The NHL postseason is officially here.
Sixteen teams are set to begin the gauntlet of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs, and there’s no telling who will be the last club standing and drinking out of Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The West Division was made up of eight teams that stretched from the West Coast to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” At the end of the season’s 56-game sprint, four teams were left standing, including the 2021 Presidents’ Trophy-winning Avalanche.
Here’s a look at the West Division and how Sporting News thinks the first round will shake out.
NHL playoffs bracket 2021
NHL playoffs 2021: West Division predictions
(1) Colorado Avalanche vs. (4) St. Louis Blues
The Avalanche waited until the last game of the season to snag the 2021 Presidents’ Trophy, but this team has been dominant all year long. Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and captain Gabe Landeskog led the way with 183 points combined with 65 of those points coming from MacKinnon in just 48 games. Colorado was also deep on the backend with guys like Norris Trophy contender Cale Makar (44 points in 44 games) and Samuel Girard (32 points in 48 games), plus netminder Philipp Grubauer (30-9-1, .922 save percentage).
St. Louis won the Cup two years ago but hasn’t been able to find the same spark since. The club could be without top points man David Perron (58 points in 56 games) after he was placed on the COVID-19 protocol list on Saturday. The Blues will have top scorer Ryan O’Reilly (24 goals) and a healthy Torey Krug on the blueline.
X-factor: Nazem Kadri
Colorado has depth up front, and Kadri is a big part of that. During the regular season, he collected 11 goals and 32 points in 56 games. If he can put up the numbers he did in the 2020 bubble — nine goals, nine assists in 15 games — the Avalanche could go far. It also wouldn’t hurt if he replicated his five game-winners from last summer.
The big number: 58.98
The power play is very good. The penalty kill is good. But where the Avalanche absolutely dominated in 2021 was 5-on-5.
Jared Bednar’s squad had an NHL-best 58.98 Corsi For percentage; by comparison, the second-best squad, the Canadiens, was at 54.50 percent. The Blues were at 47.71. The club also led the NHL in Expected Goals For percentage (60.08) and Scoring Chances For percentage (60.43)
SN’s pick: Avalanche in 5
(* If necessary)
(2) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (3) Minnesota Wild
Vegas is one of the most balanced franchises in the NHL from top to bottom, beginning with the best 1-2 punch in between the pipes in Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner. At 36, Fleury put together one of his best seasons ever, with a 1.98 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. Oh, and if he were to struggle in the postseason, there is nothing better than turning to a fellow William M. Jennings Trophy winner. Then add in the forward group and the defense, and the Golden Knights are stacked.
On the flip side, the Wild are one of the best stories in hockey this year with rookie sensation — and expected Calder Trophy winner — Kirill Kaprizov. Not only did he tally 27 goals and 51 points (16 in his last 13 games), but he’s also elevated the game of everyone around him, including Mats Zuccarello (11 goals, 35 assists in 42 games). Jordan Greenway has also had a career year with 32 points in 56 games, alongside his linemates Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. As for the Wild’s goaltender, Cam Talbot was stellar, posting a 19-8-5 record in 33 starts, with a .915 save percentage.
X-factor: Cam Talbot
If there’s anyone who can steal this for the Wild, it’s the netminder. In his last two playoff appearances, Talbot boasted .924 save percentages each year. Both times, he elevated his game when it mattered most, and he should continue that pace in 2021.
The big number: 22
In 2021, Fleury and Lehner allowed 115 goals against combined. Of those, 22 were tallied by the Wild — the most of any West Division team. If they can continue that trend, the scales could tip in their favor.
SN’s pick: Golden Knights in 6
(* If necessary)
West Division first-round odds
Betting odds courtesy of FanDuel as of May 16.
Sporting News’ 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs predictions
Rounds 1, 2
Stanley Cup semifinals
Stanley Cup Final
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