To the Stanley Cup | An eventful first day

We had to wait really late before we finally got to know the first round duels of the NHL playoffs. The Liga has chosen not to keep the supporters waiting: it starts on Monday with four matches. Overview.

Posted at 06:00

Mathias Brunet

Mathias Brunet
The press

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

The poor Maple Leafs couldn’t afford to lose to the Canadiens in the first round last year. For a rare time in recent years, they didn’t have the power to open the playoffs. After a long and painful rebuild, they were knocked out in the first round by the Washington Capitals in 2017, lost to the Boston Bruins the next two springs, and here they are against the Stanley Cup champions for the past two years. Tampa Bay Lightning.

The champions may have lost an entire third line (Gourde, Goodrow and Coleman) last summer, but they have enjoyed another 100+ point season thanks in part to the resurgence of Steven Stamkos, who finished best offensive season at age 32. in career (106 points).

The Lightning rose late in the season, winning seven of their last nine games, sending a clear signal to the Panthers and Maple Leafs, who crushed them. The Lightning wants to become the first club since the Islanders 40 years ago to win three consecutive Stanley Cups.

Even if they finished ahead of the Lightning in the standings, the pressure will be on the Leafs who, after a long rebuild, have never made it past the second round in five playoffs.

The Lightning boasts the best goalkeeper in the National Hockey League, while the Leafs are arguably one of the weakest teams to make the playoffs, Jack Campbell…

Players to follow


PHOTO NICK TURCHIARO, USA TODAY SPORTS ARCHIVES

Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto : All eyes will be on Mitch Marner, brilliant in the season, but still without the slightest goal during the last two springs.

Tampa Bay : Unbelievable to think that Victor Hedman has stayed under the radar this season despite an 85 point year. He remains the mainstay in Tampa.

Under the radar players

Toronto : In the middle of the third line, Alexander Kerfoot has just had his best offensive season of his career, with 51 points. He will not be subject to the same supervision as Matthews and Tavares.

Tampa : Corey Perry is at his best in high voltage situations. Despite his 36 years, he remains menacing, as witnessed by his 19 goals and 40 points!

Edmonton Oilers v. Los Angeles Kings


PHOTOGRAPH JASON FRANSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers are not facing a rebuilding club. The leaders of the kings are called Kopitar, Danault, Brown, Arvidsson and Quick. Los Angeles probably has the best centers to counter McDavid, Draisaitl and Company, but they lament the absence of their best defender, Drew Doughty, who had wrist surgery in April. The young Kings defenders, Sean Durzi in the lead, made up for his absence, but they are quite green in the play-offs.

The Oilers, and especially McDavid, are under pressure. They have won just one round of playoffs, in 2017, since the Ontario star’s arrival. If McDavid is to go down in history, he will have to contribute to playoff wins. The pressure is clearly on the Oilers’ side as, despite an abundance of veterans in key positions, the Kings are basically in “reconstruction”.

Oilers GM Ken Holland did not consider it appropriate to acquire a goalkeeper by the trade deadline. We therefore rely on good old Mike Smith, 40 years old. Smith can stop a puck, but the team’s therapists know his body inside out.

The Oilers’ top defender, Darnell Nurse, missed last week of action with a lower body injury, but it is hoped he will be fit for the start of the series. Veteran Duncan Keith will bring his vast experience if he still has legs at this point in the season.

Players to follow


PHOTO GARY A. VASQUEZ, USA TODAY SPORTS ARCHIVE

Jonathan Snel

Edmonton : Connor McDavid has amassed 697 points in just 487 games this season, but 22 points in 21 playoff games. What more can be said?

Los Angeles : Goalkeeper Jonathan Quick, 36, has revived his career after two difficult seasons. He will have to be at his best.

Under the radar players

Edmonton: Evander Kane has 39 points, including 22 goals, since his controversial move to Edmonton. He appeared in only two career series. It’s up to him to shine.

