Will the Tampa Bay Lightning take their first step toward a third consecutive Stanley Cup or will the Toronto Maple Leafs pick up their first playoff series win since 2004?
Will the Edmonton Oilers get their first playoff win since Todd McLellan coached the team or will McLellan’s Los Angeles Kings stop them?
Can the West-leading Colorado Avalanche bounce back from a 1-5-1 finish to the season? Will the Florida Panthers be the first Presidents’ Trophy winner since 2013 to win a Cup?
Those are among the questions that will be answered when the NHL playoffs get underway on Monday night.
USA TODAY Sports’ NHL experts predict the winners for the first round and the Stanley Cup:
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NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE: Dates, times, television and results
Florida vs. Washington: Panthers in five. The best team in the regular season will have no problems taking down a team that is too reliant on one player, Alex Ovechkin, (yes, an all-time great) to carry the offense.
Carolina vs. Boston: Bruins in seven. In a battle of two of the best coaches, Boston gets the nod because of Patrice Bergeron still being at the height of his powers and a more stable goalie situation.
Toronto vs. Tampa Bay: Lightning in six. Tampa Bay played this season like a team that knew it could make the playoffs without playing its best but would ramp up again in the postseason.
NY Rangers vs. Pittsburgh: Rangers in six. The Rangers lost the first meeting with the Penguins then won the next three and just seem to be a more complete team.
Colorado vs. Nashville: Avalanche in five. There seems to be too much doubt about goalie Juuse Saros’ playoff availability and missing him will sink Nashville even quicker in this series.
Calgary vs. Dallas: Flames in five. The Stars are too reliant on the Joe Pavelski-Jason Robertson-Roope Hintz line and haven’t shown enough secondary scoring to compensate against a deeper Calgary team.
Minnesota vs. st. Louis: Blues in seven. The Wild had more points (113-109) but the Blues had six more regulation wins (43-37), and I like their defensive depth more.
Edmonton vs. Los Angeles: Kings in seven. Perhaps the most lopsided series on paper, what’s the NHL playoffs without some chaos to start? Los Angeles is better than you think.
Stanley Cup Final: Panthers vs. Flames
Champion: Panthers in six. Florida has a well-rounded team with elite players (Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad), dangerous depth, a strong defensive core and a goalie (Sergei Bobrovsky) who had a strong season (and depth there, too, if he struggles ).
Conn Smythe winner: Aleksander Barkov, Panthers.
Florida vs. Washington: Panthers in five: The Panthers are a deep, powerful team and the Capitals will have trouble shutting them down, especially with their inconsistent goaltending.
Carolina vs. Boston: Hurricanes in seven. Both are well-coached and it will come down to Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour having home ice for Game 7.
Toronto vs. Tampa Bay: Lightning in six. The Lightning’s offense is back on track. They won’t romp like they did in a recent 8-1 win vs. Toronto, but their championship pedigree will win out.
NY Rangers vs. Pittsburgh: Rangers in six. Rangers 1 goalie Igor Shesterkin will win the Vezina Trophy. Penguins No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry is hurt.
Colorado vs. Nashville: Avalanche in six. It will be fun to watch Norris Trophy candidates Roman Josi and Cale Makar. The Avalanche will be healthier than the team that stumbled down the stretch.
Calgary vs. Dallas: Flames in five. Goalie Jake Oettinger might get the Stars a win in Dallas. But two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Darryl Sutter has had the Flames playing playoff hockey.
Minnesota vs. st. Louis: Blues in seven. This will be the best series of the first round. The Blues’ offense has several lines that can hurt an opponent, and Minnesota’s Mats Zuccarello and Marcus Foligno are coming off injuries.
Edmonton vs. Los Angeles: Oilers in six. The Oilers will be keen to make up for last year’s playoff embarrassment and coach Jay Woodcroft has them playing to their potential.
Stanley Cup Final: Avalanche vs. Hurricanes
Champion: Avalanche in six. This is the third consecutive season that I picked the Avalanche. They addressed their weaknesses at the trade deadline. If they can just get past the second round, they will win it all.
Conn Smythe winner: Cale Makar, Avalanche
Florida vs. Washington: Panthers in five. The Capitals’ unsettled goaltending situation seems like a major liability against the best offense in the NHL.
Carolina vs. Boston: Hurricanes in seven. This is a true toss-up series and though I worry about the Hurricanes’ goaltending to an extent, their system is so sound as to help alleviate those worries.
Toronto vs. Tampa Bay: Lightning in seven. I have been burned too many times by the Maple Leafs to trust them to get their first series win since 2004 against the two-time defending champs.
NY Rangers vs. Pittsburgh: Rangers in six. The Penguins have plenty of playoff experience but they’ll be without their All-Star goalie for at least the beginning of the series while the Rangers have the best goaltender in the NHL by far this season.
Colorado vs. Nashville: Avalanche in four. I’m not worried about their closing stretch of play: The Avalanche were a machine most of this season and they have taken care of business in the first round three years in a row.
Calgary vs. Dallas: Flames in five. The Stars are the only team in the playoffs with a negative goal differential. The Flames’ plus-85 trailed only the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers for the best mark in the NHL.
Minnesota vs. st. Louis: Wild in seven. The Wild have a true superstar in Kirill Kaprizov and home ice. Marc-Andre Fleury is also 9-2 since coming over to Minnesota.
Edmonton vs. Los Angeles: Oilers in six. Edmonton is hardly a pillar of consistency thanks to shaky goaltending and questionable depth, but the Oilers have two of the best offensive players in the league and the Kings are missing their No. 1 defenseman.
Stanley Cup Final: Flames vs. Lightning
Champion: Lightning in six. In a rematch of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, Tampa Bay will cement its place as an all-time great team and remove all talk of “asterisk championships” with a third consecutive title. The Lightning are deep, talented and – most important – they know what it takes to win.
Conn Smythe winner: Nikita Kucherov, Lightning
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL playoffs picks: 2022 first round and Stanley Cup predictions