NHL playoffs concern-o-meter: How worried should teams facing elimination be?

Chaos and drama are two core elements to a successful Round 1 in the NHL playoffs.

As it stands, six teams are facing a 3-1 deficit and one is down 2-1. Let’s get dramatic about those trailing teams and dust off the concern-o-meter™️ to measure how much we should be worrying about their current situation.

The easy answer would be to hand out a 10/10 score to every team facing elimination, but where is the fun in that? The concern-o-meter™️ tries to scale for relatively.

Concern-o-meter: 10/10

The drama is hyped up around the Maple Leafs regularly, so being on the brink of elimination in Round 1 again to the Boston Bruins — again — deserves a 10/10.

There are concerns on so many levels in this series. It starts with the Maple Leafs’ underwhelming offense. Toronto’s struggled to get through Boston’s defense and to the middle of the ice at five-on-five in this series. Auston Matthews isn’t at 100 percent and Max Domi keeps getting too wrapped up in Brad Marchand instead of playing through the noise. Mitch Marner’s line has struggled offensively. And the bottom six doesn’t bring nearly enough secondary scoring.

Pair that with their special teams struggles on both ends of the ice and it’s easy to see how the Leafs have fallen behind 3-1 before even getting to their differences in net.

Is a lack of effort hurting the Leafs? A lack of desperation? Or does it just come down to the Bruins being the better team?



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The Leafs spiraled in a disappointing Game 4 loss. The vibes are tanking and it’s hard to see this series ending in any way other than an early elimination, which will lead to offseason fallout. That cranks up the concern even more, especially after Brad Treliving’s suspect first summer as Leafs general manager.

Concern-o-meter: 9/10

Winnipeg probably didn’t expect to be here after a wild Game 1 win. Who would expect Connor Hellebuyck to allow six goals against?

Hellebuyck isn’t why the Jets are down 3-1 in this series. Just look at how much the Colorado Avalanche are generating (per Natural Stat Trick’s model) versus what’s gotten past Hellebuyck.

Game 2: 4.75 expected goals/four goals against
Game 3: 3.60 expected goals/five goals
Game 4: 3.58 expected goals/five goals

And that’s before accounting for Colorado’s firepower and some of the plays that precede the shot.

Do the Jets need their backbone to be better? Yes. Hellebuyck has raised the bar so high for himself that Winnipeg should expect elite goaltending. But he also needs support in front of him. The Avalanche are outright dominating play at five-on-five. All four lines are winning puck battles, forechecking and speeding up the ice in transition without enough pushback from Winnipeg. When the Jets fall behind, they’re more prone to taking penalties, which also burns them.

Round 1 was always going to be a battle for whichever Central Division teams got matched up against each other. The star-studded Avalanche were always going to be hard to contain. But the Jets weren’t underdogs that no one expected would succeed, either. Winnipeg hasn’t found a way to play to its strengths these last few games, pushing them to the brink of elimination.



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Concern-o-meter 9/10

The Florida Panthers aren’t just the favorites in this series, they’re a legitimate contender to win the Stanley Cup. Similar to the Islanders-Hurricanes series, it won’t be a surprise if the favorites win handily. But Tampa Bay has two elements that generally give them a shot: Andrei Vasilevskiy and championship experience. At this point, it just doesn’t seem to be enough against the Panthers.

The Lightning’s elite core has stepped up at times this series — Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov brought the offense in Game 4, Vasilevskiy was excellent in Games 1 and 2, and Victor Hedman is doing the most from the blue line. But the Panthers are that deep of a team, which is something Tampa Bay can’t compete with. The Lightning’s lack of defensive depth has been crushing. Despite getting Mikhail Sergachev back earlier than expected, they weren’t able to subtract their No. 6 from the lineup because Darren Raddysh is now sidelined.

What cranks up our concern is where Tampa Bay goes from here after a likely Round 1 elimination. There’s the Stamkos contract situation, their long-term cap outlook and the lack of a prospect pipeline depleted from years of competing. So this year’s playoff series carries a bit more weight with their window of contention in mind.

Concern-o-meter: 8/10

A 1-0 win? From the Edmonton Oilers? In this economy?

