2021 NHL Playoffs Preview

Jason Alwang

Another NHL season has come and gone, where now 16 teams will look to lift the coveted Stanley Cup trophy when it’s all said and done. In the beginning of the year there were a lot of unknowns about this season. Instead of the 82 game season the NHL went with a 56 game format that featured inter divisions, meaning that only teams inside the division were allowed to play each other. The league decided this was best to keep every team in the same areas where they play in to lessen the risks of COVID. The NHL was able to complete the season and the playoffs are officially underway.

All the rounds this year will be a best of 7 series how it usually is in a normal season. Once the first round is complete the remaining two teams from each division will face each other, with the winner of the game moving on to the final four and becoming their division’s champion. Once it’s the final four each of the four teams will play another division’s champion and the winner of those games will fight to the right to lift the Stanley Cup. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a lot of questions surrounding their top two players. The defending champions have dealt without their two biggest stars for most of the season. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos were both questionable for game one. Kucherov had been out since the playoffs last year. Whereas Stamkos was out for the final 18 games of the regular season with injury. Last year’s norris trophy winner, Victor Hedman spoke about the importance of playing with what they got and to focus on the task at hand, “Whoever is going to be on the ice is going to be ready to go. That’s the bottom line. This is the time of year when you put a lot of things aside and you just focus on the game that’s ahead of you.” (NHL.com) The Lightning are currently up in their series 2 to 0 in the battle of Florida after winning both games on the road. They now look to sweep the Florida Panthers as they head home to have a chance to advance to the next round. Having those two players back will certainly help. 

Another team that looks to be a cup favorite by many is the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche are led by star Center Nathan Mackinon and winger Mikko Rantannen who had a breakout year. The Avalanche are playing against the St. Louis Blues in round one. The Avalanche took a 1 to 0 series lead on Monday. Rantannen said before the series, “I believe in this group. Our goal is to go all the way to the end.” (NHL.com) While that is every team’s goal is to go and win the most coveted prize, it’s about how you get there that matters. Which is with your teammates and believing in each other which is what Rantanen implied. 

Perhaps one the more intriguing series in the first round is the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins. Zdeno Chara had spent most of his career with Boston until signing a one year deal with the Capitals in the offseason. Chara has brought the Capitals a strong physical presence on the blue line and has become a leader for the younger players. Chara and the Capitals are playing against the Bruins in a series that was expected by many to be a tight series. Through two games the series is tied at 1 to 1. Capitals head coach spoke a bit about how the season series went and how he thought the team has played well against Boston, “They haven’t always been wins, but the game, I think, gives you the opportunity to win. So I think we’re comfortable and confident with that and hopefully the health will go along with it.”(NHL.com)

 

These are the series to keep an eye on and there are so many more series as well. People will have to wait a little but a Stanley Cup Champion will be crowned very soon. Who will take home the Stanley Cup? 

 

*UPDATE*: Colorado swept the Blues 4 to 0, The Bruins defeated the Capitals 4 to 1, and Tampa leads Florida 3 games to 2.