Which First Round NHL playoff series has the biggest chance of being an upset?
James O’Brien, NHL writer: Montreal over Toronto. Do the Panthers count, being that they’re the higher seed? If you disqualify both teams in the Florida Foray, then I’ll say the Habs. Montreal hasn’t been playing well, but These Things just seem to keep happening to the Maple Leafs. Cruel sport.
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Florida over Tampa Bay. Now, let’s remember, this is upset potential. That’s the key word here. I believe the Lightning will advance, but the Cats are going to make it incredibly tough to get out of the First Round. Florida went 5-2-1 against the Bolts during the regular season, with Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger splitting games. Tampa has a Vezina favorite in Andrei Vasilevskiy, but would you be shocked if Bob, Driedger, or even Spencer Knight got hot and stole some games? Victor Hedman is not playing 100%, and Steven Stamkos is banged up. We also don’t know how soon Nikita Kucherov will be back to the Kuch of old. Florida has a chance to make a memorable even better.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 First Round schedule, TV info]
Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: Minnesota over Vegas. The Wild match up well with the Golden Knights. This was the one series Vegas should have wanted to avoid; Minnesota has a tremendous track record against Vegas historically and has been nearly unbeatable at home, against them and other organizations. They have peaked at the right time and have hung around in the standings with the Knights and Avalanche but don’t seem to have gotten the same type of respect. Of any team entering the playoffs, Minnesota is the one team I would really want to avoid. It’s a tough draw for Vegas, and if they don’t win both of their first two home games, it could be a bad time for them.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Minnesota over Vegas. Since the Golden Knights entered the league, only one of their regular opponents has dominated them: Minnesota. The Wild are 11-2-3 all-time against Vegas, which includes a 5-1-2 record this season. For whatever reason this just isn’t a good matchup for the Golden Knights. If Minnesota can get quality goaltending I like their chances.
Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Winnipeg over Edmonton. I know the Jets have been reeling with only two wins in their last 11 games but they have so much talent up front and still have the 2019-20 Vezina Trophy winner in Connor Hellebuyck. I like teams that have not been hot coming into the Stanley Cup playoffs as they are due for a big winning streak, especially a team that has Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers and Pierre-Luc Dubois (who was outstanding in the playoffs last season against the Maple Leafs) up front.
They have to contain Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but even if the duo go off, as long as they can shut down the rest of the Oilers, there can be an upset in the making.
[Avalanche win Presidents’ Trophy for third time in franchise history]
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: N.Y. Islanders over Pittsburgh. This is a tough one for me because I love the way the Penguins are playing, I love their depth, and at the same time I am not all that enthusiastic about the way the Islanders are playing or their depth. But I have seen this movie before the past two seasons where the Islanders go into the playoffs with low expectations and then figure out a way to lock things down. Barry Trotz will figure out a way to lock this down and even if Semyon Varlamov is not fully healthy, Ilya Sorokin is the real deal. Only takes one hot goaltending performance to flip things. Not saying the Islanders will win, but am not going to totally overlook a Barry Trotz coached team with a good goalie in the playoffs.