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Play-off Puck Picks
By Max Toth
The NHL regular season is (finally!) over and now the play-offs are (thank goodness!) upon us. I normally shy away from Stanley Cup play-off predictions, in an attempt to avoid arguing with over-zealous hockey fanatics. But this year, I decided to take a shot. So, let's drop the post-season puck and check out my 2021 first round predictions.
(1) Toronto Maple Leafs vs (4) Montreal Canadiens
Maple Leafs in 5
In a renewal of the NHL’s oldest rivalry, the Leafs will finally exorcise their first round play-off demons in the beginning of what I think will be a deep post-season run. The Canadiens have had a tough year all around, which led to the end of Claude Julien’s second stint in Montreal. So, it does say something about the team that they managed to stay in a play-off spot for basically the whole season. However, the Leafs are just too talented and will be determined to show they can come through when the play-offs roll around.
(2) Edmonton Oilers vs (3) Winnipeg Jets
Jets in 6
This series is pretty simple: if Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl score, the Oilers will win. If McDavid and Draisaitl don’t put the puck in the net, they'll probably lose. Obviously, the Oilers deadly duo are very good at placing biscuits in baskets, but the Jets happen to employ arguably the NHL’s best goalie in Connor Hellebuyck. We’ve seen time and time again how vital good goaltending can be to play-off success and if Hellebuyck can shut down the Oilers stars, Winnipeg should be able to steal this one.
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs (4) New York Islanders
Islanders in 7
If there is going to be a 1 versus 4 upset, this will be it. Ever since John Tavares left the Islanders, they’ve consistently defied expectations and this series could be the same story. The Penguins certainly aren’t young and the Islanders could grind them down. This might be the ceiling for the current Islanders group, but they still have one last surprise left in them.
(2) Washington Capitals vs (3) Boston Bruins
Bruins in 7
In a battle of two teams nearing the end of their Stanley Cup ropes, it might come down to who has more leg power - and I think that’s Boston. The Bruins have a lot going for them. The "Perfection Line" of Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak is as dangerous as ever and Taylor Hall has been completely rejuvenated since escaping the disaster in Buffalo.
(1) Carolina Hurricanes vs (4) Nashville Predators
Hurricanes in 5
The Hurricanes might have dodged a bullet when last year's Western Conference Champion Dallas Stars lost out to the Predators for the fourth seed down the stretch. Carolina may be in for a tough round two against the Tampa Bay Lightning or Florida Panthers, but the well-coached 'Canes should have little trouble with Nashville.
(2) Florida Panthers vs (3) Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning in 6
This could definitely be the most interesting series of the first round. The Lightning won the Stanley Cup last year, but they’ve had some major injury issues in 2021. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman headline the Lightning, but all of them are hobbled heading into the postseason. The good news? The aforementioned Tampa trio are all expected to be in the line-up when the series begins and I have a hard time betting against the champs - at least in round one.
(1) Colorado Avalanche vs (4) St Louis Blues
Avalanche in 5
The Avalanche were my pick to win it all at the start of the season and nothing has changed, as they wrapped up a terrific season by finishing first overall and taking home the President's Trophy. The Blues, Stanley Cup winners just two years ago, are probably better than their record indicates. But I just don’t believe they have much of a shot against Nathan MacKinnon and the rest of the high-powered Av's
(2) Vegas Golden Knights vs (3) Minnesota Wild
Golden Knights in 4
The Golden Knights finished the season with the same amount of points as the Avalanche, but Colorado won the tiebreaker by having more regular season wins. So, Vegas finished behind the Av's and draws the pesky Wild. But it really doesn't matter. Vegas is just too strong and this happens to be my pick as the fastest series of the first round. Looking ahead? A Golden Knights versus Avalanche series could be the highlight of the second round.
But, first things first, of course. We're all looking forward to the first round of the NHL play-offs - even if our picks don't pan out at all.