It's that time of the year again folks! The Stanley Cup playoffs begin tomorrow night, and hockey fans around the world are rejoicing. Whether you're one of the fortunate few that got to see your team make the cut, or you're just a diehard hockey fan like myself who can't wait to tune into the high speed action and drama that is the Stanley Cup playoffs, this year's first round matchups are sure to have you on the edge of your seat.
Today, myself, House Enterprise co-founder Will Tondo, and Sam Basel will be giving our picks for each of the eight first round matchups.
East Division matchups
Washington Capitals (2) vs. Boston Bruins (3)
The Boston Bruins have been the hottest team in the NHL since acquiring Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline. Boston has a star studded top line featuring premier names such as Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, but perhaps it is Boston's second line that is garnering the most attention right now. Taylor Hall, David Krejci, and Craig Smith have combined for 19 goals in their 16 games played together this season. Since the April 12th trade deadline, the Bruins have posted a league-best 25 points with a 12-4-1 record.
Boston will be looking to ride this hot streak straight through the first round, when their fourth-best ranked defense in the NHL will take on the fourth-best ranked offense in the league, the Washington Capitals.
The Washington Capitals are perhaps the most well-rounded team in the NHL's East Divison this year. After getting Alex Ovechkin back from injury in the final game of the regular season, the Caps left a bad taste in the mouths of the Boston Bruins with a 2-1 victory at home. In the eight games that these two teams played against each other this year, the Bruins went 4-2-2 against the Caps, splitting the season series. This is one of the more exciting first round matchups that you won't want to miss this year.
Game 1 - Saturday, May 15th at 7:15 PM on NBC
Chris - Caps in 6
Will - Bruins in 6
Basel - Caps in 7
Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs. New York Islanders (4)
The Pittsburgh Penguins refuse to go away. Just a few months ago, everyone in the hockey world was talking about what kind of package the Penguins could receive if they were to ship Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin off in a trade. Pittsburgh was down bad, fans were calling for a rebuild, and it seemed like the golden days of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey was behind us - until it wasn't. While I don't expect Pittsburgh to make a deep playoff run, you still have to admire their drive and determination. When the world counted them down and out, they rose to the challenge.
The difference between the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins heading into this series, is that while Pittsburgh stepped up to the plate in the final stretch of the season and made a name for themselves, the Islanders fumbled their way to the finish line, with their last regular season win against a playoff team coming over a month ago on April 6th.
If New York hopes to win this series and replicate the deep postseason run that they made last year, they need to get back to the core of their game - swarming and suffocating opponents on the defensive end, and making sure that goaltender Semyon Varlamov continues to play out of his mind. A little help in the offensive zone wouldn't hurt the big guy either!
Game 1 - Sunday, May 16th at 12:00 PM on NBC
Chris - Pens in 6
Will - Isles in 7
Basel - Isles in 6
West Division matchups
Vegas Golden Knights (2) vs. Minnesota Wild (3)
The Minnesota Wild are the NHL's Cinderella story this year. Even if they don't make it far, 2021 will still be remembered as the year that the Wild shocked and surprised the hockey world. With the emergence of Calder Memorial Trophy candidate Kirill "The Thrill" Kaprizov, and considering that Minnesota took the season series against Vegas with a 5-1-2 record, it's really hard for me to count Minnesota out.
However, the Vegas Golden Knights are my personal pick to not just win this series, but win the whole dang thing. The Knights have been an unbelievable success story since their franchise's inception in 2017, and I believe that this is the year that they finally get over the hump. Vegas is the whole package - their defense has been unrivaled this season, only giving up a measly 2.18 goals per game, and their offense, lead by team Captain Mark Stone, is a force to be reckoned with as well.
Game 1 - Sunday, May 16th at 3:00 PM on NBC.
Chris - Knights in 5
Will - Knights in 4
Basel - Knights in 5
Colorado Avalanche (1) vs. St. Louis Blues (4)
The Colorado Avalanche... Every team's worst nightmare in 2021! Colorado entered the season as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, and they did not disappoint, as they clinched the President's Trophy with a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in the final game of the regular season. Colorado led the NHL with a league-best 82 points, need I say more? For those of you who aren't as familiar with hockey as you'd like to be, here are your Kansas City Chiefs, your Brooklyn Nets, your Los Angeles Dodgers of the NHL: The Colorado Avalanche.
St. Louis is looking to play spoiler to Colorado's parade early on in the postseason. The Blues will be entering the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs as underdogs, just as they did in 2019, and we all know what else they accomplished that year. If there is one advantage that the Blues have over the Avalanche in this upcoming series, it's experience. Team Captain Ryan O'Reilly, Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko and many other staples of the 2019 Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues know what it takes to make a deep and meaningful postseason run.
