadiens

Last Week: 25
Record: 31-45-6
Sean rank: 25
Dom rank: 25

MVP: Sam Montembeault

Sam Montembeault might have been the best backup goalie in the league this season — non-Bruins edition. He was a nice story for the Canadiens this year saving 16.8 goals above expected behind a very leaky defensive team.

26. Columbus Blue Jackets

Last Week: 26
Record: 25-48-9 
Sean rank: 27
Dom rank: 26

MVP: Patrik Laine

It’s Elvis Merzlikins! Just kidding. There was nearly nothing to like about the on-ice results in Columbus this season, including a Game 81 win over Pittsburgh that cost them the best odds at drafting Connor Bedard. Laine, though, was a bright spot, putting up 52 points in 55 games (59th in the NHL in points/60) and finishing with the best assist rate of his career (1.71/60) in the first year of a four-year deal.

27. Washington Capitals

Last Week: 27
Record: 35-37-10
Sean rank: 26
Dom rank: 29

MVP: Darcy Kuemper

It’s tempting to put Alex Ovechkin here because of all of his goals, but it’s not hard to look at the other side of the ledger and see how many goals he cost the Capitals the other way. If not for Darcy Kuemper, this season would’ve been even more of a letdown for the Capitals as he lived up to his end of the free agency bargain. He saved 13.2 goals above expected, good for 15th in the league.

28. Philadelphia Flyers

Last Week: 28
Record: 31-38-13
Sean rank: 28
Dom rank: 28

MVP: Carter Hart

Hart, still just 24, had himself a solid season amid the mess in front of him. He finished with a .907 save percentage with a 55-game workload. More impressively, he had a nearly 20-point swing in GSAx from 2021-22, finishing with a 13.08, good for 16th in the league. With the Flyers finally starting a real rebuild, it’ll be interesting to see how they proceed with Hart.

29. Arizona Coyotes

Last Week: 29
Record: 28-40-14
Sean rank: 30
Dom rank: 27

MVP: Clayton Keller

One of the absolute best stories of the year was Clayton Keller returning from a gruesome leg injury to tie the Coyotes franchise record for points with 86. Doing that on this Coyotes team should give him the tiebreaker.

30. Anaheim Ducks

Last Week: 30
Record: 23-47-12 
Sean rank: 29
Dom rank: 30

MVP: Troy Terry

No Duck who played regular minutes finished above water in goals percentage, but Terry came closest. Not a bad follow-up to his breakout 2021, even though his goal total dropped to 23 from 37. Terry increased his assist rate and effectively drove offense.

31. San Jose Sharks

Last Week: 31
Record: 22-44-16
Sean rank: 31
Dom rank: 31

MVP: Erik Karlsson

A beyond easy choice considering Erik Karlsson may win the Norris trophy this season, despite how abhorrent the team was around him. Karlsson finished the season with 101 points, leading all defensemen, and 64 at five-on-five, which was second to only Nathan MacKinnon. The biggest story, though, might have been that at five-on-five the Sharks were even with Karlsson on the ice. They were minus-53 otherwise.

32. Chicago Blackhawks

Last Week: 32
Record: 26-49-7 
Sean rank: 32
Dom rank: 32

MVP: The Goalies

If the four guys who spent time in net for Chicago this season (Petr MrazekAlex Stalock, Arvid Soderblom, Jaxson Stauber) struggled as much as their teammates, the Blackhawks might have reached previously unseen levels of unwatchability. Instead, the goalies were relatively competent (3.07 expected goals/60 vs. 3.13 actual goals/60) … and probably cost the Blackhawks the top odds at the top pick. Whoops.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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