Some of the best possible, normally unlikely, 2021 Stanley Cup Final matchups

With the 2020-21 National Hockey League season set to get underway on Jan. 13th in the midst of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, the league and the National Hockey League Players’ Association agreed to some temporary changes for the upcoming season.

Not only will the 2020-21 schedule only be 56 games long instead of the usual 82 games, but it will feature only divisional matchups and no conferences.

This means that the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs format has also changed for the season, with intra-divisional matchups in the first two rounds, followed by a Stanley Cup Semifinal and a Stanley Cup Final as usual.

All four rounds remain a best-of-seven series and only 16 teams will qualify for the playoffs like normal, but there are no wild cards this season. The top four teams in each division will earn playoff berths with the best team in the division playing the fourth best team in the First Round.

The winner of the First Round matchup between the 1st and 4th seeds then takes on the winner of the 2-3 matchup in the Second Round before everything is reseeded by points in the regular season for the final four teams (the four division winners in the playoffs) for Stanley Cup Semifinal action.

All of this is being done to reduce travel and, as a result, limit possible direct COVID-19 community spread as a result of the league and its players.

While the Boston Bruins will not face the Montreal Canadiens at all in the regular season for the first time in Bruins franchise history (outside of the 2004-05 canceled season due to a lockout), there’s a chance the B’s could reignite their rivalry with the Habs in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final (which would be the first time Boston and Montreal square off in the Final since 1978—Montreal won in six games back then).

That’s actually one of the best possible 2021 Stanley Cup Final matchups that otherwise wouldn’t happen in the contemporary game from a hockey purist standpoint.

There is nothing greater in all sports than the Bruins and Canadiens rivalry according to the most diehard of hockey fans and with no regular season meetings between the two, tempers could flare quicker than ever at the sign of the first big hit in a potential Stanley Cup Final matchup this year.

Well, that, and it’d just be cool to see since it hasn’t happened in over 40 years.

For the Internet memes or whatever kids are into these days

Since the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers are usually in the Western Conference together, 2021 presents the opportunity to end an argument on the Internet once and for all—that Nathan MacKinnon is better than Connor McDavid.

Now, there’s no sense in discrediting MacKinnon’s 35-58—93 totals in 69 games with the Avs or McDavid’s 34-63—97 totals in 64 games with the Oilers last season, but for some reason points alone don’t always mean everything when comparing individual player careers.

MacKinnon has 495 points in 525 career games since making his NHL debut in the 2013-14 season after Colorado drafted him 1st overall in 2013. McDavid has 469 points in 351 career games since making his league debut with Edmonton in the 2015-16 season after the Oilers took him 1st overall in 2015.

Neither player has a Stanley Cup ring yet, but sometimes people insist the better player is the one with more rings, so a 2021 Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Avalanche and Oilers could be the one ring to rule them all.

Meanwhile, we’ll just forget about MacKinnon’s teammates Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, as well as McDavid’s best pal in Edmonton, Leon Draisaitl, for a moment here.

If seeing top draft picks go head-to-head in the Stanley Cup Final is your thing, then why not consider the possibility of a Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Buffalo Sabres Stanley Cup Final in 2021?

Technically, it is possible that we could all witness Auston Matthews (the 2016 1st overall pick) go up against Taylor Hall (the 2010 1st overall pick), but— wait, you thought I was going to say Jack Eichel (the 2015 2nd overall pick) didn’t you?

The Sabres would have to make it out of a tough East Division in the regular season, then go for a Cinderella run as a team that lacks recent playoff experience as Buffalo has not been back to the postseason since losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal in seven games.

Realistically, it couldn’t possibly get better than seeing Matthews square off with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as the ultimate test of American-born superstars vs. Canadian-born superstars.

Matthews against Sidney Crosby, representing opposite cities from their native country (Matthews from the U.S. with Toronto, Crosby from Canada with Pittsburgh)— what could be better than that?

Yes, McDavid exists and could be better than Crosby as the current “best Canadian born player”, but let’s remember the fact that some fans are older and remember Crosby’s heroics in the 2010 Winter Games for Team Canada, so until McDavid has that kind of a moment No. 87 ranks better than No. 97.

Plus, Mike Modano has been retired for a little while, so it’s not like we’re apt to see a true matchup of the all-time greats from the States and Canada.

Recent rivals

If budding divisional rivalries are more of your thing, then there’s a chance for a quality matchup that normally wouldn’t happen in the Final and it involves two teams trending in opposite directions.

The Carolina Hurricanes are young, full of speed and skill and knocked off the Washington Capitals in Game 7 in double overtime, 4-3, in their 2019 First Round matchup.

The Capitals, well, they’re getting older, play a tougher game that wears down their opponent and have a new head coach— their second since Barry Trotz left after winning the Cup in 2018.

Rod Brind’Amour vs. Peter Laviolette behind the bench. Two hockey dudes that won a ring with the Hurricanes in 2006— Brind’Amour then as team captain, Laviolette then as head coach—going head-to-head as all friends suddenly turned mortal enemies do.

Plus, there’s a Russian angle to this hypothetical series with Andrei Svechnikov going up against Alex Ovechkin not just in a rematch of their 2019 playoff meeting, but one that could land Ovechkin his second Cup ring or Svechnikov his first.

Since we can’t have nice things like the 2021 Stadium Series in Raleigh this year, maybe the least we can get is a Canes vs. Caps battle for the Cup.

— Nick Lanciani (@lanci53)

What Do You Think? Leave a Comment!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: