Ranking the potential Stanley Cup Final matchups


We started with 16 teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and are now down to the remaining four teams.

There are a couple of teams that we probably expected to be here (Tampa Bay and Vegas) and a couple that are a bit of a surprise (Islanders and Canadiens).

Now that the semifinals are set (Tampa Bay vs. New York; Vegas vs. Montreal) we know that there are four potential Stanley Cup Final matchups that could take place a couple of weeks from now. Because of the one-year playoff format and divisional alignment there is the potential to see an all Eastern Conference Cup Final as three of the remaining teams all call the East home in a normal year. That certainly adds some potential intrigue to the final two rounds of the postseason, and could give us a very unique championship round.

Now, we get to discuss which ones we want to see the most.

Let’s get to the rankings.


1. Lightning vs. Golden Knights

This is easy because it is simply the two best teams remaining. They are the two best teams on paper, and they are the two best teams on the ice.

Tampa Bay is the defending Stanley Cup champions and looking to become just the third different organization to repeat as champions since 1990 (Pittsburgh has done it twice; Detroit did it once). In terms of playing style, talent, and just overall intrigue this would be the best hockey matchup of them all.

Vegas finished the season tied with Colorado with the most points in the NHL, and just ripped off four consecutive wins against the Avalanche in a very impressive (and convincing) Second Round series win. The Golden Knights are also trying to return to the Cup Final for the second time in the first four years of their existence. They have built an immediate powerhouse in the NHL and have a chance to cement their status as one of the league’s elite franchises. Nothing would do that more than a Stanley Cup win over the defending champions.

2. Lightning vs. Canadiens

This is one of the potential all-Eastern Conference matchups.

Is it the second best pure hockey matchup? You could certainly argue either way on that. But it definitely has a lot of intrigue.

For one, it is a Cup Final matchup that you could only see this season with this format. That is exciting.

It would also give the Canadiens an opportunity to do something the organization has never done before and win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, which is being awarded to the winner of the Canadiens-Golden Knights series.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 Third Round schedule, TV info]

It would also continue what has been a rather unbelievable run throughout the playoffs for a team that began as probably the biggest underdogs in the entire field. When the playoffs began the Canadiens had the 18th best record in the NHL and were an afterthought in the Stanley Cup discussion. Especially when they faced a 3-1 series deficit against a Toronto team that was expected to come out of the North Division bracket.

All the Canadiens have done since then is win seven games in a row to complete a stunning First Round upset of the Maple Leafs, and then sweep the Jets. Following that up by getting through Vegas would be quite a storybook season.

It would also feature another epic goaltending matchup between Andrei Vasilevskiy and Carey Price.

3. Islanders vs. Golden Knights

If the Islanders get here it will mean they beat the Penguins, Bruins, and Lightning in consecutive rounds, which would easily be the most impressive run of any team in the playoffs. It would also be another challenge to see if Barry Trotz, the Islanders’ defense, and their goaltending could shut down and frustrate another of the league’s best teams. They keep doing it every postseason.

The play on the ice? It would be an intriguing contrast in styles with Vegas’ offense going against the Islanders’ defense. But it would also be wildly exciting off the ice with two of the league’s best home crowds being featured prominently.

What better way to close out Nassau Coliseum than with a Stanley Cup Final.

[Related: X-Factors For Stanley Cup Final Semifinalists]

4. Canadiens vs. Islanders

It would certainly be the most unexpected matchup.

The Islanders and Canadiens finished the regular season with the 12th and 18th best records in the league, respectively, and were both the fourth seeds in their own divisions.

In terms of playing style, it probably would not be the most exciting of the potential matchups given that they also ranked 17th and 21st in the league in goals per game.  But it would be unique for the East vs. East aspect, and because of the grueling path that both teams would have taken to get here, pulling off three consecutive upsets each along the way.

It would also feature two of the NHL’s greatest dynasties from the past facing off in their first ever Stanley Cup Final as they both try to win their first championship in decades.

Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in pregame warmups, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

“In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

“As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

“Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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NEW YORK — Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

“When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

“Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

“This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

“We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

“It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

“It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.

Coyotes sign Shane Doan’s son to entry-level contract

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Josh Doan is following his father’s footsteps into professional hockey.

The Arizona Coyotes signed the 21-year-old forward to a three-year entry-level contract, beginning with the 2023-24 NHL season. He will report to the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL and play his first game against the Calgary Wranglers.

Doan’s father, Shane, played 21 seasons with the franchise, many of those as captain, and followed it from Winnipeg to the desert in 1996. Shane Doan now serves as Arizona’s chief hockey development officer.

The Coyotes drafted Josh Doan in the second round of the 2021, but he opted to play for the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils.

Josh Doan set school records for goals (12) and assists (25) as a freshman last season. He had 16 goals and 22 assists in 39 games with Arizona State this season.

The 6-foot-1, 183-pounder also played two seasons for the Chicago Steel of the USHL.

Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman has shoulder surgery

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CHICAGO — Chicago Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman had surgery on his right shoulder.

The team said the operation was performed in Los Angeles. Team physician Michael Terry said the 23-year-old Guttman is expected “to be out of hockey activities for approximately four months.”

Guttman had been a pleasant surprise for rebuilding Chicago. He made his NHL debut last month and finished the season with four goals and two assists in 14 games.

Guttman was selected by Tampa Bay in the 2017 draft. He agreed to a two-year contract with Chicago in August 2022 that had a $950,000 salary cap hit.