The northern division was predictable after February. The top four teams stayed in their spots with little turnover. The question was where Toronto, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal aligned.
This is a unique season where the top four teams of each division play each other until one team remains. The remaining four teams play each other in the conference finals. Without further delay, here’s the playoff predictions for the 2021 northern division.
#1 Toronto Maple Leafs v. #4 Montreal Canadiens
The oldest rivalry in the NHL clashes in the playoffs for the first time in 42 years. Toronto and Montreal locked up their spots even before clinching. Their different styles have made for great games and ratings.
The losses of Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin to long-term injured reserve hurts the Canadiens. Their physical play kept games close even if Toronto won. Montreal needs Phillip Danault, Alexander Romanov and Erik Gustafsson to step their physicality and offense up a notch in order to stay even against a layered and overwhelming Toronto offense.
The Leafs finally have the players and talent to play physical and pushback against quality playoff teams. Their big question is who starts in net when the series starts. Jack Campbell should have the nod until he falters.
Prediction: Toronto wins series 4-1
#2 Edmonton Oilers v. #3 Winnipeg Jets
What a series this is! The Oilers and Jets have played great games against each other this season, with Edmonton winning most of them. Luckily for Winnipeg, playoffs are a different kind of competition.
Playoff series go more than one week, and they expose who lacks roster depth and who’s built for championship runs. Edmonton has a superstar duo of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. There’s not much depth to push the offense when neither are on the ice, and it could be a problem past two games in the series.
The Jets are opposite. Blake Wheeler, Adam Lowry and Nikolaj Ehlers return from injury to provide much needed scoring depth at center and forward. The Jets need goalie Connor Hellebuyck to steal a win those first two games in order to expose the lack of depth the Oilers have later on in the series.
Deciding Factor: Mike Smith is nearly 40 years old and runs hot-and-cold in important games. Hellebuyck hasn’t been lights out all year, but he’s more stable than Smith and healthier.
Prediction: Winnipeg wins series 4-2
Regular Season Playoff Picks: 2-2