NHL Power Rankings: Avalanche begin playoffs on top
The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on Saturday night as the Boston Bruins visit the Washington Capitals. Now is a good time to review where the 16 remaining teams stand as the quest for Lord Stanley’s hardware begins.
NHL Championship 2020/2021
Fri, July 9 2021, 12:00 AM
Vegas Golden Knights
Toronto Maple Leafs
Tampa Bay Lightning
1. Colorado Avalanche
Though the Avalanche had one fewer win than the Golden Knights this year and split the season series with that rival 4-4, they clinched the President’s Trophy via the regulation wins tiebreaker (35-30).
Colorado possesses stars in all facets of the game; Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon are a fearsome forward tandem, Cale Makar is one of the NHL’s best young defensemen, and goalie Philipp Grubauer is a Vezina Trophy contender.
They look like the team to beat, as evidenced by their NHL-lowest +400 odds to win the Stanley Cup.
2. Vegas Golden Knights
It would not be surprising if the Golden Knights make their second Stanley Cup Finals appearance in four seasons.
Vegas posted the NHL’s best goal differential (+67) thanks in no small part to netminder Marc-Andre Fleury (1.98 GAA, .928 save %), who’s having a career-year at age 36. The Golden Knights won 15 of their final 18 games of the regular season.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins closed strong to win nine of their last 11 games and clinch the East division over the Capitals, whom they beat in six of eight meetings in 2021. They averaged exactly four goals per game over that stretch.
Sidney Crosby had another sensational season, leading the team with 62 points.
4. Washington Capitals
The Capitals made due without a fully-healthy Alex Ovechkin, who recorded a modest 24 goals this year. The 2018 champions – who won more road games (19) than home games (17) this year – should not be discounted.
5. Carolina Hurricanes
There’s lots to like about the Hurricanes, who are fresh off a 36-win campaign. Sebastian Aho (57) had a terrific year at center, Dougie Hamilton (42 pts) shined on defense, and Alex Nedeljkovic (1.90 GAA, .923 save %) emerged as a reliable option between the pipes.
However, their season ended on a troubling note with a two-game sweep at the hands of the Predators, whom they’ll play in the first round.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs don’t appear to be a one-dimensional team anymore.
Auston Matthews is still leading the way on offense, as he won the Maurice Richard Trophy by tallying 41 goals, but Jack Campbell played spectacularly in goal (2.11 GAA, .923 save %) while Frederik Anderson was injured.
Toronto’s first-round opponent is the Canadiens – one of two playoff teams with a negative goal differential – but the litmus test will come when the Leafs play someone outside the North division.
7. Florida Panthers
The Panthers missed out on the Central title by one point to Carolina, who beat them in the season series 6-2. But Florida handled just about everyone else, including their Sunshine State rival Tampa Bay Lightning (5-3).
The Panthers are the hottest team going into the postseason with six straight wins under their belt.
8. Tampa Bay Lightning
The quest for a second straight Stanley Cup for the Lightning begins against Florida.
Tampa’s championship core is mostly in place, with Nikita Kucherov finally rejoining his teammates after missing the entire regular season. Norris Trophy contender Victor Hedman and Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy add to Tampa’s embarrassment of riches.
9. Boston Bruins
The Bruins will go as far as the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak line will take them. The trio combined for 165 points in 2021, and none of the three played more than 53 games.
10. Edmonton Oilers
Much like the Bruins, the Oilers will rely heavily on the exploits of their top line, which is led by Connor McDavid.
He compiled an otherworldly 104 points over 55 games, running away with the Art Ross Trophy over teammate Leon Draisaitl (83 pts).