Why your team can (and can not) win the Stanley Cup this season

The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin with 16 teams ready to go through the gauntlet that is the NHL postseason. Only one of them can win it all, and you probably have your list of favorites and top picks.

You can make a strong argument for pretty much every team in the field to win.

Conversely, it doesn’t take much to keep a team from winning 16 games.

We’re going to look at both, and examine why your team can (and can not) win the Stanley Cup.

Teams are listed in order of league-wide standings.

Colorado Avalanche

Why they can win: They are the best team in the NHL. They have the best record, they have a loaded roster with superstar forwards, quality depth, and the best defense in the league. They are the most impressive team by almost every objective measure that we have to analyze hockey teams. They are not only built to win this season, they are built to contend for years.

Why they can not win: If something happens to Philipp Grubauer or he struggles. Goaltending can turn a postseason upside down and the Avalanche depth behind him is questionable.

[Related: Avalanche win Presidents’ Trophy for third time]

Vegas Golden Knights

Why they can win: They are right there with Colorado as one of the NHL’s elite teams with All-Star talent at all three layers (forward, defense, goaltending). Mark Stone is an elite two-way player, they have two No. 1 defenders (Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore) and two outstanding goalies (Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner). They have been a contender since they entered the league.

Why they can not win: Simply getting out of the West Division will be an accomplishment. Sometimes matchups matter. Not only does Vegas have a really tough First Round series (Minnesota), but if it gets through that the Avalanche will most likely be waiting in the Second Round.

Carolina Hurricanes

Why they can win: An elite defense and a deep, talented group of young forwards with few weaknesses. They also have the goaltending this season with the emergence of Alex Nedeljkovic. They are built for long-term Stanley Cup contention, and they have as good of a shot as anybody this season.

Why they can not win: Maybe you do not trust Nedeljkovic given his lack of experience. But that seems like a reach due to his play this season. Plus, rookie goalies have won the Stanley Cup multiple times in recent seasons. They could also face a difficult Second Round matchup against the defending champion Lightning that could send them home.

Florida Panthers

Why they can win: This is the best team in Panthers history with a Hall of Fame coach, two superstars (Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau) and a much improved supporting cast.

Why they can not win: If they trust the wrong goalie. Chris Driedger is the only choice.

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Toronto Maple Leafs

Why they can win: One of the most talented rosters in the league from top to bottom and a defense that is much better than it gets credit for being. They will be massive favorites in any matchup they get over the first two rounds and should — should — be in the Stanley Cup Semifinals.

Why they can not win: They have to break through the ceiling that is the First Round of the playoffs, and until they do there should be skepticism. Also, the goalie situation is scary.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Why they can win: Their forward depth is incredible, probably the best it has been in years, and anytime you have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, and Kris Letang at the top of your lineup you are going to have a chance.

Why they can not win: Goaltending could be a significant Achilles heel here and the penalty kill is not good. That is not an area you want to be struggling in come playoff time.

Washington Capitals

Why they can win: They still have Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and are one of the NHL’s most talented teams. The one team that has found a perfect blind of size, strength, and skill to overpower teams in a variety of ways.

Why they can not win: The goaltending situation is very concerning, and they are also going into the playoffs pretty banged up with a lot of uncertainty surrounding the team (specifically the Evgeny Kuznetsov situation, on top of the goalie situation). They also have one of the toughest First Round matchups with Boston.

[Roundtable: Which playoff series has upset potential?]

Minnesota Wild

Why they can win: They have suddenly transformed into one of the most exciting teams in the league and have an emerging, game-changing superstar in Kirill Kaprizov.

Why they can not win: They might have to get through Vegas and Colorado in the first two rounds. The Wild are good. But are they better than both of them? Also, for as good as they have played this season they have struggled with playoff teams down the stretch. Since April 1 they played 13 games against the other three playoff teams in the West. They only won five of them. Only three of those wins were in regulation.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Why they can win: The defending Stanley Cup champions are getting their two best forwards (Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos) back for the start of the playoffs. Kucherov has not played all season and Stamkos has missed months. Two big upgrades to an already loaded team.

Why they can not win: They have struggled down the stretch, and also it is really difficult to go through that type of playoff run two years in a row.

Boston Bruins

Why they can win: With Taylor Hall in the mix they have two elite scoring lines that can dominate a game. Add that to a strong defense and great goaltending and you have a legitimate Cup contender.

Why they can not win: Their top two lines are great. Are the third and fourth lines good enough? Sometimes weaknesses can get exploited in the playoffs. Those might be a weakness.

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Edmonton Oilers

Why they can win: They have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and play in a division that is, for the most part, pretty wide open.

Why they can not win: They do not have much else around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

[Related: Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Schedule]

New York Islanders

Why they can win: Outstanding goaltending, a great coach, and a defensive system that can frustrate even the best and most talented teams. It is not an accident that they have won four playoff series the past two seasons.

Why they can not win: The lack of offense and lack of high-end talent outside of Mathew Barzal.

Nashville Predators

Why they can win: Have you seen the way Juuse Saros has played lately? That sort of goaltending can take even an average team a long way.

Why they can not win: Can they score enough to keep up with Tampa Bay, Florida, and Carolina? Also the special teams are among the NHL’s worst(even if the penalty kill has been better in the second half of the season).

St. Louis Blues

Why they can win: Even though the season has not gone as planned this is still a very talented team that is just two years removed from a championship. Getting Vladimir Tarasenko back would be another boost to the lineup.

Why they can not win: They are not the same team defensively as they were a couple of years ago, and the goaltending is very inconsistent. They have to beat a Colorado team they were 3-5-0 against in the regular season in the First Round.

Winnipeg Jets

Why they can win: Very good forwards and a great goalie that can steal a lot of games. Also a winnable division.

Why they can not win: They have not played well for more than a month and the defense is not good at all.

Montreal Canadiens

Why they can win: Great possession team that is getting its best two-way forward (Brendan Gallagher) back for the playoffs.

Why they can not win: They are spending $15M on goalies this season but the all situations save percentage is 27th in the league. Not enough high-end talent elsewhere on the roster yet.

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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    Malkin’s late goal lifts Penguins past Ovechkin, Caps 4-3

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    Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin remains a live wire. Even now, 17 seasons into a career that is likely destined for the Hall of Fame, there’s an unpredictability the Pittsburgh Penguins star plays with that can be both endearing and exasperating to teammates and coaches alike.

    The latest proof came against Washington on Saturday.

    An untimely roughing penalty in the third period helped spark a Capitals’ rally from a three-goal deficit. Malkin made up for it by burying a breakaway with 1:20 left in regulation that lifted the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.

    “His care factor and his compete level for me is off the charts and that’s what I love about him and usually when the stakes are high that’s when he’s at his best,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He gets a huge goal for us tonight at a key time.”

    Malkin’s 25th goal of the season – a low wrist shot to the far post – helped the Penguins avoid a potentially messy collapse. Pittsburgh appeared to be ready to cruise to victory after Jake Guentzel‘s power-play goal 27 seconds into the third period made it 3-0.

    Washington instead stormed back, with Alex Ovechkin right in the middle of it. Ovechkin scored his 42nd goal of the season and 822nd of his career from his favorite spot in the left circle with 6:42 to go in regulation. Washington drew even when Dylan Strome flipped the puck into an open net with 2:44 to go in regulation.

    Yet instead of sagging, the Penguins surged. Malkin stripped Washington’s Anthony Mantha near center ice and broke in alone on Kuemper. Seconds later, the puck was in the net and Malkin was on one knee celebrating while pumping his fists, the kind of display of raw emotion that’s become one of his trademarks.

    “It’s a huge goal for me, and two points for the team,” Malkin said.

