Nhl, off to the playoffs: Colorado favorite. Watch out for Boston, Carolina and Vegas

Avalanche the team to beat, Bruins, Hurricanes and Knights right behind. New format dictated by Covid, with divisional challenges up to the semifinals

Massimo Oriani

@massimooriani

Closed (even if not completely …) the strange regular season, made up of 56 games instead of the usual 82 and with the divisions revised on a geographical basis to reduce travel (including an all-Canadian given the closure of the borders), tonight they shoot the playoffs, also different from the usual.

Each division will make its own story, so with the 4 winners of the mini tournaments that will then face each other in the conference finals, electing the contenders for the Stanley Cup. In the meantime, Vancouver will still play a handful of regular season matches, after the long stop for Covid of some time ago. Consequently, the postseason matches between the Canadians will only start next Wednesday, even with the pairings already decided.

East

Four battleships in the field. Seeded # 1 is Pittsburgh, who will face the New York Islanders. Crosby’s team have not won a playoff series since 2018 while the New Yorkers will permanently close the Nassau Coliseum (where they returned this year after moving to Brooklyn). The Isles seemed to be on the loose, then they lost their best player, Anders Lee and dropped significantly. Washington opens the postseason tonight by hosting Boston. The Bruins arrive in the playoffs very well, with a Marchand in great shape. The three signings to the deadline were key, especially former mvp Taylor Hall, reborn since leaving Buffalo. The Caps have the usual Ovechkin and a series of tremendous guns, from TJ Oshie to the “killer” Tom Wilson, the “dirtiest” player in the league.

North

While waiting to understand if the borders will reopen for the conference finals (the NHL has given the Canadian government a deadline of 1 June), Edmonton will challenge the Winnipeg Jets. Conor McDavid, certain winner of the Hart Trophy (the mvp), finished with 104 points in 55 games, 21 more than the second in the top scorer, teammate Leon Draisaitl. Tough for the Jets … Toronto-Montreal find themselves against in the playoffs for the first time since ’79. Clearly favorites are the Maple Leafs, but usually able to complicate their lives on their own in the postseason.

Central

Carolina, one of the favorites for the final victory, will open the Lord Stanley Cup race against Nashville. The Hurricanes have won the division for the first time since 2006. It is also the first time that the two franchises have faced each other in the playoffs. Sebastian Aho is the leader of Carolina with his 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) in 56 games, while a finally healthy Filip Forsberg will be the key man for the Predators. Florida derby in the other challenge, with the Panthers looking to take out the reigning champions of Tampa. And they have what it takes to do it. The Lightning found Kucherov (he missed the whole season) and Stamkos (stopped from 8 April) but returning from a long stop in the playoffs is not the best. Florida bets on Jonathan Huberdeau, 61 points this season, Tampa on Brayden Point.

West

Colorado is openly aiming for the cup after winning the President’s Cup (best record in the league). Will open against St. Louis. Nathan McKinnon has surpassed 20 goals for the fourth consecutive season and is ready to drag the Avalanche with Ryan O’Reilly determined to answer him for the Blues. Vegas, another team from the title, will instead play against Minnesota, which in the last 4 appearances in the playoffs has never made it through the first round. Mark Stone with 61 points is the spearhead of the Golden Knights, while the Wilds bet on rookie Kaprizov (27 goals and 51 points).

Predictions

East: Pittsburgh b. Islanders; Boston b.Washington. Boston b. Pittsburgh.

North: Toronto b. Montreal; Edmonton b. Winnipeg. Edmonton b. Toronto.

Central: Carolina b. Nashville; Florida b. Tampa. Carolina b. Florida.

West: Colorado b. St.Louis; Vegas b. Minnesota. Colorado b. Vegas.

Semifinals: Boston b. Carolina; Colorado b. Edmonton.

Stanley Cup: Colorado b. Boston.

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Nhl, off to the playoffs: Colorado favorite. Watch out for Boston, Carolina and Vegas

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