Why Each NHL Playoff Team Will Win the 2021 Stanley Cup
The 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs are underway. Sixteen teams are competing in the opening round, and all of them are intent on winning the most coveted award in hockey. Only one, however, will skate away with Lord Stanley's mug sometime in early July.
Each postseason entrant has one or more strengths that could help it win the Cup. Some will rely on a strong goaltender, others a solid defense or a powerful scoring punch.
Here's a look at those factors. This list is broken down by the final placement of the playoff teams in their respective divisions.
Honda West Division
Forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog give the Colorado Avalanche one of the NHL's top lines. They're a big reason the Avs' 3.52 goals-per-game average was the league's best. They also possess a deep defensive corps, led by Cale Makar and Devon Toews. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer's 1.95 goals-against average and seven shutouts are among the league leaders.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights' goaltending tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner combined for a league-best goals-against per game of 2.18. The team also has considerable scoring punch, led by Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, while defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore anchor the blue line. Vegas' penalty-killing percentage (86.8) was tops during the regular season.
This season's emergence of young forwards Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek lifted the Minnesota Wild's goals-per-game average (3.21) to eighth. They possess a solid top-four defense, with Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. The Wild have stability in goal with Cam Talbot and rookie Kaapo Kahkonen.
St. Louis Blues
Most of the St. Louis Blues' 2019 Stanley Cup championship roster remains intact. They also showed considerable character by overcoming a seven-game losing skid entering April to clinch a playoff berth. Two-way center and 2019 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O'Reilly came through in his first season as team captain. Their power-play percentage (23.2) is fifth-best among the playoff teams.
Discover Central Division
The Carolina Hurricanes enjoyed one of the best regular seasons in franchise history. They possess talented depth at center in Sebastian Aho, Vincent Trocheck and Jordan Staal. The Canes also have a strong blue line led by Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton. Carolina's 2.39 goals-against average plus its power-play (25.6) and penalty-killing percentages (85.2) are among the league's best.
Speaking of teams that have had one of their best regular seasons, the Florida Panthers finished fourth in the league standings. Two-way center Aleksander Barkov and leading scorer Jonathan Huberdeau are enjoying outstanding performances. Trade-deadline acquisition Sam Bennett fit in well among their forwards. They led the league in shots per game (34.9), and their goals-per-game average (3.36) ranked fourth.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The defending Stanley Cup champions possess a deep roster core that includes goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, defenseman Victor Hedman, and forwards Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point. Sidelined by Dec. 29 hip surgery, winger Nikita Kucherov is returning for the postseason. They're among the top 10 teams in goals for (3.21) and special teams, while their goals-against average (2.59) is among the lowest.
Given up for dead in March, the Nashville Predators stormed back down the stretch to qualify for the playoffs. Their late-season momentum could make them a difficult postseason opponent. Juuse Saros emerged as a reliable starting goaltender. They have a solid defense led by veterans Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Their faceoff win percentage (51.7) is fourth-best among the postseason clubs.
MassMutual East Division
Character, experienced skill and leadership, epitomized by team captain Sidney Crosby, helped the Pittsburgh Penguins finish atop their division. They're second in goals-per-game average (3.45), while their power-play percentage (23.7) was fourth-best. Trade-deadline acquisition Jeff Carter provided much-needed depth to their third line.
Core veterans Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and T.J. Oshie continue to shine for the Washington Capitals. This club should be determined to atone for last year's first-round exit. Washington's goals-per-game average (3.36) was fifth-best in the regular season, while its special teams finished among the top five.
Center Patrice Bergeron and wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak comprise one of the NHL's top lines. The Boston Bruins' second line got a major boost from trade-deadline acquisition Taylor Hall. Their faceoff win percentage is a league-leading 55.3, they've given up the second-fewest shots against per game (27.1) and their penalty-killing percentage (86.0) is the league's second-best.
New York Islanders
New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov tied for the league lead with seven shutouts, while his 2.04 goals-against average and .929 save percentage were among the league leaders. The Isles play a disciplined defensive game. They're the least-penalized of the playoff teams (370 PIMS) and possess the second-lowest goals-against per game (2.23), while their penalty-killing percentage (83.7) ranked sixth.
ScotiaBank North Division
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs dominated their division with an offense powered by young stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Their 3.32 goals-per-game average was the league's sixth-best. They've improved their blue-line depth and are among the least penalized teams. The Leafs also improved their veteran leadership with the additions of Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds and Nick Foligno since the offseason.
Led by the dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Edmonton Oilers possess the NHL's best power-play percentage (28.1), while their goals per game (3.31) ranks seventh. Goaltender Mike Smith (21 wins, 2.31 goals-against average, .923 save percentage) is enjoying a strong season at age 39.
Despite a late-season swoon, the Winnipeg Jets still pack a punch. Led by forwards Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler, their power-play percentage (23.0) ranked seventh this season. Sidelined winger Nikolaj Ehlers (undisclosed injury) could return for the postseason. They can rely on the strong goaltending of 2020 Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck.
The Montreal Canadiens battled injuries and inconsistency but could surprise in this postseason. Sidelined core players like goaltender Carey Price (concussion), defenseman Shea Weber (upper body) and winger Brendan Gallagher (thumb) are expected back for the playoffs. Price always elevates his game in the postseason. Offseason additions Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Corey Perry and Jake Allen played well this season.
Stats (as of May 15, 2021) via NHL.com.