Who will be the king of the north?
This year we will find out who will be crowned as the best team in Canada without debate after the league placed every Canadian team in one division to see who fights out of it.
The match-ups are set with top seed Toronto battling Montreal and Edmonton matching up with Winnipeg, both series having a history to them.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are set to battle in an Original Six match-up in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the first time since 1979. This has been a more one-sided affair this season after the teams had played ten games against each other. Toronto took seven games and outscored Montreal 34-24. The Leafs’ powerplay will need to get going for this series if they want to make it easier on themselves to score goals and put Montreal away early because they don’t want to find themselves in Game 7 with a team like the Canadiens.
Montreal wins the physicality battle between the two teams, so Toronto will have to use the body more if they don’t want to be pushed around all series. Montreal comes into the series having lost back-to-back OT games versus the Oilers and five in a row. Toronto won 3/4 final match-ups between the teams, but hopefully Carey Price will be back for the start of playoffs, if not, it will look like an even better move that they brought in an experienced backup goalie at the start of the season.
I give the clear advantage to Toronto in the goal-scoring category since they have Auston Matthews who is the leading goal scorer in the league who also finished the season ranked fifth in points, and his linemate in Mitch Marner who is fourth in points after the season’s end.
Tyler Toffoli and Nick Suzuki come into this series on fire though and Montreal has seemed to have found its third line so that could prove troublesome for Toronto.
These teams come into the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs having won 37/95 combined Stanley Cups which is the two most, Montreal with 24 and Toronto with 13. The Montreal Canadiens are the last Canadian team to win a Stanley Cup back in 1993 and neither them or Toronto have made it to a finals since. Only four Canadian teams have even made it to the finals since 1993, Vancouver (2) and last in 2011, Edmonton (1), and Calgary (1). With the inconsistency in Toronto’s game at points this season, I think Montreal will take a couple wins but the Leafs will end up finishing the series in six games.
Edmonton Oilers are set to face Winnipeg Jets in the other first-round match-up in the North. It will be the first playoff series between the two franchises, if you remember this Winnipeg team used to be the Atlanta Thrashers. Edmonton battled the original Winnipeg Jets more than 30 years ago and went 6-0 in series against them. The Oilers are 22-4 all-time against the Jets and all five of their Stanley Cups involved getting through a Jets team.
Edmonton is coming into the series with a fully healthy squad while Winnipeg is still without Nikolaj Ehlers, who was having a career year.
The season series went in favour of Edmonton, winning seven out of nine games and out-scoring Winnipeg 34-22 with Connor McDavid recordeding 22 points in those games. Ehlers was the leading scorer for the Jets with eight points, which makes it even worse for them having him out of the line-up. Edmonton have won six in a row against the Jets as well this season after dropping two out of three near the start of the season.
Each team’s past ten games in total have shaped up very differently, with the Oilers sailing into the playoffs with an 8-2 record and dominating away from home, while the Jets have only two wins in their past ten and have been struggling to find their form heading into playoffs. The powerplay has been a big factor in the games and will most likely give the advantage to whoever can get their penalty kill together for the playoffs.
By the directions that these teams have been headed recently and how the season has played out between them and in general lately, I would give Edmonton a big advantage going into their match-up. Winnipeg does have a very good third line and may play a big part in the series, but my prediction is that Edmonton will take Winnipeg down in six games and will meet Toronto in Round 2.