2020-21 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Semifinals Preview
I pride myself on trying to make accurate predictions. I usually succeed fairly well. But every season, there seems to be a team I miss on. The Montreal Canadiens are that team this season. Some of it is biased. I haven’t seen many Canadiens games this season. Their playoff series were also most lost in the shuffle by being put on the NHL Network, a channel I do not get. I ranked them sixth ahead of only the Ottawa Senators in their division before the season started. I did not think they would make the playoffs. They shouldn’t have either because the New York Rangers would have normally gotten in via wildcard. I know they would have played more games and more teams in a standard season, but I’m assuming it stays about the same.
I dislike underdogs because they never win. They can’t because they aren’t good enough. That’s why they are underdogs. We’ve seen this before. In 2014, the Canadiens upset two teams before losing to the Rangers in the conference finals. In 2017, the Ottawa Senators upset two teams before losing, barely, but they still did, to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference finals. In 2019, the Carolina Hurricanes upset two teams before being swept by the Boston Bruins in the conference finals. Are you sensing a pattern?
For some reason, it works differently out West. But those are different circumstances. Although underdogs the whole way in their championship run in 2019, the St Louis Blues were the hottest team in the second half of the season. The Los Angeles Kings won in 2012 as an eighth seed, but they were so dominant against Vancouver. I already knew they would win it all before the series was over. Two years later, they won it all again as a lower seed.
The Canadiens are not either of those teams. They played in a weak division to get into the playoffs. Then beat a team that always finds a way to lose and lost one of its best players after game one and then beat a team that overachieved, sweeping the Edmonton Oilers, who also lost one of their best players to a ridiculous four-game suspension after game one. Yes, he should have been suspended. But four games? Please. Sensing a pattern to their wins too? John Tavares out. Mark Scheifele out. I don’t like this Canadiens team. They don’t belong.
That’s not to say they are devoid of talent. Carey Price, Shea Weber, a rejuvenated Corey Perry, and two guys with potential in Tyler Toffoli and Cole Caufield are all quality players. You play the hand you’re dealt, and the Canadiens took advantage of it. It’s not their fault they played in a weak division or that Scheifele was suspended. Although it was Corey Perry’s fault, Tavares was injured. I realize there wasn’t much he could do, but he still hit him.
In my mind, we just had the Stanley Cup Finals (Vegas vs. Colorado), and it was glorious. Nobody left can beat the Golden Knights besides the Tampa Bay Lightning. Interestingly, three of last year’s conference finalists have returned. Because of division realignment, it was impossible to have all four. Instead, we get the Canadiens.
3 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 4 New York Islanders
Season Series: None
Playoff Series History: 3-0 Lightning
What We Learned: The Lightning and Islanders continued rolling and beat great teams to set up a rematch of last year’s conference finals.
Stars to Watch: Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Alex Killorn, and Victor Hedman are in the top twelve in playoff scoring. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey lead the Islanders. However, Mathew Barzal and Kyle Palmieri had key goals and assists.
Goalie Problem: Andrei Vasilevskiy continued his strong play. Semyon Varlamov ended up back in the net, replacing Ilya Sorokin. He was a mixed bag. But the good outweighed the bad.
X-Factor: Turnovers ended up playing a key role in the Islanders’ win over the Bruins. Turnovers are always bad, but it seemed odd since it came from a Bruins team that rarely coughed it up against an Islanders team that rarely takes it away. Turnovers would have the same effect in this series.
Fun Fact: Barzal had no goals and four assists last conference finals. Kucherov had two goals and eight assists. Point had three goals and four assists. Hedman had four goals and two assists. The Lightning outscored the Islanders 20-12.
Prediction: These teams are essentially the same as last season, only both slightly better. The Lighting won in six games last postseason. The Islanders might be one game better, but I don’t see them winning two games more. They’ve also never beaten the Lightning in the playoffs. The teams are very similar, but the Lightning have the more talented forwards and goalie. Lightning in seven.
After watching game one and realizing what I wrote last year, the Islanders should win the series. Last year, I thought we were getting the Golden Knights redemption story of beating the coach that beat them in their inaugural season. But the Lightning redemption made more sense. Now is the perfect time for the Golden Knights to redeem themselves.
2 Vegas Golden Knights vs. 4 Montreal Canadiens
Season Series: None
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Canadiens keep defying odds and overachieving. The Golden Knights beat the best team in the NHL in a convincing fashion after one stinker.
Stars to Watch: William Karlsson, Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, and Alex Pietrangelo lead the Golden Knights. The second and fourth lines clicked against the Avalanche the last few games. Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki, and Joel Armia lead the Canadiens. Corey Perry is still being a pest and had a goal and an assist against the Winnipeg Jets.
Goalie Problem: Marc-Andre Fleury had some more bad goals, but he always bounces back and makes up for it. The Golden Knights play way better when he’s in the net. Carey Price is earning his money these playoffs. He won’t enjoy this round.
X-Factor: Both of these teams are on a roll. Montreal has won seven in a row, Vegas four. Vegas is coming off an emotional series win. The last time they did that, they didn’t play well.
Fun Fact: Montreal has the best penalty kill in the playoffs at 90%. Vegas has the third worst of all 16 playoff teams at 14%. Vegas is first in takeaways, and Montreal is first in giveaways. Half of Montreal’s goals against Winnipeg were empty net, power play, or shorthanded. They scored three shorthanded goals, although one was an empty netter. Vegas power plays will be interesting.
Prediction: No team has played better hockey the last four years than the Golden Knights. Except for their constant delay of game penalties, they never do anything wrong. They always pass or stickhandle the puck exactly where it needs to be. They also roll the best four lines in hockey. The Canadiens aren’t the team to derail them. They’ll probably win game one because that’s what they always do, and the Golden Knights always lose game one. But after that, watch out. Golden Knights in five.