The playoffs are now well underway, with the weekend games starting off the 2021 postseason. The HabsWorld writers have now provided their thoughts on the next four series, predicting who will win.
Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Canadiens in 7 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Maple Leafs in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Maple Leafs in 5 games
Allan Katz predicts: Canadiens in 6 games
(Norm) This is a scary series for Habs fans, against their traditional Canadian rival. The odds are heavily against them, but like many coaches like to say, this is a new season. Toronto’s lethal duo of Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews have been terrorizing Montreal all season. They acquired a lot of veteran forwards to provide depth. The Leafs’ playoff record with their core group over the past few seasons has been bad, losing series they were expected to win. Their top goaltender, Frederik Anderson was lost to injury, and backup Jack Campbell supplanted him in his absence, setting a team record for consecutive wins. Their defence is led by Morgan Reilly, who along with Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl play well but are capable of defensive lapses.
The Habs finished the season missing six regulars (Price, Weber, Gallagher, Anderson, Danault, and Drouin). All but Drouin are expected to be ready for game one. If all of these players are healthy and can contribute in significant ways, then the Canadiens have a chance to win this series. Price had an excellent record in last season’s playoffs, and they will need at least the same level of play from him to thwart the mighty Toronto offence. Overall I like their defence corps more so than the Leafs, and Petry can be a game-breaker for them.
On offence, the forwards will need to bring their speed and be opportunistic to score when the chance comes up. I expect Toffoli to bring his best as he has all season, and I hope Caufield can learn from him. Suzuki needs to continue his strong finish to the season and he has developed some chemistry with Caufield that will be beneficial. The Danault, Gallagher and Tatar line will be a key to this series, as they are very capable of blanketing any line they go up against. If all the stars align and the Habs begin the series as healthy as possible (and stay that way), then I predict they will defeat the Leafs.
(Brian) How much of a difference will a week off and a few practices make? The Habs are banking on it making a huge difference but I’m not sold on that. When they had their bye week, they didn’t bounce back well, leading to a coaching change. When they had their week off due to COVID-19, they were good for a bit and then fell apart. That’s not a lot of cause for optimism.
Yes, they’re getting several key players back and the rest will certainly help. But take the first ten games out and the Habs are averaging 2.5 goals per game. I just don’t see the offence magically springing to life and Toronto scores enough against Montreal to force them to need three or four goals to beat them. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t have a lot of confidence based on what the Canadiens have done in the second half of the year.
(Kevin) In what is likely the most lopsided matchup on paper, the easy choice here is to choose the Leafs in four, especially if one considers how the Habs finished the season and the overall 7-3 regular season advantage for the Leafs. Why then am I completely unwilling to do so? Might it be a never-say-die bias as a Habs fan? Maybe.
However, there are a few things to consider on the other side of this comparison. Firstly, Toronto’s propensity for choking in the first round. Whether or not they were favoured in those series is irrelevant when giving up a 3-1 series lead. Then consider the Habs holding some important hidden aces – Suzuki and Kotkaniemi’s play last year in the bubble is to be considered, their physical blue line, and of course, Carey Price. All of this considered, it is clear that the Habs will be playing with house money as all the pressure is on the Leafs. This is enough for the Habs to make this a series, but not enough to win it. However, I will say that the Leafs are NOT winning a game seven against the Habs, so they have to close it out before that point.
(Allan) Okay, okay, okay, this is an emotional choice, but I really think there is a chance for an upset here. I see the Laffs taking the first two, then Caufield plays, scores four goals in four games and the Habs win four straight.
Edmonton Oilers vs Winnipeg Jets
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Oilers in 5 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Jets in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Jets in 7 games
Allan Katz predicts: Oilers in 5 games
(Norm) The Oilers have the advantage in the series matchup, with a 7-2 record and they finished the season strong. When it comes to forwards, obviously no team can match the production of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and the rest of their top-six forwards complement them well. On defence, their top two of Tyson Barrie and Darnell Nurse put up a significant amount of points, but the rest of their squad is not known for playing strong defensively. Overall, Edmonton has the advantage with their speed, although Winnipeg has a bigger club that can play a bruising style.
