NHL Power Rankings: Stanley Cup Final matchups that could only happen this season

2021 NHL Playoff Format
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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we will be taking a look at some of the best potential Stanley Cup Final matchups for this season that would not be possible in a normal season.

The 2020-21 season has a new divisional alignment and playoff format that opens the door for teams that normally play in the same conference, or even division, to potentially meet in the Stanley Cup Final. That is exciting.

Just as a quick refresher on this year’s playoff format: The top four teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs where they will play in a 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 bracket through the first two rounds. The four teams that win those brackets will advance to the semifinals where they will be re-seeded, 1 through 4, based on their regular season point totals. It is at that point we get some potentially unique Stanley Cup Final matchups.

To be considered for this week’s Power Rankings it has to be a matchup that can only happen this season and would not otherwise happen in the league’s normal alignment and playoff format.

They can only be matchups involving teams that normally play in the same conference or division.

Which potential matchups would we like?

To this week’s Power Rankings!

The best potential matchups

1. New York Islanders vs. Toronto Maple Leafs. John Tavares against his former team. Toronto’s media comparing Kyle Dubas to Lou Lamoriello and lamenting the Maple Leafs’ choice to hand the franchise over to the former. No matter the winner, this series would spawn nuclear grade hot takes. We can only be so lucky.

2. Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs. This is the best of everything. Longtime rivals going back to the Original Six days, individual star power on both sides, and currently two very good teams with a history of recent playoff matchups that have been awesome. The Bruins have absolutely tormented the Maple Leafs in the playoffs over the past decade, winning three different Game 7s in 2013, 2018, and 2019. Imagine being a Maple Leafs fan. Your team finally gets into a situation where it can break through in the playoffs. It gets to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the Original Six era. Then the final boss gets revealed and it is your long-time nemesis.

[Related: NHL officially rolls out play for 2020-21 56-game season]

3. Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens. What else needs to be said here, other than this is historically one of the fiercest rivalries in the sport. In a normal year I would not consider this Montreal team a contender, but the All-Canadian division and the playoff format opens the door. It should also be a much-improved team. So maybe?

4. Edmonton Oilers vs. Colorado Avalanche. I just think this would be a wildly entertaining series, mostly due to the crazy amount of star power. The main draw would be the two most dominant offensive forces in the league — Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon — going head to head.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins. The intrigue is simple, and it is the fact these have been two of the best teams in the league over the past three years. It would only be fitting for them to meet in the Stanley Cup Final.

6. Colorado Avalanche vs. Vancouver Canucks. Very similar to the Oilers-Avalanche matchup. I just think this would be fun. Two teams with great young stars. MacKinnon and Elias Pettersson at forward. Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes on defense. Lot to like here. You also have former Capitals teammates Philipp Grubauer and Braden Holtby as the likely goalie matchup.

The rivalry and bitterness matchups

7. Calgary Flames vs. Los Angeles Kings. Let’s be honest, this would really just be a Matthew Tkachuk vs. Drew Doughty rivalry. But what a rivalry it is. Given that the Kings are early in a rebuild it will almost certainly not happen. We can still dream.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets. The only thing John Tortorella loathes more than a postgame press conference is pretty much anything involving the Penguins. They have had some legendary run-ins over the years, and that was always just for regular season and First Round matchups. Imagine the intensity for all the marbles.

9. Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild. Old Minnesota vs. New Minnesota. This would mean more to the fanbases (well, Minnesota’s fanbase) than the players.

10. Arizona Coyotes vs. Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg whiteout vs. Arizona whiteout.

11. Buffalo Sabres vs. Toronto Maple Leafs. Old school rivalry, and two great individual talents at the top in Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel.

[Related: ProHockeyTalk’s 2020 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

12. Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues. Strong rivalry with some recent postseason history. Not likely to happen given Chicago is starting a rebuild and has major holes on defense and in goal, but it would still be fun.

The “Hey, I remember you” matchups

13. Colorado Avalanche vs. Nashville Predators. Matt Duchene wanted out of Colorado, and the Avalanche used that trade (which sent Duchene to Ottawa) to rebuild its defense as part of a three-team trade with Nashville. Then Duchene ended up in Nashville as a free agent.

14. New York Rangers vs. Columbus Blue Jackets. Tortorella against his former team. Artemi Panarin against the team he left in free agency.

15. Carolina Hurricanes vs. Boston Bruins. The Dougie Hamilton championship series. Also a really good hockey matchup given the two rosters.

16. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Carolina Hurricanes. Jim Rutherford has managed both of these teams to championships (the Hurricanes for one and the Penguins for two) and Hurricanes center Jordan Staal won a championship with Pittsburgh. Lot of familiarity here.

17. New Jersey Devils vs. Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens once thought P.K. Subban could help them win a championship. In this matchup, he could prevent them from winning it.

These just seem fun

18. Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs. The two best goal scorers in the league (Alex Ovechkin and Matthews) go head to head.

19. Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens. I admit, I wanted to get a Flyers matchup vs. somebody in here, but all of their biggest beefs are within their current division. So I thought it would be fun to see them go against Shea Weber all these years after the failed offer sheet. Plus, Carter Hart and Carey Price would be a great goalie matchup.

20. St. Louis Blues vs. Dallas Stars. Two of the top teams in the Western Conference, and the past two Western Conference representatives in the Stanley Cup Final.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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