NHL Playoff Standings 2021: Updated Postseason Picture and Stanley Cup Bracket
Most of the bracket for the Stanley Cup playoffs is set. In the East, North and Central Divisions, the top four teams are locked in, so six first-round postseason matchups are known. But things aren't as clear in the West.
The four teams that will be heading to the playoffs out of the West are set: the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. But only one seed (the No. 4 Blues) is locked in, with the other three still having the potential to move.
The Golden Knights (80 points with one regular-season game remaining) currently lead the division, but they only have a two-point lead over the Avalanche, who still have two games to play. Meanwhile, Colorado is also looking to hold off Minnesota, which has 75 points with two games to go.
The Avs could end up as the No. 1, 2 or 3 seed in the West, so this is an important final stretch for them. The Golden Knights can't fall below the No. 2 seed, so they're guaranteed to have home-ice advantage in the first round.
Here's a look at the latest projected bracket for the Stanley Cup playoffs as things stand.
Current Projected Bracket
No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 4 New York Islanders
No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 3 Boston Bruins
No. 1 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 4 Montreal Canadiens
No. 2 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 3 Winnipeg Jets
No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators
No. 2 Florida Panthers vs. No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 4 St. Louis Blues
No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild
Can Panthers End Lightning's Quest to Repeat in 1st Round?
The Panthers haven't had much postseason success in their history. They've won only three playoff series, and they all came during their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, the first trip to the postseason in franchise history. Florida has now lost six consecutive playoff series.
In order to end that drought, the Panthers will have to take down the Lightning, the defending champions, in the first round. But Florida will have home-ice advantage due to being the No. 2 seed, and it went 5-2-1 against Tampa Bay during the regular season.
Anything can happen once the postseason arrives, though, and this will be the first time the Panthers and Lightning will face off in a playoff series.
"It's a fresh start. It's whole new ballgame," Florida coach Joel Quenneville said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). "We should be excited about the way the season went for us in a lot of ways."
After ending the regular season on a six-game winning streak, the Panthers will look to carry over that momentum. They ended the regular-season slate with a pair of wins over the Lightning in which Florida outscored Tampa Bay 9-1.
Caps, Bruins Should Play Thrilling Series in Opening Round
Zdeno Chara's first playoff series since leaving Boston will be against none other than the Bruins, his team of the previous 14 seasons.
Now, the 44-year-old defenseman is looking to help the Washington Capitals take down his former team in what could be one of the most exciting series of the first round.
Washington has been dealing with numerous injuries, but it got its top two offensive players (Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom) back for Tuesday's regular-season finale, a 2-1 win over Boston.
And Ovechkin appears to be ready to go as he attempts to lead the Caps to their second Stanley Cup in four years.
"Right now, I'm 100 percent," he said, per ESPN.com. "I didn't feel any soreness. I feel comfortable. That's the most important thing. This time of year, you have to be smart and you have to think about the future, not only regular season."
However, Washington has had its share of postseason woes over the past decade, and Boston is not going to be an easy opponent. Expect a competitive series that could go either way, especially as the Bruins look to make sure Chara doesn't get deeper into the postseason than they do.
Could Maple Leafs End Canada's Stanley Cup Drought?
Because every Canadian team in the NHL was grouped together in the North Division during this unorthodox 2020-21 season, it means exactly one of them will be among the final four teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs, no more and no less.
Whichever team that is will be looking to become the first from Canada to win the Cup since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
Of the four North Division teams heading to the postseason, the Maple Leafs appear to be the most likely to succeed. They've had a strong regular season and have won seven of their past eight games, with two still to play (at Ottawa on Wednesday and at Winnipeg on Friday).
Toronto will begin the playoffs with a first-round series against Montreal, then it will play either Edmonton or Winnipeg in the second round. By finishing first in the North, the Maple Leafs won their first division title since 2000. They'll now look to keep rolling in the postseason.
"We feel like we can do a lot of damage," Toronto forward Alexander Kerfoot said, per Sportsnet's Luke Fox. "Every team toward the end of the year feels like they have a chance, but I think that it feels a little bit more real this year."
Maybe that will lead to the Leafs finally bringing the Stanley Cup back to Canada.