Central Division – 2021 NHL Playoff Preview

Joseph Caruso
NHL/MLB Analyst

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Hurricanes (1) vs. Predators (4)

Overview:

One of the more lopsided series of the first round, the Hurricanes and Predators is a series between two teams on the opposite ends of the spectrum. The Hurricanes are young, up-and-coming and look like a legitimate contender with a great forward core, solid goaltending and arguably the best defense core in the league. Nashville used to be in a similar spot, but roster turnover and aging has seemingly shut this team’s window to compete like they did when they went to the 2017 Stanley Cup finals.

The Hurricanes are definitely the favourites in this series, they have been one of the best teams all year and look like they are ready to go on a long cup run. Nashville on the other hand were at one point going to be sellers at the trade deadline but the stellar play of Jusse Sarros and contributions throughout the lineup locked them into the 4th seed in the division.

Record against each other:

Carolina Hurricanes: 6-2-0

Nashville Predators: 2-5-1

In eight meetings in the regular season, Carolina won six and the two losses came in the last two games of the season. Nashville has struggled most of the year against Carolina, I am not sure how much stock to put into those two late season wins.

Schedule:

  • Game 1 in Raleigh: Monday, May 17, 7 p.m. CT
  • Game 2 in Raleigh: Wednesday, May 19, 7 p.m. CT
  • Game 3 in Nashville: Friday, May 21, 6 p.m. CT
  • Game 4 in Nashville: Sunday, May 23, Time TBD
  • Game 5 in Raleigh: Tuesday, May 25, Time TBD
  • Game 6 in Nashville: Thursday, May 27, Time TBD
  • Game 7 in Raleigh: Saturday, May 29, Time TBD

Wildcards:

Carolina Hurricanes: Teuvo Teravainen

After a down and injury-riddled regular season where he only played 21 games, Teravinen is now back with the team and could provide a necessary scoring punch for the Hurricanes with his chemistry between Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. Teravainen collected 15 points in 21 games.

Nashville Predators: Matt Duchene

Similar to Teravainen but to a much more miserable degree, Duchene only suited up for 34 games with the Predators this season only collecting 13 points. As one of the highest paid players on the team, Duchene is expected to carry the load for Nashville’s offence but that simply has not been the case during his time there. However, he does have the skill necessary to cause the Hurricanes some problems.

Final Thoughts:

In my opinion, Nashville doesnt stand much of a chance against the Hurricanes and while Sarros has been in god-mode for the last 8 weeks, I don’t think it is enough to steal a series.

Prediction: Carolina in 5 games

Panthers (2) vs. Lightning (3)

Overview:

This series has the makings of being an absolute classic. The Battle of Florida is now official and these two teams are some of the most exciting to watch in the league. This series is very intriguing for a few reasons; this is arguably Florida’s best ever team in their history and there is a lot of pressure to win their first playoff series since 1996. On Tampa’s side the quest to defend their title starts now and while not overly dominant as they have been the past couple of seasons, this is a team with experience, skill and playoff moxie when the real season starts.

Florida has been red hot as of late and have shown Tampa that they are not a team to be taken lightly. Alexander Barkov and Jonathan Huburdeau have once again had great years but this time they are getting some much needed depth scoring throughout their lineup. Tampa however is getting two of the most lethal scorers in the league back for Game 1 of this series, captain Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

Record against each other:

Florida Panthers: 5-2-1

Tampa Bay Lightning: 3-5-0

As stated earlier, the Panthers are no joke this year and won the season series over the Lightning. With animosity building throughout the season, this series should be a physical one to wear down the other team.

Schedule:

  • Sunday, May 16, 7:30 p.m.: Lightning @ Panthers
  • Tuesday, May 18, 8 p.m.: Lightning @ Panthers
  • Thursday, May 20, 6:30 p.m.: Panthers @ Lightning
  • Saturday, May 22, 12:30 p.m.: Panthers @ Lightning
  • *Monday, May 24, TBD: Lightning @ Panthers
  • *Wednesday, May 26, TBD: Panthers @ Lightning
  • *Friday, May 28, TBD: Lightning @ Panthers

Wildcards:

Florida Panthers: Sam Bennett

Bennett was acquired by the Panthers at the trade deadline and he has fit right in under Joel Quinnville and the rest of the team. Bennett collected 15 points in 10 games when joining the Panthers and with his noted individual playoff success, 19 points in 30 games, Bennett could play a big role for the Panthers in the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikita Kucherov

The aforementioned Kucherov has not played a game for the Lightning since Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Finals due to having hip surgery prior to the start of the year. Kucherov when healthy is a top 10 player in the league and if he is able to knock off the rust early on in this series, it could spell disaster for Florida.

Final Thoughts:

This series has the potential of going the distance. With the skill and physicality on display during the regular season series, it’s honestly a coin flip who can come out on top.

Prediction: Lightning in 7

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