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We’re on the outside and we’re looking in: A Blackhawks fans’ guide to the 2021 playoffs

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Forget the teams outside the Central Division? Don’t know which bandwagon to hop on for the next few months? We can help with that.

New York Rangers v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Once again, the Blackhawks will be spectators for the Stanley Cup Playoffs this summer, as another season ends without a shot at hockey’s holy grail. But all of us, like most if not all of you, will still be tuning in over the next few months to see what unfolds in the 2021 postseason.

Considering the divisional focus of the schedule this season, it may take some time to re-acquaint with the rest of the teams in the league. So the SCH assembled to offer some thoughts about the 16 teams who’ve qualified for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Central Division

Carolina Hurricanes

Dave: Teuvo’s still here, so that’s a good start. And other than this moment of asshattery from Sebastian Aho, it’s hard to find many reasons to dislike this team. They also play a fun style of hockey.

LBR: Young, fun, and their Twitter account is amusing. While the Canes are definitely the real deal this year, there’s still an air of likeable underdog about them so it’d feel good to see that type of team succeed. I’ll root against a lot of teams in the playoffs, but the Canes will be the only team I’ll cheer for.

Mil: The Whalers Hurricanes are fun. They have likable players, a likable coach and are overall very entertaining to watch. And to be completely honest, my love for our special boy, Teuvo, is enough of a reason for me to cheer for the Canes.

Shepard: A chance to watch future Blackhawk Dougie Hamilton? Sign me up.

Florida Panthers

Shepard: Joel Quenneville. End of summary.

LBR: If any team exceeded expectations this season, it was the Panthers. The roster is filled with many reclamation projects and third-chance players. Yeah, it’s led by one of the top centers in the league in Aleksander Barkov, but the roster has a first-year Golden Knights vibe with overlooked guys. Their matchup with the Lightning has the possibility of being the most entertaining of the first round, and I’d love for them to take out the champs just to keep things interesting. Also, Q is guaranteed to do something hilarious on the bench if the Panthers go deep, and I’m so here for that.

Dave: Losing Aaron Ekblad for the season seems like too big of an injury to replace but Florida should be an entertaining team to watch for as long as they can put up a fight. And, yeah: Quenneville.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Shepard: I like the Lightning. They have Victor Hedman. I like him. With that said, the super mech created with the arrival of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov back into the lineup for the start of the playoffs, while technically legal, is unfair for all other teams to have to deal with. There are not a ton of great ways to combat the defending Stanley Cup champions which is why they’re ... the defending Stanley Cup champions.

LBR: The Lightning are an absolute juggernaut oozing with talent from goal on out, and they’re electrifying to watch (pun intended obvs). I’d rather see a new winner, but there’s no denying they likely be the toughest out of everyone in the Central.

Nashville Predators

Dave: Boring and probably eliminated in the first round so not worth much attention. They’ll probably find a reason to hang another banner when it’s done.

LBR:

Shepard: The Predators are a decent-to-good possession team with one of the best defenses (at least among top four defensemen) in the league. Juuse Saros can propel this team somewhat far, or he could be the Achilles heel. But at the end of the day, this team is very meh.

East Division

Pittsburgh Penguins

Mil: Maybe an unpopular opinion, but I enjoy watching the Pens and could see them creating some entertaining matchups. Quite frankly, (my personal connections to the city aside) there’s not a whole lot else to choose from in this division.

Shepard: Besides my hatred for Evgeni Malkin (guy ran Corey Crawford. Nobody runs Crawford) the Penguins are a fun team, even if they’re not the most impressive club anymore. Their offense is explosive, their defense is decent, you worry about their goaltending but they’re a more exciting team than their first-round opponents and do you really want Boston coming out of this division?

Dave: I’ll echo Shepard’s “Anybody but Boston” thoughts and Pittsburgh seems like the team most capable of handling that.

Washington Capitals

Shepard: If we all can’t agree that Tom Wilson is the biggest asshole in the whole sport of hockey then what are we even doing here? Also, his teammates continue to defend him so that’s all the justification I need to say this for the first round: go Bruins.

LBR: Only watching in the hopes that Tom Wilson gets trashed like the garbage person he is.

Dave: Wilson’s presence ruins this team and that sucks, because Alex Ovechkin might be the best goal scorer in the history of the sport and he’s still lighting the lamp consistently well into his mid-30s. If former Blackhawks are your thing, Trevor van Riemsdyk is here and so is goaltender Craig Anderson, although it’s been a long, long time since he was in Chicago.

Boston Bruins

Dave: Yes, what all those long-suffering Boston fans need is another pro sports title. As long as Brad Marchand is on this team, they’ll be worthy of all the hockey hate.

Shepard: Brad Marchand at least learned how to play hockey and became one of the best wingers (if not the best) in the NHL. Tuukka Rask is a great goaltender, Charlie McAvoy is a great defenseman and who can honestly root against Patrice Bergeron? Pull for the Bruins in the first round and then want them out.

LBR: The Bruins are, unfortunately, one of the best teams this season and I’ll begrudgingly accept them winning if they absolutely embarrassing the garbage on the Caps. After that, good luck to Bergeron, Pasta, and McAvoy only.

Mil: 2019 is unforgivable.

New York Islanders

LBR: Overall they’re a tad boring (though highly effective) in terms of playing style, but they win as a team. Plus, you can tune in to be wowed by Mathew Barzal every other shift and for the defensive clinic that Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock will put on as a pair. They’re also the least offensive team in this division, so they’ve got that going for them.

Dave: I always liked Nick Leddy, who’s still on the Islanders and made his debut with the Hawks when he was just 18 years old. Upon looking up Leddy’s stats this season, I learned that he turned THIRTY in March, so excuse me while I go cry in the corner for a few minutes.

