NHL playoff predictions: Who wins semifinal series to advance to Stanley Cup Final?

·4 min read

The semifinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will present a sight we have not seen this NHL season: teams playing squads outside their division.

Play has exclusively occurred within the four divisions through 56 regular-season games and the first two rounds of playoffs. Now, though, the champions of the North, East, Central and West have been reseeded for the semifinals based on regular-season points.

The No. 1 seed is the Vegas Golden Knights. The West champs will be taking on the North champs, the No. 4 Montreal Canadiens. The No. 2 vs. No. 3 showdown is actually a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference final as the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, the Central winners, take on the East champion New York Islanders.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders meet in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference finals.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders meet in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference finals.

NHL playoff schedule: Dates, times, television and results for semifinal series

Who will advance to the Stanley Cup Final? USA TODAY Sports' NHL staffers make their predictions for the semifinal series:

Jimmy Hascup

Vegas vs. Montreal: Golden Knights in 6. As much as the Canadiens have coalesced into a strong team in the playoffs, the Golden Knights are on a different level than Montreal’s previous opponents. Vegas is a more complete and more experienced playoff team than the Maple Leafs, and it is simply more dangerous in all facets compared to Winnipeg. It leads all current playoff teams with a 56.8 expected goals-for percentage, per Natural Stat Trick. Max Pacioretty’s return (four goals, eight points in seven games) has opened the offense, and he is the Golden Knights’ best scorer, with three game-winners in the playoffs. While Canadiens goalie Carey Price has been nearly unbeatable in the playoffs (.935 save percentage), Vezina Trophy finalist Marc-Andre Fleury has carried over his stellar stellar play into the postseason (.923 save percentage). I guess what I’m trying to say is there are limited weaknesses for Vegas in this matchup.

Tampa Bay vs. New York Islanders: Lightning in 6. You have to tip your hat to the job Barry Trotz has done coaching the Islanders. What this team lacks in game-breaking talent, it makes up for through a ferocious, full-team commitment to structure. It doesn’t always look good, but it gets results and they are a series away from the Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning are simply too good, though, with dangerous offensive players such as Nikita Kucherov (five goals, 18 points in 11 playoff games). But they also have the ability to clamp down and win with defense … or with goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (.934 save SV%). While the Islanders (nine of 43 goals; 20%) and Tampa Bay (15 of 38 goals; 39%) have leaned on the power play, the biggest issue here is that New York has shown little on the penalty kill, giving up 10 power-play goals in the 26 times it was shorthanded these playoffs. This series could be short if the Islanders are playing a man down too often.

Mike Brehm

Vegas vs. Montreal: Golden Knights in 7. The Canadiens advanced behind the solid play of Carey Price, who allowed Montreal to take chances on offense. But Vegas' Marc-Andre Fleury can match Price save for save, negating that advantage. The Golden Knights used their speed to win puck battles against the Avalanche and will do the same against Montreal, which could be without defenseman Jeff Petry early in the series.

Tampa Bay vs. New York Islanders: Lightning in 7. The Islanders' offense is a threat, especially with Mathew Barzal finding his goal-scoring touch again. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock are an impressive shutdown defensive pair and goalie Semyon Varlamov is playing well. But the Lightning have more firepower on their top lines and defenseman Victor Hedman and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy are awards finalists. The games will be close and entertaining, but the Lightning will make a second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Jace Evans

Vegas vs. Montreal: Golden Knights in 5. With the caveat that I have been wrong about the Canadiens every step of the way this postseason ... I just don't see the magic continuing. The Golden Knights were mighty impressive in winning four straight against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche, who are a class of competition the Habs frankly haven't faced this year. It's a great accomplishment for this plucky Canadiens team to be in the final four, but I think Vegas is too deep offensively and too sound defensively to be denied.

Tampa Bay vs. New York Islanders: Lightning in 6. These two teams met in last year's final four and I'm expecting the exact same result. Even without stalwart captain Anders Lee, the defense-first Islanders have been methodical in taking down talented teams in the Penguins and Bruins. Unfortunately for the Isles, this Lightning team might be even better than their 2020 championship squad. Tampa has five players averaging at least a point per game these playoffs, with Nikita Kucherov and captain Steven Stamkos – who missed nearly all of the 2020 playoffs – leading the way. And in the net, Andrei Vasilevskiy is having his best playoffs yet with a .934 save percentage and two shutouts, which came in Tampa's series-clinching victories against the Panthers and Hurricanes.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL playoff picks: Who will advance to Stanley Cup Finals?

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