NHL playoffs: Avalanche, Golden Knights favorites to win Stanley Cup



May 18 (UPI) — The Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights lead a field of 16 teams as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. First-round playoff series continue through this week, with finals expected to end in July.

This year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs got off to an odd start due to COVID-19 postponements and continue to be impacted by pandemic travel restrictions.

The Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks were scheduled to end their regular seasons last week like the rest of the league, but they still need to play two makeup games to finish the year.

The playoffs started Saturday, despite the odd schedule overlap. The Flames and Canucks already are eliminated from playoff contention.

The Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, Minnesota Wild and reigning champion Tampa Bay Lightning each took 1-0 series leads in their playoff openers last weekend.

The first-round series continue with games at different sites through next week.

The NHL placed its four Canadian playoff teams — the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets — in the same region for the first and second rounds due to COVID-19 travel restrictions at Canada’s border.

Those teams will alternate games at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, Montreal’s Bell Centre, Edmonton’s Rogers Place and Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place until the semifinals.

Oilers center Connor McDavid claimed the Art Ross Trophy for the third time of his career this season as the league’s top point scorer. McDavid totaled 33 goals and a league-high 72 assists in 56 games. Oilers center Leon Draisaitl ra ranked second in the NHL with 84 points this season.

Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews led the NHL with 41 goals this season.

“Watching the games gets you anxious to get going,” Matthews told reporters Monday. “We still have three or four more days until we are playing. I don’t mind watching, but you really just want to be out there.”

The NHL is in discussions with the Canadian government to formulate a plan that would allow Canadian teams to face NHL teams based in the United States in the playoffs. Current U.S.-based NHL teams aren’t allowed to play in Canada without mandatory quarantines, which would disrupt the current playoff structure.

Avalanche favored

The Avalanche finished the 2020-21 NHL season with 39 wins, 13 losses and four overtime/shootout losses to claim the West Division. They scored a league-high 197 goals and allowed 133, the second-fewest in the league.

The Avalanche finished the regular season with a five-game winning streak. If they beat the Blues in the best-of-seven series, they would face the Golden Knights or Wild in the second round.

Right wing Mikko Rantanen, center Nathan MacKinnon and left wing Gabriel Landeskog led the Avalanche offense in the regular season. Rantanen registered 30 goals and 36 assists and tied for fifth in the NHL with 66 points.

MacKinnon ranked eighth in points and totaled 20 goals and 45 assists. Landeskog totaled 20 goals and 32 assists for the Avalanche.

“I think it starts with hard work with all three of us,” Landeskog told reporters Sunday. “All three of us want to be a difference-maker and drive our team and drive the play.”

Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer posted a goals against average of just 1.95 in 2020-21, the best mark of any netminder who started at least 25 games this season. Grubauer’s seven shutouts were tied with Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov for the most in the NHL.

The Golden Knights finished second in the West Division, despite a league-best 40 wins. The Avalanche claimed the division and the Presidents Trophy because they had five more regulation victories than the Golden Knights.

Vegas allowed a league-low 124 goals this season and tied for third with 191 goals scored. Right wing Mark Stone and left wing Max Pacioretty pace the Golden Knights offense.

Stone scored 21 goals and registered 40 assists in 56 regular-season games. Pacioretty scored a team-high 24 goals and tallied 27 assists in 48 games.

Veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s .928 save percentage was among the best in the NHL this season. Fleury’s goals-against average was 1.98 in 2020-21. His six shutouts tied for third most.

The Wild knocked off the Golden Knights 1-0 in overtime in Game 1 of their first-round series Sunday in Paradise, Nev. Pacioretty did not play due to an upper body injury, but could return later in the series. Game 2 is at 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday in Paradise.

The Maple Leafs, Hurricanes and Lightning are among the other favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

First round through Saturday

Tuesday

Game 2: Islanders (1-0) at Penguins (0-1) at 7:30 p.m. EDT on NBCSN

Game 2: Lightning (1-0) at Panthers (0-1) at 8 p.m. EDT on CNBC

Game 2: Wild (1-0) at Golden Knights (0-1) at 10 p.m. EDT on NBCSN

Wednesday

Game 3: Capitals at Bruins at 8:30 p.m. EDT on NBCSN

Game 2: Predators at Hurricanes at 8 p.m. EDT on CNBC

Game 1: Jets at Oilers at 9 p.m. EDT on NBCSN

Game 2: Blues at Avalanche at 10:30 p.m. EDT on CNBC

Thursday

Game 3: Panthers (0-1) at Lightning (1-0) at 6:30 p.m. EDT on USA

Game 3: Penguins at Islanders at 7 p.m. EDT on NBCSN

Game 1: Canadiens at Maple Leafs at 7:30 p.m. EDT on NHL Network

Game 3: Golden Knights (0-1) at Wild (1-0) at 9:30 p.m. EDT on NBCSN

Friday

Game 4: Capitals at Bruins at 6:30 p.m. EDT on NBCSN

Game 3: Hurricanes at Predators at 7 p.m. EDT on USA

Game 2: Jets at Oilers at 9 p.m. EDT on NBCSN

Game 3: Avalanche at Blues at 9:30 p.m. EDT on USA

Saturday

Game 4: Panthers (0-1) at Lightning (1-0) at 12:30 p.m. EDT on CNBC

Game 4: Penguins at Islanders at 3 p.m. EDT on NBC

Game 2: Canadiens at Maple Leafs at 7 p.m. EDT on CNBC

Game 4: Golden Knights (0-1) at Wild (1-0) at 8 p.m. EDT on NBC



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