Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021: Unheralded Teams Primed to Make Noise in Postseason

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMay 15, 2021

Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021: Unheralded Teams Primed to Make Noise in Postseason

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    The NHL's West Division features two of the best teams in the league, but they could both be susceptible to upsets in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    The Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues both carry decent head-to-head marks against the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche, respectively, and they come into the postseason in decent form.

    Colorado has history going against it since the last Presidents' Trophy winners to claim the Stanley Cup were the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2012-13 season.

    The Avalanche also have to buck the recent trend of No. 1 seeds failing to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Vegas and the Washington Capitals were the last top seeds to advance to that stage in 2018.

    The North Division was the only other division to have a similar point disparity from first to fourth. Although an upset in the Canadian first round seems unlikely, there is a chance the Winnipeg Jets benefit from results at the end of the regular season to challenge the Edmonton Oilers. 

Minnesota Wild

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    Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

    Minnesota completed the regular season by winning 11 of its final 15 games.

    One of those victories came against the Golden Knights. The Wild's other recent contest with Vegas resulted in an overtime loss.

    Minnesota comes into the first round against Vegas with a 5-3 advantage in the season series. It held Vegas to three goals or fewer in four of those victories.

    The Wild will not enter the playoffs with as much buzz as Vegas since the youngest franchise in the league fought for the Presidents' Trophy alongside Colorado.

    Minnesota featured in a tertiary role in the West Division for much of the season, but its recent form and record against Vegas could catapult it into the Stanley Cup conversation.

    If the Wild make a deep run, the 24-year-old Kirill Kaprizov will be in the spotlight. The rookie led the Wild with 27 goals, 24 assists and 51 points.

    Kaprizov led a list of eight players who earned 25 points, so if he is shut down, Kevin Fiala, Mats Zuccarello and others can step up in the offensive zone.

    Additionally, Minnesota has a goalie in Cam Talbot who can match the production of Marc-Andre Fleury or Robin Lehner.

    Talbot has a .923 save percentage and 2.46 goals-against average in 25 career postseason games with the New York Rangers, Edmonton and Calgary. In his first season with the Wild, Talbot won 19 of his 33 starts and notched a 2.63 GAA.

    If the Wild receive the perfect mix of strong play in net from Talbot and balanced scoring, they could upset Vegas and start a surprise postseason run.

St. Louis Blues

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    St. Louis finished 19 points behind Colorado in the West Division.

    The Blues were not in the mix for first place, but they did put together two winning streaks of three games or more in the final month of regular-season play.

    The first of those two winning runs was sparked by a 5-3 home victory over Colorado on April 24. St. Louis followed that up with another win over the Avalanche to claim two contests in a three-game set on home ice.

    After those meetings, the Blues picked up four wins over Minnesota and played in three overtime games. The lone loss in that stretch that was decided by more than one goal came on May 8 versus Vegas.

    St. Louis also played in close games throughout the season against Colorado. Four of the five losses suffered against the West's top seed came by two goals or fewer.

    The Blues still need to have a near-perfect series to silence all of Colorado's attacking stars, but they have a blueprint from the recent games that could help them spring an upset.

    St. Louis could bank on the experience of Ryan O'Reilly and others who won the Stanley Cup two years ago. The entire Cup-winning squad is not still in St. Louis, but key components are still there, and the Blues will not be playing with as much pressure as Colorado.

Winnipeg Jets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The North Division belonged to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers for most of the season.

    The Winnipeg Jets had nine fewer points than first-round opponent Edmonton, but it gained some confidence through three wins in its last five games.

    Winnipeg will not be viewed as the favorite in the series since it lost seven regular-season contests to the Oilers. In four of those defeats, the Jets held the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl-led attack to three goals or fewer. In the two victories, Winnipeg pushed six goals past Edmonton in each.

    The Jets have to hold on hope they can limit the chances of the Oilers' top two attackers and have a game or two in which they score an abundance of tallies.

    The high quality in attack could come from Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler and possibly the injured Nikolaj Ehlers, all of whom had 45 points or more. Scheifele, Connor and Ehlers all scored 20 goals, while Scheifele and Wheeler both recorded more than 30 assists.

    If goalie Connor Hellebuyck repeats his 2018 postseason form (.922 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average), the Jets could stand a chance against Edmonton. But if Hellebuyck concedes four goals per game—like he did last postseason—Winnipeg will be forced to outscore Edmonton in every game, which may be too much to ask.


    Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from Hockey Reference.