North Division

Toronto Maple Leafs

Dave: My main reason for tuning in to this team at any point in the next 1-2 months will be in search of whatever hilarious way they’re going to blow it. I still don’t see how this team has enough on the blue line or in net to withstand whatever it encounters in the final four no matter what Jack Campbell did in the regular season.

LBR: As hard as it is to wish bad things for Matthews, the hilarity of the Leafs being knocked out quick, combined with the ensuing meltdowns from Canadian media is too appealing to not hope it becomes a reality.

Shepard: Pros of the Maple Leafs: they’re a dynamic young team who, by winning the Cup, will make hockey more fun. Cons of the Maple Leafs: them winning means Joe Thornton wins and I really don’t like the guy. So, y’know, balanced, as all things should be.

Edmonton Oilers

Shepard: Now that the Blackhawks aren’t their opponent, who doesn’t want to see Connor McDavid succeed? Honestly. Hopefully Mike Smith doesn’t lay an egg this time, as goaltending may be all that lays between McDavid and the Leafs for the Northern throne.

LBR: Uh, me - I don’t care about McDavid. Fun to watch obviously, but I’m just not invested in his success. The Oilers are the definition of a mediocre team being carried by star players and that’s just not really entertaining to me as a whole.

Dave: McDavid will be the only reason this team goes as far as it does (which probably caps out in the second round) and then be blamed for not carrying them further. Forget Jack Eichel: hockey needs to save McDavid and get his ass out of Edmonton.

Mil: Their uniforms are bowling-shoe ugly.

Winnipeg Jets

Dave: Since they traded Laine to Columbus, I’ve forgotten this team exists. I have no positive or negative feelings towards the Jets. It’s complete indifference, which is weird, because they’ve been a division rival of the Hawks in non-pandemic seasons.

LBR:

Shepard: Connor Hellebuyck is the best goaltender in hockey (Connors are weirdly good at this sport) and has now dragged his team to the playoffs twice in a row. I’d feel good about him going far, but he’s the only Jet I have emotions about.

Montreal Canadiens

LBR: They’re kind of “meh” but if I can’t watch Alex DeBrincat in the playoffs, I guess Cole Caufield is the next best thing so I can root for a novelty act. Also, I’ll never call Carey Price overrated again (even though he is) if he knocks the Leafs out in the first round. I want all the chaos!

Mil: I’m mostly indifferent when it comes to the Canadian teams. However, Leafs-Habs is happening and it’s too bad they can’t host fans at full capacity. To quote Jim Ross, “This one’s going to be an absolute slobber-knocker!”

Shepard: Carey Price has a lower career save percentage than Crawford. Give back Phil Danault.

Western Division

Vegas Golden Knights

Dave: Here’s where we let Shepard state his case for everyone else to judge:

Shepard: Mark Stone, Shea Theodore, Max Pacioretty and Marc-Andre Fleury are a Rushmore of fun players. Alex Pietrangelo is likable again since he’s not the captain of St. Louis. Plus, you know, they’re facing two (normal year) Central division teams on their way. You gotta root against all three of the other teams in this division.

Dave: Didn’t work. Go Avs.

LBR: They’re like #3 for me in terms of who I don’t mind winning, but the best thing about that possibility is Flower getting his name on the cup for the fourth time to stick it to the doubters.

Colorado Avalanche

Mil: If the Avs are any indicator of the way the league is trending, we’re in for some exciting hockey. This is a fun group to watch and while they may be a “division rival,” I’m not going to complain if our large adult son, Brandon Saad has his name etched into Lord Stanley once more. I also have a lot of nostalgia for the Sakic era teams...De-troit sucks!

Dave: I have a soft spot for all Colorado teams because the state is wonderful. Also, I had some closet fandom of the Sakic-Forsberg-Roy years because of what they often did to the Red Wings. Nazem Kadri’s presence makes this year’s Avs significantly more unlikeable but, as Mil mentioned, I’m not going to cheer against Saad. This is probably the team I want to see lift the Cup the most out of the field.

LBR: After the Canes, the Avs are the team that is the easiest to hope wins the cup for me. MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Rantanen are just insanely talented and they have three defensemen that could arguably be in the Norris discussion with Makar, Girard, and Toews. Plus, Bednar is one of the best coaches at line-deployment and matching, which makes the Avs all the more impressive (and, as a fan, very jealous).

Shepard: Colorado is loaded with young talent, their lineup is deep as hell and they play some of the best hockey in the league. There are stories like Conor Timmins of battling through adversity (guy has had a long history of concussions, especially for as young as he is) and there are underappreciated veterans like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Nazem Kadri. Still, give me the other top team from this division — this feels like a victim of the President’s Trophy curse.

Minnesota Wild

LBR: Kirill Kaprizov is a show-stopping star in the making, so the Wild are worth a watch for him alone. Otherwise, they really trailed off at the end of the season in terms of quality performance at the team level. And you almost feel bad for them because they have some of the worst luck by often facing some of the absolute best in the playoffs (see: Hawks, Kings cup runs).

Dave: Almost, but not quite. As a fan of the Sox and Bears as well, I’m conditioned to dislike Minnesota sports teams. I will concede that Kaprizov is fun to watch, which feels like the first time I’ve said that about any Wild player, ever. Should probably tune in during the first round if that’s a player you want to see because it feels like Minnesota won’t be around much longer than that.

Shepard: I don’t feel bad that a mediocre team for the past decade had mediocre luck. They got lucky twice this season, as Kirill Kaprizov turned out to hit his ceiling and Dean Evason turned out to be (probably) the best coach in franchise history. Take your regular season wins and leave.

St. Louis Blues

Dave: Absolutely not.

LBR: They’re...

Mil: 2019 is unforgivable.