NHL Playoff Standings 2021: Complete Bracket Matchups and Postseason Picture

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMay 14, 2021

NHL Playoff Standings 2021: Complete Bracket Matchups and Postseason Picture

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Over the past two weeks, the Colorado Avalanche racked up wins and didn't let the Vegas Golden Knights run away with the West Division title. And in their final game of the regular season, the Avs ascended to the top themselves.

    On Thursday, Colorado defeated the Los Angeles Kings 5-1 to secure the No. 1 seed in the West, bumping Vegas down to the No. 2 spot. It was the Avalanche's eighth win in their past nine games, and they'll look to keep that momentum going in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where they'll face the No. 4-seeded St. Louis Blues in the first round.

    That's right, more division matchups are on the way in the postseason because of the NHL's realignment for the 2020-21 season. After the regular season consisted of only games between division opponents, the first two rounds of the playoffs will be the same. Then, there will be one team from each division standing left to battle it out for the Stanley Cup.

    With the full 16-team postseason field set, here's a look at the matchups for the opening round.

Stanley Cup Playoff Bracket

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    East Division

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

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


    North Division

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

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


    Central Division

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

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


    West Division

    No. 1 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 4 St. Louis Blues

    No. 2 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild

Bruins Look to Knock off Chara, Caps

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    During his 14 seasons with the Bruins, Zdeno Chara has played in 150 playoff games for the team, which included a Stanley Cup run in 2011. Now, if the 44-year-old defenseman wants to win another championship, he'll have to help his new team (the Capitals) take down the Bruins.

    Chara already faced Boston eight times during the regular season, as Washington went 4-4-0 in those matchups. With the stakes raised in the first round of the playoffs, the Caps and Bruins are likely going to have a long, competitive series that could end up going either way.

    And if Boston hopes to advance to face either Pittsburgh or New York in the second round, it will have to take down a familiar face.

    "We'll break down Z like we would any other player. We know a lot of his tendencies. Maybe that will help us in certain situations," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said, per Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston. "At the end of the day, he's a competitor. We have a lot of competitors in our room. I'm looking forward to the matchup."

    But Chara also knows Boston well, so perhaps that could play in Washington's favor. His veteran leadership may also help the Capitals make a deep playoff run as they look to win their second Stanley Cup in four years.

Will Panthers End Playoff Drought Against Defending Champs?

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Panthers and Lightning have never faced off in a playoff series. And the two teams' recent postseason history couldn't be more different.

    Florida made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1996, its third season, when it made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Panthers haven't won a postseason series since, as their loss in those Stanley Cup Finals began a streak of six consecutive playoff series losses.

    Meanwhile, Tampa Bay won the second Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2020. Now, the Lightning are heading to the postseason for the seventh time in eight years, as they've consistently been among the top teams in the league in recent seasons.

    However, the Panthers had success against the Lightning during the regular season, going 5-2-1 against them.

    "We know them pretty well and they know us pretty well," Florida center Aleksander Barkov said, per NHL.com's Dan Rosen. "It's going to be a battle."

    Maybe it'll be a postseason battle that finally goes the Panthers' way. But it likely won't be easy, considering the Lightning's talented, experienced roster.

Could Wild Give Golden Knights a First-Round Challenge?

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    If the Golden Knights had stayed in the top spot in the West Division, they would have opened the playoffs against the Blues, who were the clear No. 4 team having finished 19 points behind Vegas. Instead, the Golden Knights will play the No. 3-seeded Wild, who had 75 points and stayed in the battle for the West title until late in the regular season.

    Not only that, but Minnesota gave Vegas some trouble during the regular season, going 5-1-2 in its matchups against the Golden Knights. So if the Wild can follow the same formula to success, it could lead to an early postseason exit for Vegas, which is expected to be among the top Stanley Cup contenders.

    "They're a great team. We're a great team. It's going to be a fun series," Minnesota forward Marcus Foligno said, per NHL.com's Tracey Myers. "When we play aggressive, we're a big hockey team, a smart hockey team and we know how to play with that style and that emotion, and we just come out most times against them."

    The Wild are in the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years, but they've won only two postseason series during that span, with the last coming in the first round in 2015. They've lost their past five playoff series and will be looking to end their drought against the Golden Knights.