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A preview to the NHL playoffs

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Complete with oddly specific predictions

Nashville Predators v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images

Playoff time - the best time of year to be a hockey fan. As long as you’re a fan of one of the sixteen teams that made it to the second season. Unlike last summer/fall there will be no play-in rounds or bubbles. Teams will be playing in their home arenas, in front of fans (for the most part), and sleeping in their own beds for at least half of the games. Sadly, since there is no bubble hockey there is no all-day hockey extravagances either. Boo. I will miss 10:00 a.m.-till-10:00 p.m. MST hockey.

One of the other differences will be that teams will be pretty banged up heading into the postseason. With no pause in the season to rest up, teams’ depth will be tested. The Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t the only team wondering how healthy some of their stars will be over the next few weeks.

Toronto and Montreal are both dealing with goaltenders coming off of injuries (hmm should think about betting the over in those games) and Pittsburgh has a few stars that aren’t running along at full speed either. The Lightning’s injury issues are well-known but they’ve been able to circumvent the issue with strong play from Andrei Vasilevskiy. Can the returning forwards help keep the team afloat until Vasy returns to the form we saw earlier this season?

That’s the best part of the postseason. We have more questions than we have answers. Even the answers we do have may not matter. Predictions are pointless, though it won’t stop me from making some, and what we think we know is usually turned upside down by the end of the first round.

For those who might not know, the format of this year’s playoffs is a little different. There are no regional conference games, so there will be no Western Conference or Eastern Conference champions this year. Who knows what type of banners the Stanley Cup finalists will raise next year? See more questions than answers! The first two rounds will be played inside each division with the first seed taking on the fourth seed and the second seed taking on the third seed.

After those rounds, the four remaining teams will be reseeded based on their regular season points. The Lightning are ninth overall in points so it will take some major upsets for them to see home-ice advantage in the third or fourth rounds. Their best hopes would be Boston emerging from the East and Edmonton from the North.

Speaking of the North, the league has yet to decide what to do with the winner of that division. Technically the border between Canada and the United States is still closed, so the authorities may frown on a bunch of millionaire athletes and their retinue gallivanting across the border every couple of days even if they are vaccinated and traveling on private jets.

Chances are the league will find a U.S. city for them to hole up in for the final two rounds (I hear Buffalo isn’t doing much with their arena right now). Fans haven’t been allowed in Canadian arenas all year long so it’s not like home fans will be missing out on games. Although, it would be hilarious if a Canadian team won a Stanley Cup for the first time in almost 30 years, but had to do it on U.S. soil.

The league most likely has a few options lined up and is buying time to see how the situation develops. They have a few weeks to figure it out so there is no rush yet. Heck, they don’t even have a schedule for the first round yet, why worry about the third round now?

There is plenty of fun to be had in the first two rounds after all. There is the Battle of Florida between Tampa Bay and Florida as well as the Battle for Canada’s Soul between Montreal and Toronto. Boston against Washington will feature Zdeno Chara taking on his former team. Remember when David Volek ended the Penguins quest for a three-peat in 1993? The yinzers in Pittsburgh do.

If the opening round in the West goes chalk, then the second round will feature the best match-up of the playoffs when Colorado takes on Vegas. Those teams are really good. On the surface, the Maple Leafs probably have the easiest path to the semi-finals, but Toronto rarely does things the easy way so it will be fun to see how their fans handle the postseason. In fact, it should be fun to see how all of the fan bases react, or should I say overreact, over the next two weeks.

The Central

1 - Carolina Hurricanes

15/2 to win the Stanley Cup

36-12-8, 80 points

3.13 goals per game (11th), 2.39 goals against per game (3rd-tied)

5v5 stats: 53.94% CF (4th), 53.92% xGF (5th), 54.37% HDCF (6th)

Sebastian Aho - 24 goal, 33 assists, 57 points

Alek Nedeljkovic - 15-5-3, .932 SV%, 1.90 GAA

vs.