The Jets crashed and burned to finish this season, losing seven games of their last ten and nine of their last twelve games. However, they did win their last two games. Captain Mark Scheifele led their team in scoring despite suffering an early-season injury. Unfortunately, sniper Nikolaj Ethlers was lost to injury missing the last nine games of the season though he should be back for this series. On defence, last season Josh Morrissey stepped up to assume the number one role on defence. This season his play faltered, and Neal Pionk stepped in to grab that role. When it comes to goaltending, the two squads are a wash. In terms of talent, Connor Hellebuyck is the better goalie, but Mike Smith had a much better season. I give the edge to Edmonton in this series.
(Brian) There are two key questions when it comes to Edmonton. Can one line carry them through a playoff series? They didn’t a year ago against Chicago and now are facing a better team with one of the best goalies in the league in Connor Hellebuyck. As for the other, is Mike Smith going to keep playing like a top goalie? I think Winnipeg’s attack is good enough to break through. Yes, the Jets have a dreadful back end which will eventually be their downfall but I do think they can pull off the upset.
(Kevin) So much scoring, so little defending. I obviously prefer McDavid as a top-end talent, but the Jets have more offensive depth. Both blue lines leave plenty to be desired, while Hellebuyck is better than both Edmonton goaltenders combined. What then to make of the 7-2 record for the Oilers who have dominated Winnipeg this season? In this case, I think we see a Jets team come out and try to get very physical very early with the Oilers’ talented players to get them off their game. Their success at doing so should be one of the two deciding factors in this series, the second being the ability of Hellebuyck to make the big saves, something we know the Oilers aren’t getting. For me, I’ll take the better netminder over a long and gruelling series.
(Allan) The Jets are going to run out of fuel against this top-heavy team. The Jets are playing awful, but they have the talent to push it to six. But the Oilers want this bad and they want to face the Habs Juggernaught ….. Juggernaught or Jughead? One of those.
Nashville Predators vs Carolina Hurricanes
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Hurricanes in 6 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Hurricanes in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Hurricanes in 5 games
Allan Katz predicts: Hurricanes in 6 games
(Norm) Nashville surprised many pundits by getting into the playoffs, especially since they edged out division rival and last season’s Stanley Cup finalist Dallas Stars by four points. Their forwards are a mix of youth and veterans, led by Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok and Viktor Arvidsson. The Predators boast one of the deepest bluelines, led by the trio of Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis. In goal, Juuse Saros has assumed the number one role from veteran Pekka Rinne. Saros boasted the fourth-best save percentage and the tenth best goals-against average this season among goalies with at least twenty starts.
Carolina had the third-best record in the NHL and was only two points behind league leaders Colorado and Vegas. Their top forward pair includes Sebastien Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, who were missing linemate Teuvo Teravainen for most of the season from a concussion. Teravainen returned to play the last eight games of the season and managed to score six points. The Canes have strong forward depth and play an aggressive but team-oriented style of play to be so successful. On defence, their top three defenders match up well against Nashville’s, with Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce. Unfortunately, all three blueliners missed the last game of the season with undisclosed injuries. Perhaps that was a coincidence; maybe the coach decided to scratch them due to nagging injuries. In goal, rookie Alex Nedeljkovic surprised everyone with outstanding play when starter Petr Mrazek missed two months due to injury. Among NHL starters with at least twenty games, Alex had the best goals-against average (1.90) and the best save percentage (.932). The Hurricanes defeated the Predators six out of eight games this season, however, Nashville won the last two games outscoring the Canes 8-1, with a shutout. On paper, this series should easily go to Carolina. I expect the Predators will put up a good fight but come up a little short.
