The 2021 NHL Playoffs will begin Might 15, and for probably the most half, the schedule of games has been finalized. When the playoffs start, they’ll mark a return to regular after final summer time’s bubble setup in Toronto and Edmonton. Groups can be again of their house arenas, and lots of could have no less than some fans in attendance—a welcome change from the empty seats we’ve seen over the previous 12 months.
However these playoffs can be uncommon in different methods, most notably as a result of the NHL is utilizing a special construction for the 2021 season. To mitigate journey through the pandemic, the league realigned into 4 divisions: the Central, East, West, and North, the latter of which is made up of the league’s six Canadian groups. The realignment creates the potential for uncommon matchups. As an example, the Montreal Canadiens are usually within the Japanese Convention, and the Edmonton Oilers are within the Western Convention, so they might sometimes solely meet within the Stanley Cup Remaining. However this 12 months, they might face one another a lot earlier within the postseason, which might be numerous enjoyable to look at.
Although the divisions look totally different, the playoff format is much like previous years’ playoffs. A complete of 16 groups will make the sphere, and the primary two rounds can be dedicated to checking out a champion from every of the 4 divisions. Then, out of those “last 4” (much like NCAA March Insanity), two groups will advance to the Stanley Cup Remaining, which ought to start in late June or early July.
Listed here are 4 storylines that can form this distinctive playoff season.
Is it lastly Canada’s second?
Seven of the NHL’s 31 franchises are primarily based in Canada. Six have been round for many years, and a seventh, the Winnipeg Jets, joined in 2011. However no Canadian membership has lifted the Stanley Cup for the reason that Canadiens did it in 1993.
If that streak ends this 12 months, there’s a very good likelihood will probably be due to gamers who weren’t even alive in 1993. Edmonton OIlers heart Connor McDavid (born in 1997) has emerged as the most effective participant on this planet, and Toronto Maple Leafs heart Auston Matthews (additionally born in 1997) isn’t far behind him. The Oilers and Leafs are Canada’s finest pictures to hoist Lord Stanley once more.
Do the Pittsburgh Penguins’ ageing superstars have one other run in them?
With three Stanley Cups since 2009 and a repeat in 2016 and 2017, the Penguins are the closest factor to a dominant franchise within the present period of the NHL. Their success has largely rested on the contributions of two of the most effective facilities of all time—Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin—and one of many league’s most gifted (if much less constant) defenders, Kris Letang.
These three have performed collectively since 2006. They’re all 33 to 34 years previous now, which is across the age the place star gamers often start to fade. Crosby has been good this season, whereas Letang has come on recently and Malkin is ready to play within the postseason after lacking a lot of the 12 months with a lower-body harm. In the event that they’re going to win a fourth Cup collectively, it’s going to most likely occur this 12 months. (Or maybe it’s time for McDavid or Matthews to take over.)
Who will emerge from a two-team energy wrestle within the West?
Two of the most effective groups in hockey this 12 months have been the Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche. They couldn’t have been constructed extra in a different way. The Knights are largely the product of an growth draft (Vegas joined the league in 2017), however they’ve discovered fast success—making the Stanley Cup Remaining in 2018 and a convention last in 2020—by neatly including large scorers like Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone to the roster.
However, the Avalanche received nice the old style method: shedding loads after which utilizing excessive draft picks to pick out unbelievable gamers. Left wing Gabriel Landeskog (second general in 2011), heart Nathan MacKinnon (first general in 2013), proper wing Mikko Rantanen (10th general in 2015), and defenseman Cale Makar (fourth general in 2017) give the Avs what could be probably the most gifted core within the league.
Will Connor McDavid outline the playoffs, or another person?
It appears like McDavid’s time. He’s now in his sixth 12 months within the league, and he has already received an MVP award and led the league in factors a number of instances. However he’s solely appeared within the playoffs twice. The Oilers typically have didn’t encompass him with high-caliber teammates, and it has been troublesome for McDavid to tug the crew into the postseason.
The whole lot’s clicked this 12 months, although. The Oilers are dominant, and so they’ve lastly discovered sufficient assist for McDavid and fellow elite scorer Leon Draisaitl. Goaltender Mike Smith, at 39 years previous, has emerged as a contender for the Vezina Trophy, which matches to the league’s high netminder. All of that to say: The Oilers have the items in place for a Stanley Cup win, and McDavid may very well be his first Conn Smythe Trophy (awarded to the playoff MVP) this 12 months.
Even so, hockey is a merciless recreation. The Oilers may run into hassle at any time, and a dream season for McDavid may go up in smoke. He has loads of competitors: Matthews and the Maple Leafs, Crosby and the Penguins, even MacKinnon and the star-studded Avalanche. No matter how this postseason goes, it’ll be enjoyable to see such gifted gamers and groups battle it out on the ice.
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