4 - Nashville Predators

30/1 to win the Stanley Cup

31-23-2, 64 points

2.65 goals per game (23rd), 2.70 goals against per game (21st-tied)

5v5 stats: 49.86% CF (15th), 53.18% xGF (17th), 50.62% HDCF (14)

Filip Forsburg - 12 goals, 20 assists, 32 points

Juuse Saros - 21-11-1, .927 SV%, 2.28 GAA

Prediction: Carolina in 5. Solid goaltending by both teams with Saros posting a 52-save loss in Game 4.

2 - Florida Panthers

22/1 to win the Stanley Cup

37-14-5, 79 points

3.36 goals per game (3rd), 2.70 goals against per game (10th)

5v5 stats: 53.46% CF (5th), 54.05% xGF (3rd), 53.79% HDCF (7th)

Jonathan Huberdeau - 20 goals, 41 assists, 61 points

Chris Driedger - 14-6-3, .927 SV%, 2.07 GAA

vs.

3 - Tampa Bay Lightning

15/2 to win the Stanley Cup

36-17-3, 75 points

3.21 goals per game (9th), 2.59 goals against per game (6th - tied)

52.39% CF (9th), 53.18% (8th), 51.86% HDCF (12th)

Brayden Point - 23 goals, 25 assists, 48 points

Andrei Vasilevskiy - 31-10-1, .925 SV%, 2.21 GAA

Prediction: Tampa Bay in 7. It’s going to be a long, rough series. Everyone wins their home game until Game 7, an epic 3-OT game that ends with a Tyler Johnson breakaway goal.

The North

Records and stats are through Wednesday’s games.

1 - Toronto Maple Leafs

15/2 to win the Stanley Cup

35-13-6, 76 points

3.35 goals per game (5th - tied), 2.59 goals against per game (6th - tied)

5v5 stats: 50.92% CF (11th), 55.28% xGF (2nd), 56.69% HDCF (2nd)

Auston Matthews - 40 goals, 25 assists, 65 points

Frederik Andersen - 13-8-2, .897 SV%, 2.91 GAA

vs.

4 - Montreal Canadiens

25/1 to win the Stanley Cup

24-21-10, 58 points

2.77 goals per game (17th), 2.89 goals against per game (18th)

5v5 stats: 54.50% CF (2nd), 52.93% xGF (9th), 51.88% HDCF (11th)

Tyler Toffoli - 28 goals, 16 assists, 44 assists

Carey Price - 12-7-5, .901 SV%, 2.68 GAA

Prediction: Toronto in 6. After jumping out to a 3-0 series lead, panic sets in around Toronto as they drop the next two games. Mitch Marner scores three in Game 6 to lead them back from a 4-1 deficit.

2 - Edmonton Oilers

20/1 to win the Stanley Cup

34-18-2, 78 points

3.25 goals per game (8th), 2.68 goals against per game (9th)

5v5 stats: 48.78% CF (17th), 49.60% xGF (16th), 49.50% HDCF (16th)

Connor McDavid - 33 goals, 71 assists, 104 points

Mike Smith - 21-6-2, .923 SV%, 2.31 GAA

vs.

3 - Winnipeg Jets

30/1 to win the Stanley Cup

29-23-3, 61 points

3.02 goals per game (12th), 2.73 goals against per game (12th)

5v5 stats: 48.35% CF (22nd), 46.60% xGF (23rd), 44.71% HDCF (19th)

Mark Scheifele - 21 goals, 40 assists, 61 points

Connor Hellebuyck - 23-17-3, .915 SV%, 2.60 GAA

Prediction: Edmonton in 7, I guess. Much like Marvin, I don’t even have an opinion on this series. It would be nice to see McDavid go on a long playoff run I suppose. So lets say Mike Smith shockingly outplays Hellebuyck and the McDavid/Draisaitl combination comes through for Edmonton. That also gets us the McDavid/Matthews match-up Canada really wants.

The West

1 - Colorado Avalanche

9/2 to win the Stanley Cup (betting favorite)

38-13-4, 80 points

3.49 goals per game (1st), 2.38 goals against per game (3rd)

5v5 stats: 58.71% CF (1st), 59.24% (1st), 57.88% HDCF (1st)

Nathan MacKinnon - 20 goals, 45 assists, 65 points

Philipp Grubauer - 30-9-1, .922, 1.95 GAA

vs.