Los Angeles : Matt Roy, 27, a modest seventh-round pick in 2015, is the most used player after Doughty. He will often have McDavid and Draisaitl in front of him…

Minnesota Wild v. St. Louis Blues


PHOTOGRAPH CHRISTOPHER HANEWINCKEL, USA TODAY SPORTS ARCHIVES

Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild

Expectations weren’t high for either team going into the season, but the Wild collected 113 points and the Blues 109 to both finish at the top 10 in the NHL’s overall standings.

The Wild has a formidable front line in Kirill Kaprizov, Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman. The Blues’ attack is more widespread and most of their players know tobacco because they won the Cup a few years ago.

With the emergence of young Robert Thomas, 77 points in 72 games at just 22 years old, St. Louis has the luxury of putting Brayden Schenn in third line. Without fanfare or trumpet, they have seven goalscorers of 24 or more goals: Tarasenko, Buchnevich, Kyrou, Barbashev, Schenn, Perron and Saad.

But the Blues’ new number one goalkeeper, Ville Husso, is treading uncharted territory: he has never played in the play-offs. Jordan Binnington can always take over if needed, but he’s been atrocious this winter.

The Wild does not have this problem. Cam Talbot had a great second half of the season and we took over Marc-André Fleury without emptying his hopes or choices. Very difficult to predict the winner of this series though, although we have to give the Wild the advantage in terms of defense and goalkeepers.

Players to follow


PHOTO JEFF CURRY, USA TODAY SPORTS ARCHIVE

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

Minnesota : Kirill Kaprizov is coming off a season of 108 points. He will want to forget his production of three points in seven play-off games last year.

St. Louis : Vladimir Tarasenko reached the 80-point mark for the first time in his career at the age of 30, after being mortgaged for the past two years due to shoulder injuries.

Under the radar players

Minnesota : Rookie Matt Boldy, drafted a few spots ahead of Cole Caufield in 2019, is a power forward who has racked up 39 points in 47 games since arriving and is the type of player made for the playoffs.

St. Louis : Marco Scandella, taken over from the Canadiens in 2020 for the second and fourth rounds, plays in the first defense pair with Colton Parayko and will face the big trio of the Wild.

Carolina Hurricanes v. Boston Bruins


PHOTOGRAPH ALEX BRANDON, ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES

Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes have a club on the rise, but they have been stopped twice by the Bruins in the playoffs, in 2019 and 2020, and last year by eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Hurricanes finished third overall with 116 points, 9 ahead of their first-round rivals, but they have to watch out for the Bruins. Boston did indeed take off in the second half of the season. As of March 3, the Bruins are 19-8-1.

The Hurricanes will also have to do it without injuring their number one goalkeeper, Frederik Andersen. They will probably postpone to Antti Raanta. On the other hand, the Bruins goalkeepers are hardly more experienced in the playoffs, with the young Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark, in this post-Tuukka Rask era.

Boston has taken off since coach Bruce Cassidy parted his top line and sent David Pastrnak to second unit with Erik Haula and Taylor Hall, and Pastrnak replaced Jake DeBrusk with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

The Bruins’ defense was bolstered by the arrival of Hampus Lindholm, acquired for a first-round pick, two second-round picks and a prospect. He forms a very first couple with Charlie McAvoy.

The Hurricanes have four well-balanced lines, the luxury of counting on young Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Martin Necas in fourth unit, and an underrated defence. They are the first in terms of efficiency in shorthandedness. This is one of two first-round clashes between clubs in the top 10 in the overall standings, the other opposes Minnesota vs. St. Louis.

Players to follow


PHOTO WINSLOW TOWNSON, USA TODAY SPORTS ARCHIVES

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Boston : Captain Patrice Bergeron remains the great leader of this formation, and it is still unknown if it will be his last play-offs in this uniform.

carolina : Sebastian Aho was already strong when the Canadian made him a qualifying offer a few years ago, he is even better today. He comes from a season of 37 goals and 81 points.

Under the radar players

Boston : The Charlie Coyle takeover of the Wild a few years ago is still gold. Coyle will be in the middle of the third line with Craig Smith and Trent Frederic.

carolina: Despite modest productivity in the season, Kotkaniemi is effective in the playoffs. He has already scored 9 goals in 29 career games in the playoffs and he will not have to face the Bruins’ leading positions.

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