2021 NHL Playoff Predictions
Source: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Spring is here and so are the NHL playoffs. The 2021 season has seen some amazing performances and now we get to the most exciting and mind numbing part of the season, the playoffs. Here are my predictions!
Washington Capitals vs Boston Bruins
This series should be one of the more entertaining series in the first round. The Bruins and Capitals split their season series at four apiece, and this will be their first playoff meeting since 2012. Both teams made some big deals leading up to the NHL trade deadline with Taylor Hall going to the Bruins and the Capitals snatching Anthony Mantha from the Red Wings. So both sides have prepared themselves for battle.
The Capitals have a strong front line with Ovechkin, Oshie and Backstrom. Ovechkin notched 20 plus goals this season, but didn't have the usual Ovie season many would expect. They also have John Carlson, who has had another solid offensive output with 44 points, that's second best on the roster. They have the third best power play percentage in the league, connecting with 38 powerplay goals in 148 tries.
The Bruins offense have some weapons of their own. Maryland-Pasternak-Bergeron line has been the anchor for Boston all season long. Boston has been on a tear recently! Winning 12 of their final 16 games of the season, and bringing in Hall has only boosted the Bruins offence. Despite only managing 17 points in 37 games in Buffalo, Hall has been rejuvenated in Boston tallying 14 points in 16 games.
The Bruins defence should get the last laugh against Washington. The Bruins look to be the stingier team between the two, and will also look to assert their special teams prowess as well. The Bruins are first in short handed goals while the Caps have given up the most shorties this season. It’ll be a tough series, but I favour Boston in this matchup.
Boston in 7.
Pittsburgh Penguins Vs New York Islanders
The Islanders shocked the Pens two years ago in the playoffs, sweeping Pittsburgh in four games. However, this season the Pens have dominated the Islanders, winning six of the eight meetings during the regular season. Pittsburgh had a strong second half, and claimed the East division title in the process.
Led by Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh has also had some solid secondary scoring. Names like Brandon Rust, Jeff Carter and Kasperi Kapanen have all been key contributors with Malkin missing. The Russian forward should be available in this series, adding extra firepower. It’s fun to note that Crosby and Malkin are one and two in playoff scoring amongst active skaters. So the former second-overall pick will be welcomed back with open arms.
For the Islanders, they’ll need some help from their goaltending. In their 2019 sweep against Pittsburgh, they gave up just five goals and considering how effective Varlamov and Sorokin have been all season, the Isle will lean on them to sneak out a series win. The pairing posted the most shutouts this season with 10, and Varlamov specifically has had a sensational season under Barry Trotz.
None of the Islanders averaged a point a game or better during the season, and being without one of their best offensive threats in Anders Lee, I say the Penguins will avenge their 2019 loss to the Islanders. They have the better team and the loss to Lee has diminished the Islanders offence.
Penguins in 5.
Florida Panthers Vs Tampa Bay Lightning
This is the first time two Florida-based hockey teams duke it out in the playoffs. The Panthers have had the defending cup champs number this year. They have won five of the eight games this season, including three straight against their cross state rival. Florida finished second in the Central division and surprisingly finished ahead of the defending champs.
Sergei Bobrovksy's first year in Florida was a forgettable one, but has turned it around this season. The Panthers are 12th in goals allowed, and despite missing Aaron Ekblad for the second half of the season, their defence has remained somewhat dependable. Offensively, the talented duo of Barkov and Huberdeau will lead the charge. With both players finishing with over a point per game.
The Stanley Cup hangover hasn't affected the Lightning at all, Andrei Vasilieveky is having another Vezina calibre season, and despite missing Kucherov for the whole season, their depth has helped them ride the storm. Luckily, both Stamkos and Kucherov will be ready in game one, so some of the load Point and Palat have carried will be relieved.
Both teams are the most penalized teams in the NHL, but the Lightning bolster one of the best pk's in the league which could turn the tide. But I have a feeling the cats are going to have a deep playoff run, and it starts with them winning their first playoff series since 1996.
Panthers in 7.
Carolina Hurricanes vs Nashville Predators
Carolina has become one of the best teams in the NHL, and is a team that has flourished under head coach Rod Brind'amour. They have eight players in double figures in the goals category, and have scored the third most power play goals in the NHL. They also have the third best goal differential based on their strength of schedule.On top of all that they have dominated the Predators this season.
Carolina has given up only 19 goals in eight games against the Preds. Five of those goals given up were in their previous meeting. The Hurricanes have caught the injury bug in net this season, but Carolina has persevered allowing the sixth least shots on goal this season while averaging the third best goals allowed per game. According to Corsi, the Hurricanes are one of the elite teams 5 on 5 when it comes to shots blocked and misses.
The Predators snuck in the final spot in the Central division. Since April 1st, Nashville has won 12 of their last 19 games. They have looked to Juuse Saros, who has been the MVP of the team, to help revive their hopes for the franchises first cup. He's won 21 of his 36 starts this season and is sixth in wins. He boasts a solid GAA of 2.28, and his save percentage ranks third best in the league amongst starters.
Carolina shouldn't have an issue with the Predators despite getting blown out by Nashville in their previous meeting. And although they have guys like Josi, Ellis, and Ekholm on their blueline, I don’t think the Canes will have any issues breaking through on the scoresheet.
Carolina with the sweep.
