Why Each NHL Playoff Team Won't Win the Stanley Cup
The 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs are underway. Sixteen teams are competing in the opening round, all of them believing they have a shot at winning the most coveted award in hockey. Only one, however, will skate away victorious.
Each of the 16 teams has its particular strengths that could help it win the Cup. However, they also all carry weaknesses that could prove fatal to their championship dreams.
Here's a look at what could prevent each of this year's playoff competitors from taking home the Stanley Cup. This list is broken down by each team's placement in the regular-season standings.
Honda West Division
Injuries to the goaltending tandem of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz derailed the Colorado Avalanche in the 2020 playoffs. With Francouz sidelined by an upper-body injury this season, the Avs were forced to press inexperienced Hunter Miska and Jonas Johansson into backup duty before acquiring the aging Devan Dubnyk, 35, prior to the trade deadline. Their Cup dreams will vanish if Grubauer struggles or gets hurt.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights have lacked a true first-line center for some time. Chandler Stephenson and William Karlsson would be second- or third-liners on a team with real depth down the middle. That's reflected in a faceoff win percentage (49.5) that's the fifth-worst among the 16 playoff clubs. They also have the third-worst power-play percentage (17.8) among the postseason clubs.
Like the Golden Knights, the Minnesota Wild lack an established first-line center. Joel Eriksson Ek emerged this season as a solid two-way center but lacks first-line postseason experience. Their faceoff win percentage (46.5) and power-play percentage (17.6) are the worst among the postseason clubs. Starting goaltender Cam Talbot has not carried a team on a deep playoff run.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues struggled to replace defenseman Alex Pietrangelo since his offseason departure to the Golden Knights. Winger Vladimir Tarasenko has just four goals in 24 games since returning from shoulder surgery. They've given up the highest goals-against per game (2.98) of the 16 playoff teams, while their penalty-killing percentage (77.8) is the third-worst.
Discover Central Division
Goaltending could be a concern for the Carolina Hurricanes. While their 2.39 goals-against average was among this season's best, Petr Mrazek, James Reimer and Alex Nedeljkovic haven't established themselves as reliable playoff goalies. If they falter, the Hurricanes' pursuit of the Stanley Cup will end quickly.
Losing top-pairing defenseman Aaron Ekblad to a fractured leg at the end of March was a big blow to the Florida Panthers. They coped well down the stretch but will miss his presence in the opening round. They're this season's second-most penalized team (568 PIMs), and that will prove costly against clubs with strong power-play units. Starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has won only one playoff round in his career.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Injuries continue to plague Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos (lower-body injury), while blueliners Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh are banged up with upper body ailments. Returning winger Nikita Kucherov could be rusty after missing the regular season following late-December hip surgery. The Lightning also lead the league with 597 penalty minutes.
The Nashville Predators offense improved down the stretch. However, their 2.70 goals-per-game average is the lowest of the postseason clubs, and their 17.6 power-play percentage is the second-lowest. Highly paid forwards Ryan Johansen (22 points) and Matt Duchene (13 points) have disappointed. Veteran goalie Pekka Rinne is no longer a reliable starter, while Juuse Saros has limited playoff experience.
MassMutual East Division
The Pittsburgh Penguins have an aging core in Sidney Crosby (33), Evgeni Malkin (34) and Kris Letang (34). Goaltenders Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have appeared in a grand total of one playoff game between them. The Penguins' penalty-killing percentage (77.4) is second-worst among the playoff teams, while their faceoff win percentage (49.3) is the fourth-worst.
Like the Penguins, the Washington Capitals are relying on an aging core of veterans in Alex Ovechkin (35), Nicklas Backstrom (33), John Carlson (31) and T.J. Oshie (34) to lead the way. The goalie tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek lacks NHL playoff experience. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov's performance declined this season, having fallen to 29 points in 41 games. Washington's faceoff win percentage (49.2) is third-worst among playoff teams.
While the Boston Bruins bolstered their scoring depth with trade-deadline acquisition Taylor Hall, they still rely heavily on the top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Bergeron and fellow 35-year-old center David Krejci could wear down during the playoffs. The Bruins are the third-most penalized (533 PIMs) of the postseason clubs.
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders sank from jockeying for first place in the division a month ago to finishing fourth. Blame their sputtering offense for that decline. Their 2.71 goals-per-game average is the second-lowest among this year's playoff teams, while their power-play percentage (18.8) is the fourth-lowest. Trade-deadline acquisition Kyle Palmieri managed just four points in 17 games.
Scotia North Division
Toronto Maple Leafs
Goaltending remains a question mark for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Veteran starter Frederik Andersen is working his way back from a lower-body injury. Backup Jack Campbell has played well in relief but lacks playoff experience and has his own injury history. Their power-play percentage (20.0) is 11th among the 16 playoff clubs, while their penalty killing (78.5) is fourth-worst.
The Edmonton Oilers rely on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for the bulk of their offense. They will find scoring chances harder to come by as opponents focus on shutting down those two. Starting goalie Mike Smith is 39 and has a long injury history. Backup Mikko Koskinen has limited postseason experience and struggled during the 2020 playoffs.
With just three wins in their final 12 regular-season games, the Winnipeg Jets stumbled into the postseason. The top line of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor struggled through most of that period. Overworked starting goaltender Connor Hellebuyck faced the most shots (1,335) among his peers in the regular season. The status of sidelined winger Nikolaj Ehlers (upper-body injury) remains uncertain.
The Montreal Canadiens struggled following a red-hot start to this season. Veteran stars Carey Price (concussion), Shea Weber (upper body) and Brendan Gallagher (thumb) are banged up, while winger Jonathan Drouin took an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons. They're the third-lowest scoring team (2.82 goals per game) among the playoff clubs, their goals-against average (2.95) is the second-highest and their faceoff win percentage (48.4) is the second-worst.
All stats (as of May 15, 2021) via NHL.com.