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Previewing the 2021 NHL Playoffs – First-Round Series Predictions

By Christopher Hurley in NHL
| May 17, 2021 10:59 am PDT

As the National Hockey League postseason begins, it’s anybody’s game.

For the second straight year, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be transformed into a cup-style tournament, with 16-teams in four divisions all vying for hockey’s silver chalice.

While not nearly as wide open as last season’s ambitious 28 -team bracket, these playoffs promise to be every bit as intense. Here is a quick look at the first-round best-of-seven matchups.

North Division

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens

It is now or never for Austen Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It has been 44 years since the Leafs won a playoff series (1967), and they have their best shot in ages against an upstart Montreal Canadiens squad.

  • Prediction: Toronto in 4

Edmonton Oilers vs. Winnipeg Jets

The two leading scorers in the NHL this season, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatil, are the key here.

They will look to give the Oilers fans an 80s flashback of past glories, outlasting Blake Wheeler and a dedicated Winnipeg Jets club.

  • Prediction: Edmonton in 7

West Division

Colorado Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues

The Colorado top line of Nathan McKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen should loom large in this series.

They take on Ryan O’Relly’s roughriders in what promises to be a classic showdown.

  • Prediction: Colorado in 5

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Minnesota Wild

Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov can seemingly break games open all by himself, but when in Vegas, it is hard to bet against the Golden Knights.

A well-rounded team, Vegas blueliners Shea Theodore, Alex Pietrangelo and Brayden McNabb should keep the Wild’s rookie-of the year candidate in check, leaving the crease clear for goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to do what he does best – win.

  • Prediction: Vegas in 6

East Division

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders

With perennial all-stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way, the Pittsburgh Penguins have the superstar pedigree to dominate come playoff time.

With that said, do not overlook this determined New York Islanders squad just yet.

Despite losing team captain and 40-goal guy Andres Lee to season ending injury midway through the year, the Isles have stuck to their game plan with an all-hands-on-deck approach.

New York had seven players post double figures in goals, two more than the star-studded Pens.

They are also fueled by the physical play of the best fourth line in hockey. In addition, New York sports an unheralded defensive corps.

Ryan Pullock, Adam Pelech, Nick Leddy, and Scott Mayfield are not exactly household names, but they’ve gotten the job done playing in front of resilient netminder Semyon Varlamov.

If you are looking for a high risk, high-reward option, this is the best of the bunch.

  • Prediction: Islanders in 7

Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins

Another East upset could be brewing in Beantown, as the Bruins look to pounce on an injury plagued Washington Capitals squad.

TJ Oshie will miss the start of the series, and Covid protocols have also left the Capitals center, Evgeny Kuznetsov, on the shelf.

Meanwhile the Bruins have been buzzing with their top two lines playing their best hockey of the season. The perfection line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak is among the league’s best.

Newly acquired Taylor Hall has also found instant chemistry with proven playoff performer David Krejci, giving the Bruins the forward line depth, all teams crave.

  • Prediction: Boston in 6

Central Division

Carolina Hurricanes vs. Nashville Predators

Of all the first-round matchups, this series could be the biggest coin flip.

Sebastian Aho, Dougie Hamilton, and the Carolina Hurricanes seem to have the edge going 6-2 during their regular season meetings and winning 13 of the past 16 against Smashville.

That said, the Preds pop-gun offense and structed defensive play always keeps them in the thick of things.

  • Prediction: Carolina in 7

Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

If facing the defending Stanley Cup champs was not bad enough, the Florida Panthers will have the unenviable task of keeping Nikita Kucherov under wraps.

The NHL’s leading scorer last season, Kucherov returns to the lineup after missing the entire regular season recovering from offseason surgery.

He enhances an already established club that also includes Conn Smythe winning defenseman Viktor Headman, and Vezina contending goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy

  • My Prediction: Tampa Bay in 5

More Predictions for the 2021 NHL Playoffs

Here are some more of my predictions for how I see the NHL playoffs panning out in 2021. Check out the best hockey betting sites if you want to bet on any of these outcomes.

  • West Division champs: Colorado clips Vegas
  • East Division champs: Boston beats Islanders
  • Central Division champs: Tampa Bay blasts Carolina
  • North Division champs: Toronto eliminates Edmonton
  • Quarterfinals: Colorado clubs Boston, Tampa Bay torches Toronto
  • Stanley Cup Final: Tampa Bay conquers Colorado
  • Playoff MVP: Andrei Vasilebskiy

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