NHL Playoff Picture 2021: Breaking Down Standings and Current Postseason Bracket

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMay 11, 2021

NHL Playoff Picture 2021: Breaking Down Standings and Current Postseason Bracket

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Every team in the NHL is playing 56 games during the 2020-21 regular season, some of which have already completed their schedules. And every one of those games was against division opponents, as the league realigned for this unorthodox campaign played amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    Although the Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin later this week, the division matchups aren't complete. The first two rounds of the postseason will feature only series between teams from the same division, as the top four teams from each will be whittled down to one.

    However, not everything is set with the playoff bracket quite yet. There are still seeding battles taking place in the North and West Divisions over the next few days.

    Here's a division-by-division look at the current playoff picture around the NHL.

East Division

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 4 New York Islanders

    No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 3 Boston Bruins

    There's only one regular-season game remaining featuring East Division teams, and that's a matchup between the Caps and Bruins on Tuesday night in Washington. But it will have no impact on the standings. These four teams are locked into their seeds for the opening round of the playoffs.

    Boston is 4-1-2 against Washington this season, and it will look to carry over that success into the postseason, even though the Caps will have home-ice advantage in the first-round series. It'll be only the fourth time these teams have met in the postseason, and the first since the opening round in 2012.

    New York had only six fewer points than Pittsburgh during the regular season, so it should be a competitive series. The Islanders are 2-4-2 against the Penguins this year, but the two teams haven't played since March 29. The last time these teams met in the playoffs was in 2019, when New York swept Pittsburgh 4-0 in the first round.

North Division

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    Peter Power/Associated Press

    No. 1 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 4 Montreal Canadiens

    No. 2 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 3 Winnipeg Jets

    The Maple Leafs and Oilers are locked into the top two seeds, respectively, and will have home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. However, it's not yet known who each team will play, although the Jets and Canadiens are assured of reaching the postseason.

    Winnipeg has 59 points with two regular-season games remaining, while Montreal has 58 and one game to play. The Jets can clinch the No. 3 seed with a win or overtime/shootout loss against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. They'd also clinch if the Canadiens lose to the Oilers on Wednesday.

    Toronto and Edmonton have been the clear top two teams in the North Division, so its first-round opponents may not matter. Don't be surprised if the Maple Leafs and Oilers advance to meet in the second round. If that happens, it could bode well for Toronto, which went 6-1-2 against Edmonton in the regular season.

Central Division

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators

    No. 2 Florida Panthers vs. No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning

    Like the East Division, the Central Division bracket is set. Each of these teams has played all 56 of its regular-season games, so these are the matchups that will take place in the first round of the playoffs.

    The Hurricanes won their first six meetings against the Predators during the regular season. However, after Carolina had already clinched the division, Nashville won the final two meetings between the teams on Saturday and Monday. This will be the first time the teams will face off in the postseason.

    If the Lightning are going to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, they'll have to get past the Panthers, who went 5-2-1 against Tampa Bay during the regular season and won the last three meetings between the two teams. Florida and Tampa Bay have never previously played each other in the playoffs.

West Division

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 4 St. Louis Blues

    No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild

    The Golden Knights are the No. 1 seed in the West Division right now, but they may not be for long. They lost to the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 on Monday, and the Avs are now closing in on the top spot. Vegas (80 points) has only one regular-season game to play, while Colorado (78) still has two.

    The Avalanche has a pair of home games against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday and Thursday, so there's a good chance they can overtake the Golden Knights. But if they lose both, it's still possible that the Wild (75 points with two games to play) could still move up to the No. 2 seed, although it's unlikely.

    The only sure thing in this division is that the Blues will be the No. 4 seed and will face either the Golden Knights or Avalanche in the first round. So the final few regular-season games featuring West teams are going to have some high stakes, even though the four playoff teams are set.