4 - St. Louis Blues

22/1 to win the Stanley Cup

26-20-9, 61 points

2.91 goals per game (14th), 2.98 goals against per game (19th)

5v5 stats: 47.66% CF (24th), 46.27% xGF (25th), 43.86% HDCF (30th)

Ryan O’Reilly - 24 goals, 29 assists, 53 points

Jordan Binnington - 17-14-8, .911, 2.64 GAA

Prediction: Colorado in 4. It looks like Nathan MacKinnon will suit up for the playoffs after sitting out the last two games of the season. They may not need him in the first round. Colorado is the best team in the postseason on paper, now they just have to prove it on the ice.

2 - Vegas Golden Knights

11/2 to win the Stanley Cup

40-14-2, 82 points

3.39 goals per game (3rd), 2.18 goals against per game (1st)

5v5 stats: 53.25% CF (6th), 52.92% xGF (9th), 53.05% HDCF (9th)

Mark Stone - 21 goals, 40 assists, 61 points

Marc-Andre Fleury - 25-10-0, .927 SV%, 2.04 GAA

vs.

3 - Minnesota Wild

20/1 to win the Stanley Cup

35-15-5, 75 points

3.22 goals per game (8th), 2.76 goals against per game (13th)

46.09% CF, (29th), 50.91% xGF (13th), 55.41% HDCF (5th)

Kirill Kaprizov - 27 goals, 24 points, 51 points

Cam Talbot - 19-8-5, .915 SV%, 2.63 GAA

Prediction: Vegas in 5. I figure Fleury has one bad game, maybe Game 3. Other than that, it should be an easy opening round for Vegas (who have only lost in the first round once in their entire existence). Kirill Kaprizov will cap his fantastic season with the prettiest goal in the postseason.

The East

1 - Pittsburgh Penguins

12/1 to win the Stanley Cup

37-16-3, 77 points

3.45 goals per game (1st), 2.77 goals against per game (14th -tied)

5v5 stats: 50.29% CF (14th), 49.29% xGF (19th), 48.07% HDCF (21st)

Sidney Crosby - 24 goals, 38 assists, 62 points

Tristan Jarry - 25-9-3, .909 SV%, 2.75 GAA

vs.

4 - New York Islanders

16/1 to win the Stanley Cup

32-17-7, 71 points

2.71 goals per game (20th), 2.23 goals against per game (2nd)

5v5 stats: 48.56% CF (19th), 52.01% xGF (11th), 56.21% HDCF (3rd)

Mathew Barzal - 17 goals, 28 assists, 45 points

Semyon Varlamov - 19-11-4, .929 SV%, 2.04 GAA

Prediction: New York in 6. Pittsburgh outshoots New York in every game, but the Islanders get the greasy goals from Kyle Palmierei. Malkin misses at least one game with an injury.

2 - Washington Capitals

12/1 to win the Stanley Cup

36-15-5, 77 points

3.36 goals per game (3rd - tied), 2.88 goals against per game (17th)

5v5 stats: 50.64% CF, 51.82% xGF (12th), 53.11% HDCF (8th)

Nicklas Backstrom - 15 goals, 38 assists, 53 points

Vitek Vanecek - 21-10-4, .908 SV%, 2.69 GAA

vs.

3 - Boston Bruins

12/1 to win the Stanley Cup

33-16-7, 73 points

2.93 goals per game (13th), 2.39 goals against per game (3rd - tied)

5v5 stats: 54.20% CF (3rd), 53.50% xGF (6th), 50.44% HDCF (15th)

Brad Marchand - 29 goals, 40 assists, 69 points

Tuukka Rask - 15-5-2, .913 SV%, 2.28 GAA

Prediction: Boston in 7. Despite a throwback performance by Alex Ovechkin (he leads all first-round skaters in goals scored) Boston pulls out the win as they find a way to get balanced scoring and Rask stands on his head in Game 4 with a 32-save shutout.

Stats and records provided by ESPN.com and NaturalStatTrick.com. Odds pulled from vegasinsider.com on 5-12-21.