NHL Playoff Picture 2021: Latest Postseason Bracket, Predictions and More

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IApril 22, 2021

NHL Playoff Picture 2021: Latest Postseason Bracket, Predictions and More

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    The Vegas Golden Knights have never missed out on the Stanley Cup playoffs in their history.

    On Wednesday night, the Golden Knights became the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth this season after they extended their winning streak to eight games with a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks. Vegas has reached the postseason in each of its first four seasons of existence, and it's in first place in the West Division with 68 points.

    If the Golden Knights want to win their first Stanley Cup, they will have to keep playing well against their West Division rivals. As part of the changes in the NHL this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs comprise intradivisional games (East, North, Central or West).

    There are still 15 postseason berths up for grabs, and some of those races could come down to the wire. Here's a look at the playoff bracket for each division, along with predictions for how each will end up.

East Division

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    1. Washington Capitals (62 points)

    2. New York Islanders (62)

    3. Pittsburgh Penguins (61)

    4. Boston Bruins (58)

    The top four teams in the East are all separated by only four points, so it's going to be a tight battle for seeding down the stretch. However, it's unlikely that any of the teams miss the playoffs.

    The Bruins have a six-point lead over the No. 5 New York Rangers (52 points), who have also played two more games than Boston. The Philadelphia Flyers (47 points) are running out of time to make a push, and the New Jersey Devils (34) and Buffalo Sabres (31) have already been eliminated from postseason contention.

    Boston may be in fourth, but it's won five games in a row, and six of its next eight games are against either New Jersey or Buffalo. Plus, the Bruins have played two fewer games than the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. Expect Boston to finish strong and surge to the top of the East Division standings, with Washington, New York and Pittsburgh playing well enough to fend off the rest.

    Prediction: 1. Boston; 2. Washington; 3. New York; 4. Pittsburgh.

North Division

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    Peter Power/Associated Press

    1. Toronto Maple Leafs (61)

    2. Winnipeg Jets (57)

    3. Edmonton Oilers (56)

    4. Montreal Canadiens (49)

    Here's another division that's unlikely to have a major shakeup down the stretch. These four teams are all in good position to reach the playoffs, and while the seeding could change, all four should make it to the postseason.

    The Calgary Flames (41), Vancouver Canucks (39) and Ottawa Senators (36) are all still mathematically in playoff contention, but they have too many games against each other down the stretch for any of them to surge ahead and put pressure on the Montreal Canadiens. Plus, the Habs' next three games are against Calgary, which should give it a chance to build some separation between the two teams and get on a roll.

    It should be a close battle between Winnipeg and Edmonton for the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, but either way, those teams will end up facing each other in the opening round of the playoffs.

    Prediction: 1. Toronto; 2. Edmonton; 3. Winnipeg; 4. Montreal.

Central Division

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    1. Carolina Hurricanes (65)

    2. Florida Panthers (65)

    3. Tampa Bay Lightning (62)

    4. Nashville Predators (52)

    The Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning have nothing to worry about here and will continue to battle for the No. 1 seed in the division down the stretch. Any one of the trio could end up getting it, but all three will make it into the playoffs regardless.

    The question is whether the Nashville Predators can hold off the Dallas Stars (50 points) and Chicago Blackhawks (49) and make it to the playoffs for the seventh year in a row. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets (39 points each) are still alive, but neither is playing well and doesn't have a realistic chance of reaching the postseason.

    The Stars have won four games in a row, but all of those games were against either the Blue Jackets or Red Wings. Things are likely to get tougher for Dallas over the next few weeks as it faces tougher competition.

    The Predators will need to play better than they have of late, but this is a talented team with plenty of scoring options. They should get back on track soon and pick up enough wins to fend off the Stars and Blackhawks.

    Prediction: 1. Carolina; 2. Tampa Bay; 3. Florida; 4. Nashville.

West Division

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    1. Vegas Golden Knights (68)

    2. Colorado Avalanche (64)

    3. Minnesota Wild (61)

    4. Arizona Coyotes (45)

    The Golden Knights have already clinched a playoff berth, and it won't be long before the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild do the same. They are three of the best teams in the league, so it will be exciting to watch them keep battling it out early in the postseason.

    But there's a tight race occurring behind that trio, as the Arizona Coyotes (45 points), St. Louis Blues (44), San Jose Sharks (41), Los Angeles Kings (40) and Anaheim Ducks (35) each try to earn the No. 4 seed. San Jose is trending in the wrong direction, having lost seven games in a row, and Los Angeles and Anaheim will likely fall off as each has a tough remaining schedule.

    That means it will come down to Arizona and St. Louis. The Blues may be a point back, but they have played four fewer games than the Coyotes. There will be opportunities for them to pull ahead if they can start playing better (they have lost 14 of their past 19 games).

    Blues coach Craig Berube has led his team to success plenty in recent years, including winning the Stanley Cup in 2019, and he's capable of getting them back on track. Expect St. Louis to begin playing better and edge Arizona for the final West playoff berth.

    Prediction: 1. Vegas; 2. Colorado; 3. Minnesota; 4. St. Louis.