    Pittsburgh moved three points clear of Florida after the Panthers lost to the earlier Saturday. Both teams have nine regular-season games left.

    Ryan Poehling and Chad Ruhwedel scored a little over two minutes apart in the second period for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel added his team-high 32nd goal early in the third before Washington scrambled back. Casey DeSmith played spectacularly at times while finishing with 31 saves.

    Tom Wilson started the Capitals’ comeback with his ninth goal of the season 5:19 into the third. Kuemper stopped 36 shots, but was outplayed by DeSmith as Washington’s hopes of making a late push for a playoff berth took a serious hit. The Capitals are six points behind Pittsburgh with only eight games remaining.

    “It’s a tough one,” Washington center T.J. Oshie said. “I don’t think that last play was the only thing that lost the game for us. I know that (Mantha) feels terrible about it, but we trust him with the puck. It just wasn’t a good enough 60 minutes against a good hockey team over there.”

    It felt like old times for much of the night for teams that usually enter late March battling for a spot near the top of the Metropolitan Division.

    Not this season.

    While the 35-year-old Crosby is averaging over a point a game as usual and the 37-year-old Ovechkin is steadily making inroads on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, their teams have spent most of the year skating in place.

    Pittsburgh has been wildly uneven thanks in part to goaltending that has fluctuated between solid and shaky, the main reason a 17th straight playoff appearance is hardly assured. Washington, meanwhile, appears to be pointing toward the future after injuries and a small sell-off at the trade deadline.

    Pittsburgh put itself on slightly firmer footing with DeSmith making a compelling case that he should supplant Tristan Jarry as Pittsburgh’s top goaltender down the stretch.

    DeSmith was spectacular at times, including stoning Ovechkin on a breakaway near the end of the second period in which Ovechkin deked DeSmith to his knees, only to see DeSmith extend his left leg just enough to knock the puck out of harm’s way.

    “I’m not very tall,” the 6-foot DeSmith said. “But I had that one inch that I needed.”


    Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

    Penguins: Visit Detroit on Tuesday.

    Devils defeat Senators 5-3, clinch playoff berth

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    NEWARK, N.J. — Jack Hughes had a goal and an assist, Mackenzie Blackwood had 25 saves and the New Jersey Devils defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-3 and clinched a playoff berth on Saturday night.

    “It means everything to the group. I went into the dressing room after the game and just said that I was proud of the work that was put in, proud of where we got to clinch tonight to be one of three teams that have an X next to their name,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “All the work that’s been put in, the adversity they face during the year. The adversity they face right at the start of the season to where we’ve got to now.”

    New Jersey could have clinched its first postseason berth since 2018 with a win, but it happened before their first intermission when the Florida Panthers lost to the New York Rangers in regulation.

    “I had a lesser role then,” said Jesper Bratt, who was a rookie for the Devils in 2017-18. “I would say at a younger age, it’s kind of like you think that just because it happened your first year that it might happen every year. And then it goes pretty fast with reality that was not the case and you got to work extremely hard for it.

    “It’s a really tough league. So this feels really good. It’s been a lot of years with struggle, not winning, and it’s just awesome coming out now playing these kinds of games and getting that.”

    Bratt, Dawson Mercer and Dougie Hamilton scored for the Devils and Tomas Tatar scored an empty netter with 42.3 seconds left to put things away.

    Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Mark Kastelic scored for the Senators and Dylan Ferguson had 30 saves.

    Tkachuk scored his 33rd goal of the season to give the Senators the 1-0 lead 3:14 into the first period. The Devils responded midway through the first period with Hughes’ 40th goal of the season on a breakaway, going five-hole to tie it.

    Nick Holden gave the puck away and Bratt scored his 31st goal of the season on the breakaway 2:24 into the second period to give New Jersey the 2-1 lead. Mercer’s 23rd of the season came just over a minute later.

