The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs games are, amazingly, underway. After a long-delayed start – longer for some teams than for others – today marks a victory of sorts. Some semblance of normalcy after a long, strange season. Part of that normalcy is the culling of teams, and half the league will be staying at home once again. If one of those sixteen teams is yours, what can you do? Not watching hockey isn’t an option, obviously. But these teams are.
The Best 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs Bandwagons
We’ve gathered some of our writers who might otherwise be sitting idle and put them to work one more time. With the teams they regularly cover on the sidelines, each has picked a team to like, however temporarily. Here are their picks and why you should join them.
Tampa Bay Lightning
First of all, the Tampa Bay Lightning is the bandwagon to end all bandwagons. They won the Stanley Cup in last year’s playoffs, so if you’re one for a good story, you’ll enjoy seeing if they can win another. It will certainly be harder this time around, as Tampa Bay is seeded lower and will therefore play more dangerous opponents.
Still, the Lightning provides an interesting X-factor to the playoffs. For much of the regular season, they played without two of their best forwards – Nikita Kucherov and captain Steven Stamkos. Even with Kucherov and Stamkos absent, the Lightning managed to clinch the Central Division’s third playoff spot. And it’s worth noting that Stamkos also didn’t play for the majority of the team’s run last year. If the Lightning can win a Stanley Cup without their captain and snag a postseason berth with Kucherov out too, who knows what’s possible with both back in the mix? It’ll be intriguing to see how they impact the team when they return for the playoffs.
Also, let’s not forget Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s widely regarded as one of the best netminders in the NHL. For fans of teams who lacked steady goaltending this season, watching Vasilevsky backstop the Lightning will be refreshing. Overall, Tampa Bay is packed with extremely talented players – and that’s the kind of team that produces exciting playoff hockey.
Take a deep breath in and listen to the tiny violin music. It’s over. Your team sucks.
Instead of sitting through the entire postseason feeling like a jerk for wasting 56 games (3,360+ minutes) of your ever-fleeting life, you may as well join the “Bunch of Jerks” bandwagon. Sure, we’ve all heard about the Colorado Avalanche’s unequivocal depth, but how about some love for the Carolina Hurricanes? Sounds crazy, but the gap between Nathan MacKinnon and Sebastian Aho isn’t a big one. If MacKinnon goes down, who’s replacing even some of his value? Nazem Kadri? Tyson Jost? Alex Newhook? Not even close!
If Aho gets hurt Carolina has Vincent Trocheck, Teuvo Teravainen, and Martin Necas. All of them have center experience and greater productivity than Colorado’s depth center options. Colorado has nine players with double-digit goals, but Carolina is right there with eight of their own. Carolina has an infinitely better defence – ok I won’t lie about Carolina’s defence, but Carolina has definite goalie depth that Colorado lacks. We have seen goaltenders steal series before and both Carolina’s guys – Petr Mrazek or Alex Nedeljkovic – are more than capable. If Phillip Grubauer gets hurt, neither Devan Dubnyk nor Jonas Johansson is stealing any games.
So c’mon – why would you go with a team like the Avalanche? That’s the easy pick, and nothing about the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs should be easy! You only get one bandwagon team before you go completely numb. Make it count on a good one, jerk.
In these realigned divisions, the Minnesota Wild have thrived. They’ve finally found their game – a fast, physical playstyle that emphasizes winning board battles and getting to the dirty areas. Led in points and goals by rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov, they use their quickness to out-hustle opponents. The rest of their young core – Kevin Fiala, Jordan Greenway, and Joel Eriksson Ek – are all underrated players that absolutely deserve praising. Goaltender Cam Talbot has had a bounce-back year, and his defence, led by captain Jared Spurgeon, is capable of containing dangerous offences.
This first-round matchup against Vegas is going to be challenging, but Minnesota is finally a fun team to watch. They’ve scored the ninth most goals out of any team this season, averaging 3.40 goals for per game. They also have far more scoring chances in their favour, created by expert-level passing. But it’s not just offence the Wild excel at. Able to play multiple styles, the players adjust their game on a day-to-day basis, making each game interesting. After so many years of mediocrity, Minnesota is better than ever. In search of their first Stanley Cup win ever, this year could be the year fans have been waiting for.
If you’re looking for a reason to make the Edmonton Oilers your team for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs series, you’re not going to have to look very far to find one. That reason is to watch Oilers captain and NHL leading scorer, Connor McDavid, make his third career postseason appearance.
During the 2020-21 NHL season, McDavid performed at a more than dominant level. He was able to reach the 100 point mark in just 53 games, and he’s on pace to score more than 150 points in a full, 82 game NHL season. The playoffs, however, are a much different animal than the regular season. The intensity of an NHL playoff game is unmatched by anything in the NHL regular season, and arguably all of sports. McDavid is up to the challenge though. In the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he scored five goals and four assists for nine points in just four games played. This gave him a points-per-game pace of over two.
At just 24 years old, McDavid seems to have accomplished almost everything an NHL player could at that level. He’s won a Hart Trophy, Two (and what is bound to be a third) Art Ross Trophies, and two Ted Lindsay Awards. All that he is really missing is the biggest trophy of all, the Stanley Cup, and one has to think that he is going to be extra determined to win it after the season he just put on. Why not watch and come along for the ride?
Toronto Maple Leafs
Vegas Golden Knights
As a fan of the Ottawa Senators, the team I’ll be keeping a close eye on will be the Vegas Golden Knights. Not only are they one of the most intriguing teams in the league, but there is an obvious Ottawa connection there, too. Fan favourite of Sens fans and now new captain, Mark Stone can get himself a Stanley Cup. This alone is enough to tune into Vegas games as Stone provides electric on-ice play as one of the game’s top wingers, along with some of the best celebrations in the game. It makes it even better that Vegas is one of the best teams in the league and he has a legitimate chance to capture what he is searching for.
On top of that, former Senator Robin Lehner will be a big part of the team, even if he shares the net. While it has been a long time since he was a Sen, and his time in Ottawa wasn’t exactly great, it is still quite the journey he has been on. Being one of the players who has actually opened up on mental health issues also makes him a very easy guy to root for. The mix of personality, especially from former players, and the overall skill and excitement of this team is why Vegas will be a fun team to watch this postseason. Plus, how cool of a story would it be to see an expansion team win within just five seasons?
The proto-Vegas returns! They came into the league with a bang – eventually – making it to the Final in just their third year of existence. It was a level they couldn’t sustain, making the playoffs just five more times in 26 years. They are solidly in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, though, and deserve your attention. They have one of the most underrated forwards in the game getting recognition. No, not Aleksander Barkov, he gets nominated for loads of trophies. Jonathan Huberdeau, on the other hand, doesn’t get talked about nearly enough. And these guys got stories!
Their All-Star defender lost for the season? No problem, here’s MacKenzie Weegar. Ten-million dollar goalie stumbles? Welcome, Chris Driedger! Trading off some future for a minor reclamation project because he plays physically? What do you know, former fourth-overall pick Sam Bennett can score, too! After last season’s disappointment of making/not making the actual playoffs by dropping their play-in series to the New York Islanders, the Florida Panthers have a lot more to show this year. And, win or lose, they’ll be fun to watch.