2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: First Round Predictions

Jan 31, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; A general view of Xcel Energy Center during the third period of a game between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 31, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; A general view of Xcel Energy Center during the third period of a game between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin and the bracket is set. Let’s preview and predict the first round of the postseason.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Islanders

The Penguins are really strong up front with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guenztel, and Bryan Rust. Jared McCann breaking out is a difference-maker. This all goes without mentioning Jason Zucker, Kasperi Kapanen, and the deadline acquisition of Jeff Carter which make them even more dangerous. They also have a formidable fourth-line led by Brandon Tanev.

The Islanders will be relying on their strong defensive system and goaltending from Semyon Varlamov to have a shot at beating the Penguins. Anders Lee is out for the year which makes things worse for the Islanders. The Penguins are just too deep of a team and will be too much for the Islanders to handle.

My Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins in 6

Washington Capitals vs Boston Bruins

This is an interesting series between two dominant teams in the East. There’s a lot of uncertainty around the Capitals because of injuries and COVID-19 absences, which is concerning. The Bruins have a massive edge offensively with the likes of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron. The acquisition of Taylor Hall has ended up being a success.

Their depth isn’t as strong as the Capitals, but their top-six makes up for it. Even with the loss of Torey Krug, both teams are pretty even defensively. The Bruins will win the series, but the Capitals will put up a fight.

My Prediction: Boston Bruins in 7

Carolina Hurricanes vs Nashville Predators

This is one of the most intriguing matchups just because I think the Predators could make some noise, especially with their strong play down the stretch that helped them squeak into the playoffs. The Hurricanes have a strong top-six and top line that consists of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Tervainen. The Predators have better overall depth and are an underrated team.

The defense is pretty close, but the Predators have the edge with the big three — Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. Matching up against other teams, the Hurricanes would have a huge advantage in goaltending. However, Juuse Saros has become a huge presence between the pipes for the Predators. This is my big upset prediction.

My Prediction: Nashville Predators in 7

Florida Panthers vs Tampa Bay Lightning

This is a very interesting series and might be one of the most entertaining. Offensively, these teams are actually pretty close which will inevitably make this an action-packed series. The Lightning has the edge defensively even if the Panthers had Aaron Ekblad, who is out for the year.

The biggest difference between these two teams is goaltending. Vasilevskiy is one of the best goalies in the league while Bobrovsky is below-average. If Bobrovsky struggles in net, how quickly do they switch to Chris Driedger? Does that even change anything?

I think the Lightning will win the series because of this.

My Prediction: Tampa Bay Lightning in 7

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Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been unable to win in the postseason and are notorious for choking in the first round. As much as I’d like to see this upset, the Leafs are just so much better and should win this series. They are better offensively, slightly worse defensively, and goaltending is a big question mark for both teams.

The Leafs should win this series and will finally advance to the second round, where they won’t have to play the Boston Bruins which should be a relief.

My Prediction: Toronto Maple Leafs in 5

Edmonton Oilers vs Winnipeg Jets

The Edmonton Oilers don’t have a very strong forward core beyond Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto can be top-six options, but there are a lot of questions surrounding the depth beyond that. The Winnipeg Jets have the edge offensively and I like Pierre-Luc Dubois as an X-factor. Neither are strong defensive teams, and the Jets have an edge in terms of goaltending, but Mike Smith has been unbelievable this season which makes that a minor advantage.

This will be a battle between offenses, and I like the Jets forward group better. Probably a hot take, but I am going Jets in seven.

My Prediction: Winnipeg Jets in 7

Colorado Avalanche vs St. Louis Blues

The Avalanche are probably the best team in the league with an unbeatable top-six, extensive depth, one of the best defensive cores, and an above-average goaltender. The Blues would have to get incredible goaltending and a lot more to have any chance in this series.

With that being said, playoffs are a different animal which makes nothing 100 percent. I think the Avalanche breeze past the Blues in six games.

My Prediction: Colorado Avalanche in 6

Minnesota Wild vs Vegas Golden Knights

This is likely the most entertaining and action-packed series in the first round of the playoffs. The Golden Knights have the edge in terms of the top-six but Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala will make the gap smaller. The Wild have an edge in terms of offensive depth.

The Wild are the better defensive team by a longshot. They rank 5th in expected goals against per 60 compared to the Golden Knights who rank 22nd. Goaltending could be a difference-maker if Talbot isn’t able to get his game back. I think the Wild will surprise a lot of people in the series.

My Prediction: Minnesota Wild in 7