Playoff Preview: Round 1

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2021 at 6:27 pm

The 2021 Gump Cup Playoffs are upon us! Here’s a look at the four series that are about to get underway.

Plante Conference

#1 EL DORADO LYNX (53-19-10) vs. #4 WINNIPEG FALCONS (37-35-10)

Regular season series
EDH won 4-1-1

Top scorers
EDH: Ovechkin (81, 74-23-97), O’Reilly (82, 18-77-95), Connor (82, 28-38-66), Petry (82, 16-41-57)
WPG: Pettersson (81, 40-57-97), Hoffman (82, 37-50-87), Pacioretty (82, 35-47-82), Suter (82, 6-54-60)

EDH: Rask (48, 2.12, .933), Price (34, 3.48, .906)
WPG: Kuemper (34, 3.03, .916), Merzlikins (31, 3.26, .901), Allen (17, 3.36, .912)

Winnipeg held off Salem to hang onto the final playoff spot in the Plante, earning the privilege of facing one of the league’s most formidable teams. The Lynx finished second overall on the strength of its twin MVPs, Tuukka Rask, who led most major goaltending categories, and Alex Ovechkin, who shattered his personal best with 74 goals in 81 games. The smart money is on Rask starting all of El Dorado’s games, but Winnipeg is likely to go with a two- or even three-man platoon, so they can ride whichever goalie is hottest. Also to its credit, the Falcons got excellent offense from its top three forwards, Mike Hoffman, Elias Pettersson, and ex-Lynx vet Max Pacioretty. But El Dorado’s depth at the wing and on defense are undeniably superior. The Falcons have a monumental task ahead of them.

#2 BALTIMORE CRAB (49-29-4) vs. #3 PITTSBURGH HORNETS (40-33-9)

Regular season series
PIT won 4-2-0

Top scorers:
BAL: Scheifele (82, 28-57-85), Killorn (80, 39-35-74), Schwartz (82, 29-42-71), Burns (82, 18-51-69)
PIT: Smith (82, 41-44-85), Meier (82, 39-37-76), Malkin (60, 27-49-76), Duclair (72, 43-26-69)

BAL: Grubauer (42, 2.99, .909), Koskinen (40, 3.62, .901)
PIT: Murray (41, 3.42, .899), Mrazek (41, 3.68, .894)

It’s been half a decade since Pittsburgh made the playoffs, but standout performances by some unlikely players (newly minted 40-goal men Reilly Smith and Anthony Duclair for two) propelled them into the third seed. But they could have their work cut out from them against second place Baltimore, who also missed the playoffs last season but prior to that had made four straight appearances, including their championship year in 2016. Led by Mark Scheifele up front and Brent Burns and rookie Cale Makar on the blueline, the Crab had the league’s second most effective powerplay (24%). Although Pittsburgh’s goaltending was fairly poor during the regular season, the Hornets were notably able to outscore their problems, potting 32 goals against the Crab and winning four of six meetings.

Sawchuk Conference

#1 VANCOUVER NIGHT TRAIN (54-17-11) vs. #4 BOSTON BANSHEES (46-28-8)

Regular season series
VAN won 3-1-2

Top scorers
VAN: Lindholm (82, 42-54-96), Stone (75, 31-61-92), Barzal (82, 22-63-85), Palmieri (77, 38-35-73)
BOS: Zibanejad (67, 58-40-98), Couturier (82, 20-52-72), Boeser (68, 19-49-68), Zucker (71, 26-40-66)

VAN: Jarry (39, 2.76, .915), Rittich (29, 3.28, .895), Driedger (14, 2.33, .932)
BOS: Bishop (51, 2.89, .913), Khudobin (32, 2.90, .910)

A West Virginia road tie in one of the last games of the season vaulted them over Boston, leaving Vancouver — holder of the league’s best record this season — to face the defending champion Banshees. The Night Train were a huge surprise this season after relatively few offseason changes: they allowed fewer goals than Boston this season (240 to 243) but scored nearly a hundred more (381 to 282), and held the league’s best road record, too. The X factor here will be in goal. Boston’s tandem was solid but unspectacular, but the Night Train relied on Tristan Jarry and Chris Driedger for some big wins, yet will be forced to play David Rittich at least two games out of a seven-game series. Rittich’s shakiness against Mika Zibanejad (58 goals in 67 regular season games), Ryan Ellis (62 points in 58 games from the back end), et al., could spell first-round upset.

#2 DELTA STURGEON (48-23-11) vs. #3 WEST VIRGINIA RIVER RATS (47-29-6)

Regular season series
DEL won 4-2-0

Top scorers
DEL: MacKinnon (81, 48-53-101), Kucherov (80, 35-61-96), Ekblad (80, 10-56-66), Nugent-Hopkins (75, 23-38-61)
WVR: Draisaitl (82, 44-82-126), Laine (79, 29-64-93), Aho (82, 48-35-83), Nelson (82, 27-47-74)

DEL: Raanta (38, 2.32, .925), Gibson (29, 3.53, .883), Hill (15, 3.58, .895)
WVR: Francouz (33, 3.56, .901), Markstrom (27, 2.77, .918), Saros (22, 2.95, .907)

Blessed with high-end talent, great depth, a strong D, and solid goaltending… Wait, which team are we talking about? Two high-octane teams. Draisaitl vs. MacKinnon. Kucherov vs. Laine. This promises to be a hugely entertaining series, and it could go either way. While West Virginia began the season on a tear, faded, then finished strong, Delta was a relatively consistent force, and promises to be a big test for the Rats’ Jakob Markstrom/Pavel Francouz tandem. The Sturgeon managed 44.2 shots per game during the season, outshooting opponents by, on average, a whopping 12.7. At the other end, a long series would force the Sturgeon to play all three of its goalies, and John Gibson was absolutely terrible this season. It’s not a huge weakness, but it’s one on which West Virginia’s offense may be able to capitalize.


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