    The Senators answered midway through the second period when Thomas Chabot scored his 11th goal of the year to cut the deficit to 3-2. They knotted things up 16:03 into the second when Kastelic scored his fifth of the season.

    “We were confident going into the third period. We felt like the game was there for our taking,” Travis Hamonic said. “They score on their chance, and that’s game.”

    Hamilton scored 3:34 into the third period to give the Devils the lead. His 19th goal breaks the franchise record for goals in a season by a defenseman, surpassing Scott Stevens – the Devils great whose number is hanging in the rafters – record of 18 in 1993-94.

    NOTES: This was the first game for the Devils backup Blackwood since Feb. 19. … Nico Hischier has a six-game point streak after recording two assists.


    Senators: Host the Florida Panthers on Monday night.

    Devils: Play at New York Islanders on Monday night. —

    AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

    Kings tie franchise mark with point in 11th straight game

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    Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

    LOS ANGELES — Viktor Arvidsson had two goals and the Los Angeles Kings matched their longest point streak in franchise history with a 4-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon.

    Drew Doughty had a goal and an assist and Alex Iafallo netted a power-play goal for Los Angeles, which has earned points in 11 straight games for the fourth time. The last occurrence was 2013-14, when the Kings won their second Stanley Cup championship.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped 25 shots for Los Angeles.

    Pierre-Luc Dubois scored for Winnipeg and Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves.

    Arvidsson – who has 22 goals on the season – has four in the last four games while Doughty has found the net four times in the last five games.

    Arvidsson’s first goal came 82 seconds into the game. Trevor Moore won the faceoff in the offensive zone and made a backhand pass to Arvidsson, who snapped it into the net from the back of the left faceoff circle.

    He also had an empty-net goal late in the third period.

    The Kings extended their lead to 2-0 five minutes into the second period on the power play. Phillip Danault made a great pass between Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon and Hellebuyck as Iafallo buried it into the short side of the net.

    Doughty extended the lead to 3-1 27 seconds into the third period with a wrist shot from outside the right faceoff circle near the boards after Anze Kopitar won the faceoff.


    Winnipeg got its first power-play goal in seven games with 1:23 remaining in the second period when Dubois took a cross-ice pass from Kyle Connor and scored from the left faceoff circle to get the Jets within 2-1.

    The Jets got a five-minute power play after Los Angeles’ Blake Lizotte received a five-minute match penalty for a vicious cross-check to Josh Morrissey’s face. The goal came with 33 seconds left in the man advantage.

    NOTES: Danault picked up his 300th career point and 200th assist. … Winnipeg’s Connor set a career high for most assists in a season when he got his 47th on Dubois’ goal.


    Jets: Travel to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

    Kings: Host the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

    Coyotes minority owner suspended by NHL following arrest

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    NEW YORK — Arizona Coyotes minority owner Andrew Barroway was suspended indefinitely by the NHL on Friday following his arrest for domestic violence in Colorado.

    Online court records show Barroway was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of second-degree assault strangulation, a felony, and third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. He appeared in court Friday to be advised of the possible charges he is facing and is scheduled to back in court on April 3.

    Barroway spent Thursday night in Pitkin County Jail after police arrested him at an Aspen hotel, according to a police report obtained by the Aspen Daily News.

    “The National Hockey League is aware of the arrest of Arizona Coyotes’ minority owner Andrew Barroway,” the NHL said in a statement. “Pending further information, he has been suspended indefinitely.”

    The 57-year-old Barroway was arrested after a verbal altercation with his wife turned physical, according to the police report. He is prohibited from having contact with his wife, except when it involves their children, and can’t consume alcohol under a court order.

    A prominent hedge fund manager, Barroway owns 5% of the Coyotes.

    “We are aware of the allegation regarding Mr. Barroway and we are working with the League to gather more information,” the Coyotes said in a statement. “When we have enough information, we will have an appropriate response. Until the investigation is complete, we will have no further comment.”