A low-scoring game was the prime opportunity for the Kings to make this series interesting. But despite their efforts — 74 all-situation shot attempts to the Oilers’ 38, a 21-13 edge in scoring chances, and 72 percent of the five-on-five expected goals share — Los Angeles heads back to Edmonton down 3-1.

The Oilers are winning games in different ways this postseason and aren’t solely riding on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to do it (yes they’re heavily involved, but this isn’t just a two-man team anymore). The Kings, on the other hand, aren’t getting enough secondary scoring outside of Anze Kopitar’s line.

The Kings have been the better five-on-five team through much of this series and even won their minutes against both McDavid and Draisaitl in Game 4, but the special teams battle is outright killing them. Los Angeles has converted on zero of 11 power-play opportunities. The Oilers, on the other hand, are on fire with eight goals in 15 opportunities for a 53 percent efficiency.

Sometimes there’s an element of volatility with the Oilers to take advantage of. But the Kings fell short even after throwing everything in the kitchen at them in Game 4.

Concern-o-meter: 8/10

This series wasn’t expected to be a close battle. So the Islanders being at a deficit isn’t a big surprise: This is a rematch of last year’s opening round, except New York has more holes and the Carolina Hurricanes are much better. That’s what takes the concern-o-meter down a notch.

The Islanders have been able to capitalize off turnovers in this series and there’s a bit more of an opening for them with Brett Pesce sidelined. Back on home ice, the coaches found a way to free up Mathew Barzal’s line by keeping them away from Sebastian Aho’s as much as possible. That line was the difference for the Islanders in Game 4 and a key reason why New York’s season is still going.

The problem is the Islanders had a chance to make things interesting in Game 3 when the Canes weren’t putting forward their best effort and still lost. Now the series is shifting back to Raleigh where Carolina has been more in control of play. If the Hurricanes can pick up where they left off in Game 2, the clock may be ticking in New York.

Bad habits — from how they defend leads to their penalty killing — keep creeping up on the Islanders, and the Hurricanes are a tenacious team that can take advantage of that.

Concern-o-meter: 7/10

If only Colton Sissons’ empty net shot didn’t go off the post. The series would be tied 2-2 and the Predators wouldn’t be on our radar at all.

The Vancouver Canucks came to play when it mattered most, with enough desperation in the final moments of regulation to force overtime. And just over a minute into the first overtime period, Elias Lindholm sealed Vancouver’s comeback to send this team back home with a 3-1 lead.

Any team facing elimination is going to have red flags and Nashville is no different. But there are a few positives, like its five-on-five play over the last couple of games. The Predators handled the matchup game well with the Ryan O’Reilly line and Roman Josi pairing neutralizing the Canucks as much as possible. And in Game 4, the Predators’ rush game started to activate and open things up more. Then there’s the fact Thatcher Demko is not in the starter’s net and Elias Pettersson hasn’t been at his usual elite levels in the postseason. Plus, Nashville did swing a road win in Game 2.

The flip side is that the Predators haven’t capitalized on their so-called advantages and won’t have control over the matchups on the road in Vancouver. And then there’s the challenge of swallowing a crushing Game 4 loss so the focus can be where it needs to be in Game 5.

Concern-o-meter: 5/10

For now, a 2-1 series doesn’t reach the same level of concern.

Dallas is coming off a road win, which instills some confidence after going down 2-0 on home ice. The Stars are starting to step up — Miro Heiskanen was a standout in Game 3 and Wyatt Johnston was phenomenal. Vegas goalie Logan Thompson easily could have stolen a win in Game 3, but Dallas managed to get right back into this series.

The Stars are in a much different place than they were in Game 2 when they just didn’t have enough oomph in the dire minutes. That’s what has separated them from Vegas so far — as much as Dallas has been the better team, the Golden Knights have made the most of their opportunities and showed a level of desperation that every team needs in the playoffs.

As much as Game 3 changed the tone for the Stars, there’s still work to do, which is why the meter is at a 5/10. Jake Oettinger has had shaky stretches in this series and players like Jason Robertson still could step up. Plus injuries to players like Mason Marchment chip away at their secondary scoring.

Data via Natural Stat Trick and All Three Zones

(Photo of William Nylander: Michael Chisholm / NHLI via Getty Images)

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