It’s official, hockey is back. Teams around the league opened up their training camps on Monday to prepare for the start of the playoffs. Scheduled to begin on August 1st, with Toronto and Edmonton hosting the return. 24 teams will battle for Lord Stanley this year, with 16 teams battling it out in a qualifying round to start.

The opening round will be a best of five series. There are some fantastic matchups to look forward too. Over the next few weeks I will preview each series. Starting off with the Panthers and Islanders. Even though this series won’t be the most anticipated, I’m sure it will be able to hold its own. Both the Panthers and Islanders had mediocre seasons. Separated by only two points when the season came to a halt makes this one of the more even opening round matchups.

New York Islanders 

There is no doubt that Metro is the toughest division in the NHL. Seven of the eight teams qualified for this year’s playoffs with only 11 points separating first from seventh. The Islanders had a great start to the season but as it went on they began to fall. They were a mere 2-4-4 in the last ten while riding a seven game losing streak. There’s no doubt they were one of the few teams that were glad the season stopped when it did.

If the Islanders are successful it will come down to the coaching of Barry Trotz. Trotz is one of the best coaches in the game and he will need to breath life into his team and get them back to the level from last year where they swept the Penguins.

Florida Panthers

Like the Islanders, the Panthers were treading water all season. From top to bottom the Panthers were inconsistent all year. At some points it seemed as if they and the Leafs could not decide who wanted the final playoff spot in the Atlantic. Despite all of that, I wouldn’t count them out.

Earlier in the year I predicted that the Panthers would represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals. With Queennville behind the bench the potential is there but the X-factor will be the play of Bobrovsky. When on his game, he is one of the top five goalies in the league. Bobrovsky finished the year 23-29-6 with only one shut-out. These numbers are well below what we are use to but this break may have allowed him to find his mojo again.

Prediction

For this series I feel that the Panthers will come out on top. This would have been the matchup Florida would have wanted and I think the strength of Bobrovsky will carry them into the next round. The Panthers will finish off the series in four games (3-1).