2021 NHL Playoffs: B/R Staff 2nd-Round Predictions

Bleacher Report NHL StaffFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2021

2021 NHL Playoffs: B/R Staff 2nd-Round Predictions

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    Mike Carlson/Associated Press

    One round down, three more to go.

    The 2021 NHL playoffs have been filled with drama, intensity, physicality and plenty games going into overtime.

    So who's moving on? Will the Tampa Bay Lightning continue their defense of the Stanley Cup against a formidable opponent in the Carolina Hurricanes? Can the New York Islanders' Ilya Sorokin duplicate his exploits in the first round and shut down the high-powered Boston Bruins?

    Our B/R team of NHL writers break down every series and predict which teams will be remain in the hunt for Lord Stanley's Cup.

    The prediction for the North Division series will be made as soon as the Canadiens-Maple Leafs first-round series is concluded.

    Don't agree with our experts? Feel free to submit your comments and make your voice heard!

East Division: Boston Bruins vs. New York Islanders

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    The Boston Bruins boast one of the top offenses in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The New York Islanders have one of the best defenses. 

    Something has to give. 

    The Islanders toppled the Pittsburgh Penguins by neutralizing their top line and getting to a so-so goalie in Tristan Jarry. They'll now have to contend with another dominant top line and a much better goalie. In fact, the Bruins have two solid options in net with Tuukka Rask and Jeremy Swayman.

    Luckily for the Islanders, they do too. Semyon Varlamov played excellent in the regular season, but Ilya Sorokin was in net for all four of the Isles' wins. Coach Barry Trotz juggled his goalies effectively throughout the series and showed that he was not afraid to make a change when necessary. 

    The Islanders have a deep forward group with so many weapons that they scratched veteran center Travis Zajac for the first five games of the first round. But all you really need to know about the Islanders is the system. It's one that slows teams down and pushes them to the outside. They're also adept at baiting teams into taking bad penalties, effectively getting some of the top players off the ice. 

    But the Bruins have become dominant in five-on-five play after the addition of Taylor Hall. His speed has been a big factor. He can carry the puck into the zone and create scoring chances. He's fit well on a line with David Krejci and Craig Smith. And the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak continues to do its thing and produce offensively. 

    As good as the Bruins look right now, it's tough to discount that Islanders system. 

    Prediction: Islanders in six.

    —Abbey Mastracco

Central Division: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Carolina Hurricanes

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    This series marks the first postseason meeting between the Hurricanes and Lightning. The Hurricanes finished atop the Central Division, five points ahead of the third-place Lightning. However, the Bolts are the defending Stanley Cup champions.

    Led by Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal and Martin Necas, the Hurricanes pack a solid scoring punch. They also possess a deep defense corps anchored by Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. Rookie Alex Nedeljkovic has seized the starting goaltender job, carrying the Hurricanes over the Nashville Predators in the first round. The Canes also have the postseason's third-best penalty kill.

    The Lightning's top players, meanwhile, made the difference in their first-round series against the Florida Panthers. Winger Nikita Kucherov leads all playoff scorers, with teammates Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn and Victor Hedman also among the top 10. Andrei Vasilevskiy was solid in goal for the Bolts in the Panthers' series. The Lightning sit second among postseason teams in power-play percentage.

    This should be an entertaining series between these two talented clubs. While the Hurricanes are a rising force in the NHL, the Lightning have considerable depth with experienced skill and leadership. That should give them the edge in this matchup.

    Prediction: Lightning in six.

    —Lyle Richardson

West Division: Colorado Avalanche vs. Vegas Golden Knights

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    With apologies to fans of the Blues and Wild, this is the marquee second-round matchup most hockey fans were hoping to see. The Colorado Avalanche won the Presidents' Trophy, and Vegas tied the Avs in points. In any other season, these two teams would have settled this in an epic Western Conference Final. The unique playoff format for 2021 means one of these two contenders is guaranteed a premature exit.

    The Avalanche, as anticipated, made quick work of the St. Louis Blues in Round 1. The team's superstars played like superstars, with center Nathan MacKinnon most notably registering an absurd six goals and three assists in the four-game sweep. The defense also lived up to its reputation as an impenetrable force.

    Vegas, in contrast, needed to sweat it out against an admittedly more worthy opponent in the Minnesota Wild. It took a Game 7 win at home to clinch the series, though Wild goaltender Cam Talbot certainly stole Game 1 and generally made the series more difficult than it otherwise should have been. Mark Stone, the team's best skater, lived up to that title with four goals and astute defensive play.

    The Knights' one advantage in this battle of titans is, at least by optics, in net. Marc-Andre Fleury has seen it all and is playing the best hockey of his life. For Colorado, Philipp Grubauer has played well enough but not at Fleury's level. Otherwise, the Avs are a better team from top to bottom. Center Nazem Kadri's suspension makes things a bit more interesting, but the Avalanche have more top-end talent.

    Prediction: Avalanche in 5

    – Adam Herman

North Division: Winnipeg Jets vs. Montreal Canadiens

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    Anyone who saw this coming, please stand up.

    Considering the regular-season issues the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens had with their first-round playoff foes from Edmonton and Toronto, respectively, that'll surely be a small crowd.

    But here we are.

    The third-seeded Jets and fourth-seeded Habs will play for the North Division's playoff title and its accompanying ticket to the league's final four, just eight wins from the Stanley Cup.

    It's the first postseason meeting of the teams.

    Game 1 is set for Winnipeg on Wednesday and will mark the Jets' return to the ice after completing the stunning sweep of the Oilers in a triple-OT classic on May 24. Meanwhile, Montreal barely gets time to check bags and buckle seatbelts before flying to Manitoba after closing out the Maple Leafs on Monday.

    The homestanding Jets got to this point thanks largely to the stellar play of last year's Vezina Trophy winner, Connor Hellebuyck, who stopped all but eight of 159 shots across 300 minutes of play in a series that included three overtime games.

    His performance enabled Winnipeg to win four games while scoring just 14 goals of its own, getting two goals apiece from four players and a single tally from six others. Winger Blake Wheeler had a team-high five points, while Nikolaj Ehlers scored twice in two games after sitting since April 24 with an injury.

    Montreal, on the other hand, found itself down three games to one before rallying for three straight victories, including two in Toronto. The Habs were led by another former Vezina winner in Carey Price, who made 218 saves across seven games.

    Finnish center Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored a team-high three goals, including an OT winner to keep the team alive in Game 6.

    It's likely to be a similar script for as long as this series lasts, with Hellebuyck and Price taking center stage.

    Still, the Jets are a deeper and more consistent offensive team and will be better rested for the opener. It won't be a blowout, but the blend of depth and goaltending should be enough.

    Prediction: Jets in six.

    —Lyle Fitzsimmons