Game 1 - Monday, May 17th at 10:00 PM on NBC
Chris - Avalanche in 5
Will - Avalanche in 5
Basel - Avalanche in 6
Central Division matchups
Florida Panthers (2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (3)
The Governor's Cup rivalry! Personally, this is the series that I am most looking forward to in the first round. The Florida Panthers are much like the Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins - another team that the fans and media gave no chance to when the season opened up back in January. Florida will be going into this series looking for their first playoff series win in 25 years, but will be without their best defenseman and 22 point scorer, Aaron Ekblad. However, this Panthers' roster runs deep. Aleksander Barkov, Sam Bennett, Jonathan Huberdeau, and a plethora of offensive and defensive weapons will be looking to eliminate their rivals from the north.
Although the Tampa Bay Lightning are seeded lower than the Panthers, the Bolts are still the people's favorite to win this series. The reigning and defending Stanley Cup Champions were banged up toward the end of the season, missing two of their stars in Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos for an extended amount of time. Good news for Lightning fans however, as it was reported that both Stamkos and Kucherov are expected to play in game one. Two key offensive weapons that the Bolts were desperately missing, and two more threats that the Panthers need to keep an eye out for.
Game 1 - Sunday, May 16th at 7:30 PM on NBC.
Chris - Panthers in 7
Will - Lightning in 6
Basel - Lightning in 6
Carolina Hurricanes (1) vs. Nashville Predators (4)
The Carolina Hurricanes are full of young and dangerous offensive weapons, it's no wonder they finished with the third best record in the league with 80 points. But what makes Carolina so scary is their sneaky good defense. When you think of the Canes, you think of guys like Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Vincent Trochek and many other flashy, speedy, talented forwards. But Carolina is also home to the fifth best defense in the league, spearheaded by All-Star defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
The Nashville Predators just barely squeaked their way into the playoffs this year, just four points ahead of the defending Western Conference Champions, Dallas Stars. Nashville is perhaps the weakest team in this year's playoffs, and I can't see them being able to get to Carolina's Alex Nedeljkovic, who posted a sparkling 15-5 record in 2021, with a 1.90 goals against average, and .932 save percentage.
Game 1 - Monday, May 17th at 8:00 PM
Chris - Canes in 4
Will - Preds in 7
Basel - Canes in 5
North Division matchups
Edmonton Oilers (2) vs. Winnipeg Jets (3)
The Edmonton Oilers feature two of the best players in the world today in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, with McDavid being the best hockey player in the world. With an 8-2-0 record in their last ten games, Edmonton should be poised for a deep postseason run with a one-two punch of McDavid and Draisaitl, and solid goaltending from Mike Smith.
Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Jets have hits the skids, posting a 2-8-0 record in their last ten, with two of those losses coming against Edmonton. Although Winnipeg was cursed with injuries in the latter half of the regular season, they are slowly but surely getting healthy. I wouldn't count Winnipeg out just yet, as they are a very stingy and talented team that can strike when you least expect it.
Game 1 - Wednesday, May 19th at 9:00 PM on NBCSN
Chris - Oilers in 7
Will - Oilers in 5
Basel - Oilers in 6
Toronto Maple Leafs (1) vs. Montreal Canadiens (4)
This has got to be the year for the Leafs, right? Toronto hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1967, and they haven't even won a playoff series since 2004. Sure, there are teams in the league who are experiencing longer droughts. Some teams have never won a Cup, and the Florida Panthers haven't won a playoff series in 25 years, but this is the Toronto Maple Leafs we're talking about here! One of the most storied and well-known franchises in all of sports. If the Boston Celtics held a 17 year playoff series drought, and the Minnesota Timberwolves held a 25 year playoff series drought, chances are that the Celtics' drought would receive more attention than the Timberwolves', given the two franchises histories.
Montreal is an up-and-coming team that has a very bright and promising future. To be honest, the fact that Montreal made the playoffs over the Calgary Flames this year shocked me. I really didn't expect Montreal to make the cut, but here we are. With the emergence of Cole Caufield as a future star, and Tyler Toffoli having a career year, I think the Canadiens could give the Leafs a run for their money.
These two Original Six Canadian teams have a long, violent, bitter, and storied rivalry that could compete with any European soccer feud. This matchup is the must watch series for the casual and dedicated hockey fans. It's a shame there won't be any fans in attendance.
Game 1 - Thursday, May 20th at 7:30 PM
Chris - Leafs in 5
Will - Leafs in 4
Basel - Leafs in 4
Good luck to you and your team if you made the cut! Follow me on Twitter for all your NHL news, rumors and updates. @NY_cth.