We Want the Cup! An Updated Look at Stanley Cup Playoffs
The 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs have already been among the most enjoyable playoffs in recent memories. With multiple overtime thrillers, stunning upsets, and triumphant comebacks, the first round of the playoffs gave fans, pundits, and sports bettors alike more than they could ask for!
Here is an updated look at the 2021 NHL playoffs.
North Division: Jets Sweep, Canadiens Shock Maple Leafs
The Winnipeg Jets were considerable underdogs against the Edmonton Oilers, mainly due to Edmonton having Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl leading the way. However, thanks to clutch goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck, the timely return of Nikolaj Ehlers, and three resilient overtime wins, Winnipeg swept Edmonton to advance to the second round.
On a similar upset vein, many expected the Maple Leafs to eliminate the Canadiens in short order, with few predicting the series would go longer than three games. But as they’ve been known to do, the Canadiens tightened up their defensive play, Carey Price stood on his head, and Montreal beat Toronto on the road in Games Five and Seven to erase the 3-1 series deficit and send Leafs fans home in tears.
Toronto is now at a crossroads as an organization. After loading up on skill players, they couldn’t advance past the first round. Toronto added players with a strong physical game, like trading for Columbus’ Nick Foligno at the trade deadline, but still couldn’t make it to the second round. The Leafs have a franchise-altering offseason on the horizon.
East Division: Bruins, Islanders Trade Wins in Boston
In the first series to begin second-round play, the Bruins and Islanders already have two games under their belts. Boston took Game One courtesy of a hat trick performance from David Pastrnak, while Semyon Varlamov returned to the net and gained the upper hand in a goaltending battle with Tuukka Rask to take Game Two for the Islanders.
The Islanders won 4-3 in overtime Monday night, and the switch to Varlamov in net paid dividends. Varlamov was injured at the end of the regular season and did not look comfortable in the opening-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rookie Ilya Sorokin stepped in and won four games in the opening round but was on the losing end of a 5-2 scoreline in Game One against Boston. If Varlamov is back to form, he could stifle the Bruins in the series; he posted a league-leading seven shutouts in the regular season.
Central Division: Hurricanes, Lightning Showcase Speed, Skill
In arguably the most evenly-matched series of the second round, the Hurricanes and Lightning dazzled in Game One, going toe-to-toe before a mishandled puck from Alex Nedeljkovic gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead late in the third period. Game Two on Tuesday is must-watch television.
During the regular season, the Hurricanes and Lightning took four games from the other head-to-head. Each team won three games at home, and Carolina scored one more goal total over those eight games.
West Division: Reaves’ Ugly Play Overshadows Avalanche Brilliance
The Colorado Avalanche are Stanley Cup favorites for a good reason, and they demonstrated why on Sunday night. Colorado rolled to a 7-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights, dominating in every facet of the game.
Sadly, the biggest takeaway from the game was the league’s inconsistency in player discipline. Vegas forward Ryan Reaves, who has been suspended twice and fined twice for dirty play in his career, was assessed a match penalty for intent to injure after punching Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves in the back of the head, dragging him to the ice, driving his knee into Graves’ head while in a scrum and ripping out a chunk of Graves’ hair.
Despite the grotesque and indefensible actions, and despite previous transgressions, the NHL suspended Reaves for two games. After Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri was suspended for eight games for a high hit in the first round, many thought Reaves’ suspension would at least mirror Kadri’s. Reaves will be eligible to return for Game Four, which could see the Avalanche exact revenge of their own.
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