Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021: NHL Bracket, Format and Updated Predictions

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMay 12, 2021

Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri (91) skates around Vegas Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson (20) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Monday, May 10, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

The 16-team Stanley Cup playoff field is set, but not all of the matchups have been determined.

What we do know is the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins will open up the postseason Saturday in one of two East Division series.

The first two rounds will take place exclusively within divisions. The teams that emerge from the four-squad brackets will constitute the final four.

The East, Central and North Divisions have their matchups decided, but the West teams still have plenty to play for over the last two days of the regular-season schedule.

The Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights will fight for the No. 1 seed in the West and the Presidents' Trophy in their respective games Wednesday and Thursday.

Colorado needs two wins over the Los Angeles Kings to lock up the Presidents' Trophy. A slip-up in either game will allow the Knights to earn that crown.


Known Playoff Bracket

East Division

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

No. 2 Washington vs. No. 3 Boston


Central Division

No. 1 Carolina vs. No. 4 Nashville

No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 Tampa Bay


North Division

No. 1 Toronto vs. No. 4 Montreal 

No. 2 Edmonton vs. No. 3 Winnipeg



Colorado Locks Up Presidents' Trophy

The Avalanche are two wins over the Kings away from securing the Presidents' Trophy as the top regular-season team.

Colorado holds a 5-1 head-to-head mark against Los Angeles and is 20-4-2 at home, where it hosts the Kings on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Avalanche outscored the Kings 6-1 in their two meetings at Ball Arena this season. Colorado earned all three of its road wins against Los Angeles by 3-2 scorelines.

Colorado's most recent home loss in regulation occurred March 8. It fell in overtime to the Golden Knights on March 27.

If the Avalanche extend their form against Los Angeles into the next two days, they will earn the Presidents' Trophy, even if Vegas downs the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday.

The first tiebreaker for the Presidents' Trophy is regulation wins. Colorado has a 33-29 advantage in that category over the Knights.

Winning the Presidents' Trophy does not guarantee a Stanley Cup victory. The Chicago Blackhawks were the last team to win both trophies in 2013. Colorado did hoist the Cup the last time it won the Presidents' Trophy in 2001.

Colorado's path just to get to the semifinals could be tough with Vegas lurking as the No. 2 seed, but earning home-ice advantage could be valuable. The Golden Knights have nine road losses, two of which occurred in their last four away contests.


Carolina Cruises Through Nashville in 1st Round

The recent victories by the Nashville Predators over the Carolina Hurricanes should not be taken into account when making a prediction about their Central Division series.

Carolina had the top seed in the Central locked up by Monday, and it rested a handful of its top players in the 5-0 defeat. Nashville also won at home Saturday by a 3-1 score.

The Canes held the Predators to two or fewer goals in their six prior meetings. They won five of those meetings by multiple tallies.

Carolina's defense could be its biggest key to advancing in a fairly easy manner. It allowed 136 goals in the regular season, which was tied for the fourth-fewest total in the league with Boston. Only Vegas, Colorado and the New York Islanders conceded less often.

Nashville let in 18 more goals than the Canes, and it conceded five or more tallies on 11 occasions. Eight of those goals came against the other three playoff teams in the Central. Conversely, Carolina allowed four or more tallies in 10 contests. Three of those games were losses in which the fourth goal was scored in overtime.

If Carolina continues to flex its defensive muscle, it should run through Nashville with ease to earn some rest ahead of a matchup with either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Florida Panthers.


Statistics obtained from Hockey Reference.