As of last Saturday, the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway!
As soon as the postseason starts, the games get tougher, tighter, and more thrilling—last weekend was a perfect example of this. Of the four games played, three went to overtime while the fourth was decided by a second-last minute goal in the third period. Close games!
So when does Canada get a piece of this action? The Canadian teams aren't beginning their series until the middle of this week due to the Vancouver Canucks' team-wide COVID outbreak, which took the team out of playing for nearly a month. And due to this year's shortened season and separated divisions, the NHL has decided to wait until the Canucks and Flames finish playing all of their games until they start the North Division's playoff series.
Kings of the North?
The two series in the North Division are:
- Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens
- Edmonton Oilers vs. Winnipeg Jets
Both of these series have clear favourites and clear underdogs. But these are the playoffs, and anything can happen! Let's dig in!
Old rivalry renewed
The Canadiens and Leafs are two of the oldest and most successful franchises in the NHL. But Montreal hasn't won a Cup since 1993. The Leafs? Since 1967! Two teams haven't even played each other in the playoffs since 1979. So what magic can we expect from this classic matchup, 42 years on from the last time it happened?
The Leafs won the North Division this year. Superstar Auston Matthews, who became the first Leaf to win the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals scored in a season. Right alongside him was winger Mitch Marner, who finished fourth in league scoring. Add on to that William Nylander and John Tavares, and you've got a team that can score. And they also have a much improved defense (thanks to the off-season addition of T.J. Brodie), and plenty of veteran experience (Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza). In short, this is the best, most well-rounded Leafs team in decades.
Meanwhile, Montreal limped into the playoffs this year and doesn't have the raw scoring power of Toronto. But what the Canadiens do have? Tenacity. They are a team of strong, determined skaters (especially big winger Josh Anderson), backed by a future Hall of Fame goalie (Carey Price), and have a game plan designed for when the games get close (a.k.a. the playoffs). Basically, this series will be all about which system wins out: Toronto's skill or Montreal's guts?
The other series features a pair of teams that also have some cool playoff history in their past. Back in the 1980s, it was a powerhouse Edmonton Oilers team led by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier than marched over Winnipeg Jets teams on their way to several Stanley Cups. Unfortunately for Jets fans, the script hasn't changed much.
The Edmonton Oilers have not one but both of the top point getters in the NHL: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. In particular, McDavid put up so many goals and assists this season that he scored a stunning 105 points in just 56 games. That's almost Gretzky-like. And bad news for the Jets.
But Winnipeg's Kyle Connor, Mark Schiefele, and Blake Wheeler are all excellent offensive players—and they've actually had more success over the last few years in the playoffs than Edmonton has. Winnipeg also have their own super Connor—Connor Hellebuyck—who won the Vezina trophy last year as the league's best goalie. Where Winnipeg is in trouble? Injuries. They've been hit with a bunch in the last few weeks to key players.
Can the wounded Jets come up with a way to shut down the most potent duo in the entire league? If they do, Edmonton can struggle to score without McDavid leading the way. But that's easier said than done ...
Who do you have as winners in their quest to be crowned Kings of the North?