Avalanche Are Cup Favorites, but Even the Islanders Can Dream

The N.H.L. playoffs start on Saturday the similar method the 56-game common season performed out: the schedule featured solely intradivisional play and the postseason shall be no totally different via the first two rounds.

The 4 semifinalists shall be seeded for the convention finals primarily based on their data, and the two winners will play for the Stanley Cup.

Because of the divisional realignment to scale back journey throughout the pandemic, three of the 4 semifinalists may very well be groups that had been beforehand in the similar convention, producing what would have been an all-conference Cup remaining underneath the earlier alignment.

Here’s what you should find out about every sequence:

All occasions are Eastern.

Early in the season, Pittsburgh (37-16-3) was a middling group with an growing older core. It shook up its entrance workplace in February, but there have been few indicators that the Penguins would win what was arguably the best division in the league. Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby, its captain, did simply that.

The Penguins performed via a spate of accidents that, at one level, had sidelined most of their top-nine forwards, the star middle Evgeni Malkin lacking six weeks. The commerce deadline acquisition Jeff Carter had recorded 19 factors in 40 video games with the Los Angeles Kings, but since coming to Pittsburgh he has posted 11 factors in 14 contests, together with a four-goal efficiency this month in opposition to Buffalo.

The Islanders (32-17-7) have continued to play a methodical, regular and unflappable model of hockey underneath Coach Barry Trotz. They final confronted the Penguins in the postseason in 2019, Trotz’s first yr behind their bench, once they swept Pittsburgh in the first spherical. This season, the Islanders had a profitable document in opposition to 5 out of their seven East Division opponents, but struggled in opposition to the high groups, Pittsburgh (2-4-2) and Washington (2-5-1).

The Islanders acquired winger Kyle Palmieri and middle Travis Zajac from the Devils close to the commerce deadline, serving to shore up a frontline that was diminished by a season-ending harm to the group captain Anders Lee. Center Mathew Barzal paced the group offensively, main with 45 factors. Goalie Semyon Varlamov tied for the N.H.L. lead in shutouts and had the second finest save share amongst goalies with at the very least 20 begins.

Perhaps the largest story on this sequence shall be the league’s largest participant, Zdeno Chara, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound defenseman. Chara signed with Washington earlier than the season, having spent the earlier 14 campaigns as Boston’s captain, enjoying in three Stanley Cup finals and profitable a title in 2011.

Washington (36-15-5) has now certified for 13 of the previous 14 postseasons. Nearly each key participant was absent for one motive or one other down the stretch, but Washington nonetheless gained 11 of its final 16 video games.

Boston depends on its “perfection line” of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand (who led the division in objectives and factors) and David Pastrnak. Goalie Tuukka Rask gained seven of his remaining eight selections and the rookie Jeremy Swayman emerged as a stable contingency plan with a 1.50 goals-against common in restricted obligation.

These two fabled franchises have gained the most Stanley Cups in hockey historical past —Montreal has 24 (23 as a member of the N.H.L.) and Toronto has 13 — and can enjoying one another in the postseason for the first time since 1979.

Toronto (35-13-7) had created the widest hole in the standings between a division winner and the runner-up, rating 5 factors forward of Edmonton as every group nonetheless had one regular-season recreation remaining coming into Friday. The Leafs had been sixth in goals-per-game, but improved defensively from permitting the seventh most objectives final season to 26th this yr.

That will not be all that Toronto hopes to vary. The Leafs have the longest title drought, having not gained the Cup since 1966-67, the remaining season with simply six groups. They haven’t returned to the finals since then and haven’t gained a playoff sequence since 2004. This season, a gaggle of explosive scorers led by Auston Matthews, whose 41 objectives topped the N.H.L. has been enriched by complimentary gamers added between the previous two commerce deadlines. Goalie Jack Campbell set an N.H.L. document by profitable his first 11 begins this season, and buoyed Toronto in the absence of Frederik Andersen, who returned from harm on Wednesday after lacking 23 video games.

Montreal gained the Cup in 1993, the final championship for a Canadian franchise. They upset Pittsburgh in final season’s qualifying spherical in a No. 5 vs No. 12 matchup, and constructed on that success this season with boosts from a brand new acquisition, wing Tyler Toffoli, and a mainstay, defenseman Jeff Petry, who completed first and second in scoring on the group.

Edmonton’s (35-18-2) Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl dominated this season.

Ahead of the Oilers’ remaining common season recreation on Saturday in opposition to Vancouver, McDavid had scored 104 factors, 21 greater than the second-place Draisaitl, who’s first in plus-minus score forward of his teammate, defenseman Darnell Nurse. Unsurprisingly, the Oilers have the most effective energy play of 2021, when it comes to each conversion fee and internet power-play share.