Toronto Maple Leafs Vs Montreal Canadiens
For the first time since 1979, Toronto and Montreal will clash in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Leafs bested Montreal this season, winning seven of their ten meetings, so the Habs haven’t put up much of a fight. The Leafs will send out Auston Matthews (who will capture his first rocket trophy this season) and Mitch Marner to lead this scary offence into battle, which holds a goal differential of plus-36.
In net, the Leafs look to another two-headed monster in the shape of Jack Campbell and the returning Freddy Andersen. The former King goaltender can't seem to lose as he's won 17 of his 22 starts this season and has helped the Leafs allow the seventh least amount of goals. Last season Toronto was 26th in goals allowed so a massive amount of credit has to go to head coach Sheldon Keefe for turning that part of their game around.
Montreal grabbed the last spot in the North division but has struggled recently. The Habs have dropped five straight coming into the playoffs, but they should have Carey Price back for the start of the playoffs against the Leafs. That's a big boost for Montreal if they have any chance of beating the North division champs. However, Price has given up 14 goals in 4 meetings against the Buds this year.
Montreal are one of the best teams scoring in high percentage areas on the ice, so they’ll need to continue to get guys in front of the net. But with Matthews tallying 14 points this season against the Habs I don’t see them keeping up with Toronto’s pace. I'm not calling it a sweep, Montreal will sneak a win and avoid the sweep.
Leafs in 5.
Winnipeg Jets vs Edmonton Oilers
Winnipeg is sliding. The Jets lost eight of their last eleven games and lost the second seed to the Oilers in that span of time. Winnipeg's defence has suffered lately, giving up 32 goals in their last ten games. They've managed two shutouts in their last four games but the Jets haven't been given thier Vezina goaltender much help at times against the Oilers.
Winnipeg has given up 34 goals in nine contests versus Edmonton. That's almost four goals a game. The biggest challenge Winnipeg faces is cooling down the insanely hot Connor McDavid. Needless to say they haven't done that successfully this year with McDavid posting 22 points against them this year. The Jets have a good power play, but will be in tough as the Oilers are one of the most top rated pk teams in the league.
For Edmonton, it begins and ends with McDavid. He's the only player to notch 100 points this year, and once again has been the best player by far this season. The duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have combined over 200 points, the most out of any duo in the NHL. Yet the scoring drops dramatically for Oilers after their dynamic duo. Barrie and Nurse are third and fourth in scoring, which tells us all we need to know about their depth up front.
Luckily, Edmonton's special teams have been the team's biggest positive this season. They can hurt you on the powerplay and kill penalties. Winnipeg's struggles in the playoffs is a bad sign. If they can't stop McDavid they won't win and I don't see them slowing down the best player in the game.
Oilers in 5.
Colorado Avalanche vs St. Louis Blues
The Avalanche knocked off the Knights to take the crown of the West division and the Presidents trophy, and have quite simply been unstoppable up front. MacKinnon and Rantanen are the third highest scoring duo in the league and both players rank seventh and eighth respectively. The Avalanche are second in goals for and averaged the most goals per game. Colorado also leads the NHL in pp goals, and have the highest scoring chance percentage in the league,
They are a wagon.
Philipp Grubauer should get some Vezina love come voting time. The German netminder has a GAA under 2, and amongst starting goalies he has the lowest goals against. He's also tied for the most shutouts with seven. Cale Makar also continues to assert himself as one of the best young players in the game. He's tied for fourth in team scoring and also leads the team in total ice time. They've been great on both sides of the puck.
The St. Louis Blues have had an up and down season, but are still a team that shouldn't be taken lightly by Colorado. With the likes of former Conn Smythe winner Ryan O' Reilly on their side, as well the ever dangerous Tarasenko, St. Louis has guys who know what it takes to get to the big show. And that experience could pay dividends come crunch time.
The Blues are 3-6 against the avalanche but a lot of their games have been pretty close. The Blues have won 2 straight against Colorado coming into this series. The Avalanche are the favourites in this series, but winning the Presidents trophy can be a curse. Blues can make it a series and I believe in Binnington pulling another playoff miracle.
The stingy Blues stun the Avalanche in 7 games.
Vegas Golden Knights Vs Minnesota Wild
It would be a flat out lie to say Vegas preferred this matchup compared to what the Aves got. Vegas lost five of their nine meetings against the Wild and four of those five losses were by one goal. So to say that they were somewhat desperate to get the one seed would be an understatement.
The Knights have been riding Marc-Andre Fleury for the majority of the season, and for good reason. The 2003 first overall pick has played one of the best seasons of his career as he continues his journey to the top of the all-time wins ladder. His play will be a key factor into how this series plays out, because even though Vegas is one of the highest scoring teams in the league, they haven't scored much against the Wild.
Minnesota has been able to tame the Knights high octane in the majority of their meetings. Their first two meetings they scored ten goals in total, but in the seven other games between the two teams, Vegas only put the puck in 13 times. Led by rookie Kirill Kaprizov, and the emergence of Kevin Fiala, the Wild have taken a defence-first approach. They don't have much fire power, but they’ve managed to scrape out wins, especially against the Knights.
Minnesota has been able to win games by shutting down the open ice. However, they don't have a strong power play, and that could be the team's downfall in this series. They’ve been the Knights cryptonite this season, and I expect that continues. Another upset in the West division.
Wild in 6.