(Brian) Part of me wants to go with four games here but I could see Carolina’s goaltending (which isn’t exactly the greatest) having a clunker somewhere along the way. The Hurricanes have a deeper attack and while the Predators have one of the best defence corps in the league, so does Carolina. Nashville struggles to produce offence and they’re going to struggle in terms of possession throughout this series. That’s not a winning combination.
(Kevin) What a great story the Nashville Predators are this season. While everyone talked about the fire sale before the deadline, the team refocused and earned a playoff spot. They earned this despite losing the season series to the Hurricanes by a decided 6-2 count. That doesn’t bode well for their chances, nor does facing a Carolina team that appears poised to ensure they don’t become the next San Jose Sharks-Washington Capitals-Toronto Maple Leafs of excellent regular season teams that just can’t put it together come playoff time. Of note considering the Canes will be goaltending as their young netminder will be scrutinized quickly with the vets behind him should he falter. Up front, the top-end talent of the Hurricanes will have to show that they were victims of bad matchups in recent years more so than their stars being a little soft for the physical beast that is the NHL playoffs. I think the Preds are the perfect foe to get the Canes at least to the second round.
(Allan) The Hurricanes are better offensively and defensively. The thing is in the last 10 games, the Preds outpointed the Wind Machines 15 to 13. So I think the Preds will win as much as two games, before being blown out in six.
Colorado Avalanche vs St. Louis Blues
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Avalanche in 4 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Avalanche in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Avalanche in 6 games
Allan Katz predicts: Avalanche in 6 games
(Norm) The MacLanRan line (Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen) is arguably the best line in the NHL. They are a high possession line that scores a huge number of five-on-five shots and goals. The rest of the forwards provide solid depth and secondary scoring. When it comes to defencemen, top blueliner Cale Makar is a fantastic play driver, producing 44 points in 44 games, the highest point average among regular defencemen in the NHL. Supporting him are Samuel Girard and Devon Toews who scored 32 and 31 points respectively. Philipp Grubauer had an outstanding season, with a 1.95 goals-against average, second-best in the NHL.
The Blues top line includes Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron and Zach Sanford, who all can play a solid two-way game. Sniper Vladimir Tarasenko missed the first two dozen games of this season, then struggled to score. He also missed eight of the last nine games of the season and is considered day-to-day while Perron is unavailable due to COVID protocols. St. Louis’ top defenders are Justin Faulk and Torey Krug, although Krug has not put up the same numbers he did last season in Boston. Goaltender Jordan Binnington, the surprise star of the 2019 playoffs, needs to rebound from last season’s playoffs for the Blues to stand a chance. In the end, Colorado is too talented and too deep not to win this series.
(Brian) I’m really not taking the Blues lightly here. They’re a good team and they’re capable of winning this series. But I don’t think they’re going to do that. Colorado has the better offence by a considerable margin, especially with Vladimir Tarasenko having a tough year. I like their defence better as well as Colton Parayko is far from 100% healthy. And as much as Jordan Binnington helped win them a Stanley Cup in 2019, Philipp Grubauer is coming off an incredible year; they have the edge there as well.
(Kevin) This season series was closer as the Avalanche had a 5-3 edge. There is little doubt that the Avs hold the top-end talent advantage up front but how does the rest of the matchup shape up? The forward depth is quite comparable between the two teams, whereas there is a decided difference in how both teams have built their blue line with my own opinion being that I give Colorado the edge in this department too. If there is a question mark around the Avalanche, it is definitely in the crease, but Jordan Binnington isn’t coming off the best of seasons either. The Blues’ experience and ability to be physical could be a thorn in the side of the Avalanche, but I’m certainly not convinced it’ll be enough to stop Colorado.
(Allan) This should not be a series on any level but in the last ten games the Blues lost out to the Avalanche by one point – 6-1-3 for the Blues and 8-2-0 for the Avalanche. While it would be fun to pick the Blues they have as much chance to win the series as a Bunny Rabbit in a Snow Storm. And yet, I think they have a better chance than me getting a laugh on that silly Bunny metaphor.