Winnipeg (29-23-3) was 7-10-1 in its remaining 18 video games coming into its finale in opposition to Toronto on Friday, backing into the playoffs and ceding residence ice to Edmonton on this sequence. Nonetheless, they characteristic some intriguing components, starting with goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who confronted extra photographs and performed greater than every other goalie this season. The Jets have lengthy been recognized for his or her scoring prowess, although they dealt the 40-goal scorer Patrik Laine to Columbus for the two-way middle Pierre Luc-Dubois in a reconfiguration of their core. Winnipeg misplaced seven of 9 video games to Edmonton this season, all in regulation, together with the previous six conferences.

After 9 consecutive nonplayoff seasons, the Hurricanes (36-12-8), led by Coach Rod Brind’Amour, have made every of the previous three postseasons, together with a run to the convention finals in 2019. With a division title underneath its belt, Carolina will search to return to the finals for the first time since 2006, when it gained the title with Brind’Amour as captain.

As a coach, his groups have been tenacious and swift, finest exemplified by the high middle and main scorer Sebastian Aho. Carolina’s deep, cellular again finish is led by Dougie Hamilton, and has successfully supported veteran goalie Petr Mrazek and youthful netminder Alex Nedeljkovic, each of whom posted lean numbers this season. Carolina was additionally the finest all-around performer on particular groups, with its second-ranked energy play and third-rated penalty kill.

Nashville (31-23-2) gained 4 of its remaining 5 video games to fend off a problem from the 2020 runner-up Dallas Stars for the remaining playoff spot. The Predators are an skilled group, with a number of key gamers remaining from the group that went to the 2017 finals. Roman Josi is the reigning Norris Trophy winner as the league’s high defenseman, and he led the Predators in scoring for a second straight season. Goalie Juuse Saros took the reins from Pekka Rinne, the Predators’ profession chief in each goalie stat, and accrued some spectacular numbers of his personal. He completed with the third-best save share, .927, amongst goalies with 25 or extra begins, and he had six performances with 40 or extra saves, greater than every other netminder.

For the first time, these Sunshine State squads will sq. off in the postseason. If the temperature is simply now rising on this rivalry, that’s as a result of the Panthers (37-14-5) haven’t gained a playoff sequence since they went to the finals in 1996. Though the Lightning (36-17-3) are the defending champions, slight betting favorites and the extra completed franchise, the Panthers enter the sequence with home-ice benefit and extra momentum from the stretch run as winners of six straight video games and 10 of their final 12.

Florida Coach Joel Quenneville gained three Stanley Cups with Chicago and has gotten the most out of a Panthers group that options unsung stars like middle Aleksander Barkov and wing Jonathan Huberdeau. But one key participant shall be lacking, as defenseman Aaron Ekblad broke his leg in March.

Beyond the Stanley Cup, Tampa has {hardware} with a number of previous award winners. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is favored to win his second Vezina Trophy and Victor Hedman his second Norris. However, the group has handled quite a lot of accidents: Nikita Kucherov, the 2019 most precious participant, has missed the complete season with a hip harm, and Steven Stamkos, a two-time goal-scoring chief, has been out for greater than a month with a lower-body harm. Both are expected to be available for Game 1.

The Avalanche’s superlatives had been many. Colorado (39-13-4) gained the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s finest document. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen completed first and second in scoring in the division. Philipp Grubauer produced numbers much like these of Vasilevskiy. Cale Makar was amongst the league’s most harmful defensemen offensively, rating sixth in the place in factors.

St. Louis (27-20-9) has seen loads of turnover from its 2019 roster that gained the first Stanley Cup in franchise historical past. The Blues misplaced their high defenseman and captain Alex Pietrangelo in free company earlier than the season and persevered via a large number of accidents to safe the fourth seed in the top-heavy West.

They have been paced by their high middle and new captain, Ryan O’Reilly, who led the group in scoring and was a +26 on a roster the place no different participant was even shut.

Vegas (40-14-2) completed second of their division but with the similar quantity of factors as Colorado, and could also be the most adaptive group in the discipline. Like Tampa, the Golden Knights can play a speedy, end-to-end recreation, or they will grind with extra bodily groups. They had been additionally the league’s handiest penalty killers.

Wings Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty shaped a formidable combo. Pacioretty led Vegas in objectives (24), and Stone led in factors (61) whereas additionally offering elite protection. Marc-Andre Fleury rebounded fantastically from a tumultuous 2020 postseason, posting a 1.98 goals-against common.

Few might have predicted that the Wild (35-16-5) would have been amongst the high groups.

Kirill Kaprizov, the rookie of the yr front-runner, led the group in objectives and factors, setting franchise rookie data in each classes regardless of the abbreviated season. Center Joel Eriksson-Ek and winger Jordan Greenway established themselves as sturdy bodily presences, exacting tolls on groups with their efficient cycle and intense forecheck. Jared Spurgeon continued to drive the Wild’s deep protection corps, whereas the free agent signing Cam Talbot and the rookie Kaapo Kahkonen strengthened their state of affairs in purpose.

Source link