With the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals now set, how has your bracket held up thus far? Mine is far from perfect. Odds are, many of yours face the same fate given the four teams that remain.
Second Round Recap
After a modestly successful First Round, which saw my predictions reach a record of 5-3 to kick things off, going 2-2 through the Second Round seemed to balance the playing field.
Best of Sevens
Colorado (2)/Vegas (4)
Winnipeg (0)/Montreal (4)
Boston (2)/New York (4)
Carolina (1)/Tampa Bay (4)
Silver-lining to my .500 finish is that I, somehow, correctly predicted that two underdogs would overtake the favourite. In fact, all four teams who won in the Second Round were actually ranked lower than those they beat.
So, which of these Cinderella stories* are about to approach midnight, while the others rewind the clock and head back in to enjoy the party?
*Clearly, not every team that remains shares in the same level of underdog status.
Playing for Trophy Placement
The unique structure of this year’s postseason means that these aren’t the traditional Conference Finals we’re used to. However, both the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl and Prince of Wales Trophy will still be awarded accordingly.
Vegas vs. Montreal
Is it time to start taking the Montreal Canadiens more seriously than most of us have to this point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Yes, it certainly is. They’re in the final four for a reason and have earned every bit of the respect they are due for getting here. However, adoration alone won’t push them much further.
Admittedly, I’ve been a casual fan of the Vegas Golden Knights ever since they entered the league. It helped that my wife (Alexandra, of The Little Things Blog) and I got to catch a game live in their inaugural season, while on vacation with her family. That building can really put on a show, by the way.
Beyond that bias, I’m also fully aware of how deep and talented this Vegas lineup continues to be. They find a way to get better, every single season. It’s exactly why I had them making the Final from the get-go and I’m sticking with that stance.
At the other end of the rink, Carey Price has been lights out throughout these playoffs and Tyler Toffoli is embarking upon legendary status in Montreal. Though, I doubt players like Marc-Andre Fleury, William Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Alex Pietrangelo — to name just a few Vegas stars — are losing sleep over this matchup.
Montreal’s surprising run will expire, while the Golden Knights’ unexpectedly quick rise to the top of the league will continue to experience a Vegas-sized elevation.
Prediction: Vegas in 5.
Tampa Bay vs. New York
Frankly, I’m not much of a fan of either of these two teams. While I was in full support of the wild ride that the Tampa Bay Lightning navigated to earn the 2020 Stanley Cup, I can’t say I’m in their corner this time around.
The way they’ve circumvented the salary cap, with the unusually coincidental timing of Nikita Kucherov’s return, just doesn’t sit right with me. And now he happens to lead the team in production, with 18 points after 11 playoff games? Shocking.
As far as my despise for the New York Islanders goes, it’s a little more personal than a financial loophole. Seeing the pathetic outpouring of negativity from Islanders’ fans following John Tavares’ justified decision to take his talents to the Toronto Maple Leafs has been nauseating.
With that all out in the open, the reality remains that both sides are loaded with star power and as deep as can be. Steven Stamkos facing off against Mathew Barzal is just the teaser towards how the rest of these rosters fill out. All the while, goalies on either side aren’t making things easy for their opponents.
Although Tampa is playing amazing hockey at the moment, it feels like the Islanders are more prepared to prove what they can do this time around.
Prediction: Islanders in 6.
Setting the Stage
While I had hoped to see the Maple Leafs make their way into this year’s Final, I’ll have to settle for witnessing the Golden Knights take on the Islanders.
It seems like a more obscure championship matchup, for some reason, but just imagine the speed and skill that would be showcased the whole way through.
Let’s see what my 7-5 record looks like after this round. Can I bring it to 9-5, in hopes of securing a winning record, or will I be facing a neutralized outlook heading into the Final?
Feel free to take to Twitter so you can let me know who you’re picking and why you think I’m wrong.