PHT’s 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Semifinals predictions

Two rounds down, two more to go on the road to the 2021 Stanley Cup. The Canadiens, Golden Knights, Islanders, and Lightning are the NHL’s final four teams this season, just as we all predicted back in January, right?

We get a repeat matchup from the 2020 bubble with Tampa Bay and New York, and a first-time playoff meeting between Montreal and Vegas thanks to this unique playoff and the semifinal re-seeding.

Who do you think will advance? Here’s what we see happening:

ISLANDERS vs. LIGHTNINGseries livestream link

Game 1: Sun. June 13: Islanders at Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 2: Tues. June 15: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Thurs. June 17: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
Game 4: Sat. June 19: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
*Game 5: Mon. June 21: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 6: Wed. June 23: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 7: Fri. June 25: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)

*if necessary

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Lightning in 6. After these playoffs, it does not feel great to go “chalk,” especially not with both picks. The Islanders look legitimately dominant, and totally comfortable in their playoff skin. But the Islanders have been killers these playoffs, so I expect a replay of last year’s series: skin-tight, with the Bolts manufacturing just enough finish.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer. Lightning in 6. I really want to pick the Islanders here because, quite honestly, I am tired of them making me look like an idiot and I want to be on the right side of one of their series. But then I look at Tampa Bay’s roster and the way Andrei Vasilevskiy is playing and I just can not bring myself to do it. The Islanders make this difficult, and I could see one or two of these games going to overtime, but the Lightning just have too much star power and the best goalie in the league.

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: Lightning in 6. I believe the Islanders are more equipped to play the Lightning than the Bruins would have been. I also think we are living in Andrei Vasilevskiy’s world at this point. If you look at the entire body of goalies left in the playoffs they’re all playing at a high level, including Semyon Varlamov with the Islanders. Vasiklevskiy is having One of Those Years, though, and I’m not betting against them.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Lightning in 6. The Islanders took care of the Penguins thanks to Tristan Jarry‘s goaltending. They then out-smarted a Bruins team featuring an injured Tuukka Rask and some disappearing stars. Now it’s the defending champions and Conn Smythe Trophy favorite Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes. Tampa Bay looks even stronger than a last postseason, but New York will make them grind for every victory.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Lightning in 7. The last time the Lightning lost a playoff series, Andrei Vasilevskiy played poorly, Victor Hedman got hurt, and Nikita Kucherov got suspended. It would take another apocalyptic series of events to make me believe the Islanders could pull this out. The fact that I’m predicting seven games is proof of how much I believe in Barry Trotz, but I just don’t quite see the Islanders being able to get over the hump.

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Lightning in 7. This series will be so close and could even go into overtime in Game 7. The Lightning are defending Stanley Cup champions and beat the Islanders in six games in the Edmonton bubble last season, but the Islanders are primed for the upset with four lines that can contribute. While the Lightning have all the stars in Kucherov, Stamkos, Point, Hedman and Vasilevskiy, the Islanders have been playing playoff hockey all season and coach Barry Trotz will get them close, if not over the top.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]

Montreal Canadiens
Getty Images

CANADIENS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTSseries livestream link

Game 1: Mon., June 14: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 2: Wed. June 16: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Fri. June 18: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
Game 4: Sun. June 20: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 5: Tues. June 22: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 6: Thurs. June 24: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sat. June 26: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 8 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)

*if necessary

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Golden Knights in 7. You know, the surprising thing about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that we can still be surprised by the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So, with not-the-utmost confidence, I pick the Golden Knights over a Canadiens team that’s quietly quite similar: both teams hog the puck at even-strength, lean toward quantity over quality on offense, and boast big-name goalies at the top of their games. Vegas deploys just ever-so-slightly better versions of what Montreal has, which, yes, means they’re probably an injury or suspension away from following the same path as the Maple Leafs and Jets. Gulp.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Golden Knights in 6. Montreal is a great story, and I could easily see Carey Price winning a game or two, but this seems like one of the biggest mismatches in recent semifinal history. At least on paper. Vegas is a buzzsaw right now and after what it just did to Colorado in Games 2-6 of that series I am thinking that the Golden Knights reach their second Stanley Cup Final in four years.

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writerGolden Knights in 7. I feel like I’m going to end up on one of those Twitter lists making fun of people who didn’t pick the Canadiens and then they go and win again or something, but, I love the way Vegas is playing right now. Also, and this is true of anyone who would have come out of the North, let’s see how the Canadiens play against a “real” team. We all know the Canadian teams were, uh, less good. So how do the Habs fare against literally not the Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Golden Knights in 5. Vegas has turned it on after that forgettable Game 1 against the Avalanche. They’re dominating at both ends of the ends, and with Montreal likely without Jeff Petry early on in the series, that’s an area to take advantage for the Golden Knights.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Golden Knights in 6. Can Carey Price steal this series? Sure. But Vegas just took down the best team in the league and doesn’t really have a weakness. I won’t be betting against them.

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Golden Knights in 5. The Golden Knights will be too much for the Canadiens who have been great in the North Division playoffs, but their competition was not as strong as other divisions. The Golden Knights have four lines who contribute as well as a strong defense and while Carey Price is capable of stealing a game or possibly even two, Vegas is much the better team than Montreal.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

    avalanche injuries
    André Ringuette/Getty Images
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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

    Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.