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Stanley Cup predictions: Sporting News’ 2021 NHL playoff picks

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Stanley Cup predictions: Sporting News' 2021 NHL playoff picks

After a 56-game sprint, the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs are officially here. 

Sixteen teams will now hit the ice to fulfill their dreams and drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup in July. Figuring out who the ultimate victor will be is always a crapshoot because, well, that’s what makes the playoffs so spectacular: anyone can win.

With that in mind, Sporting News takes a stab at predicting who will be the last team standing when all is said and done.

MORE: NHL playoff bracket, schedule, scores

Stanley Cup playoffs 2021 predictions

East Division

FIRST ROUND WINNER
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (4) New York Islanders NYI in 6
(2) Washington Capitals vs. (3) Boston Bruins BOS in 5

Why the Islanders? Barry Trotz is a mastermind and knows how to win — and he definitely knows how to beat the Penguins. He led the Isles to a sweep of Sidney Crosby and Co. in 2019.

Why the Bruins? The Bruins have solid goaltending, strong defense and scoring punch — led by the “Perfection Line” and a determined Taylor Hall.

NHL PLAYOFFS 2021: East Division series predictions, odds, breakdowns

SECOND ROUND WINNER
(3) Boston Bruins vs. (4) New York Islanders BOS in 6

Why the Bruins? Pre-Taylor Hall trade, it was all Isles. Post-Taylor Hall trade, it was all Bruins. Hall, by the way, netted four goals in three games as a Bruin vs. the Islanders, including the overtime winner on May 10.

North Division

FIRST ROUND WINNER
(1) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (4) Montreal Canadiens TOR in 7
(2) Edmonton Oilers vs. (3) Winnipeg Jets EDM in 5

Why the Maple Leafs? Auston Matthews (Rocket Richard Trophy winner), Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Mitch Marner. The Leafs are stacked, and that doesn’t include the defense.

Why the Oilers? Edmonton won the last six meetings between these two clubs by a combined 21-7.

SECOND ROUND WINNER
(1) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (2) Edmonton Oilers TOR in 7

Why the Maple Leafs? It’ll be almost two months since these clubs last met if they face off in the second round, and since the Oilers won in overtime on March 29, Toronto has gone 13-4-4.

How will NHL playoffs work in 2021? Teams, format, bracket for Stanley Cup chase

Central Division

FIRST ROUND WINNER
(1) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (4) Nashville Predators CAR in 5
(2) Florida Panthers vs. (3) Tampa Bay Lightning TBL in 6

Why the Hurricanes? Don’t let the two losses to the Predators to close out the season fool you. The Hurricanes rested some key guys and Rod Brind’Amour has his club amped for a deep run.

Why the Lightning? Nikita Kucherov is back.

SECOND ROUND WINNER
(1) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (3) Tampa Bay Lightning CAR in 6

Why the Hurricanes? The Hurricanes are healthy and will grind down the Lightning.

West Division

FIRST ROUND WINNER
(1) Colorado Avalanche vs. (4) St. Louis Blues COL in 5
(2) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (3) Minnesota Wild VGK in 6

Why the Avalanche? The Presidents’ Trophy-winning club is just too deep for the Blues to handle.

Why the Golden Knights? The Wild will give them a run, backed by Kirill Kaprizov, but the Golden Knights guys know how to turn it up in the postseason.

SECOND ROUND WINNER
(1) Colorado Avalanche vs. (2) Vegas Golden Knights VGK in 7

Why the Golden Knights? It’ll be a battle to the very end but the Golden Knights’ goaltending will be the deciding factor.

Stanley Cup semifinals

FIRST ROUND WINNER
(1) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (4) Boston Bruins VGK in 6
(2) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (3) Toronto Maple Leafs TOR in 6

Why the Golden Knights? Mark Stone is one of the best two-way centers and will shut down the “Perfection Line.” Oh, and the fact that Vegas is the home of the 2021 William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the league.

Why the Maple Leafs? The Leafs are a determined bunch, aiming to right the previous couple of years’ wrongs. Joe Thornton and his epic playoff beard will push this team past the Hurricanes.

Stanley Cup Final

SECOND ROUND WINNER
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Toronto Maple Leafs VGK in 6
Conn Smythe Winner Marc-Andre Fleury

Why the Golden Knights? This will be a big-time matchup as the teams have high-octane offenses. As mentioned, the Golden Knights’ goaltending will be a key factor as they aim to shut down the Leafs’ potent power play.

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Why did Rick Carlisle return to Pacers? Roster, familiarity — and the money helps, too

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Why did Rick Carlisle return to Pacers? Roster, familiarity — and the money helps, too

Rick Carlisle is the head coach of the Pacers … again.

The championship-winning coach who recently parted ways with the Dallas Mavericks has reportedly signed a four-year, $29 million pact to return to Indiana’s bench, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.

Carlisle signing this quickly with a team was a mild surprise, signing with the Pacers even moreso. While the Pacers parted ways with head coach Nate Bjorkgren soon after the final whistle blew on Indiana’s season, no real reports suggested Carlisle’s candidacy before news of his hiring broke on Thursday.

Here’s what we know about the hiring:

Why did the Pacers hire Rick Carlisle?

While the money certainly helps — the deal keeps Carlisle in the top 10 highest paid coaches in the Association — familiarity helped play into the decision, as well. Carlisle has two prior tenures in Indiana; First, between 1997 and 2000, when he was an assistant coach under Larry Bird. The second stint was as the team’s head coach between 2003 and 2007.

During his tenure, Carlisle helped guide Indiana to a central-division crown in 2003, and in four total seasons, the Pacers made the playoffs three times and the Eastern Conference finals once (2003).

Carlisle figured to be the hottest coaching commodity on the market for any number of teams looking for a new head coach, but the Pacers acted “quietly and quickly” to get Carlisle in their building, per Adrian Wojnarowski, putting off several other interviews to bring him and ink him to a deal.

The landing spot was attractive to Carlisle, as well: Speaking with ESPN’s MacMahon, Carlisle liked the roster built by GM Kevin Pritchard and what they could be moving forward.

“It’s a team of skilled, unselfish guys that play hard,” Carlisle said to MacMahon. “It’s always possible that moves could be made before the season, but I think [GM Kevin Pritchard] and I are both very excited about getting the roster healthy and seeing what this team can be.”

Carlisle and the Mavericks agreed to part ways on June 17 after another early-playoff exit, losing in seven games to the Clippers. Carlisle spent 13 years patrolling the bench for Dallas, winning an NBA championship in 2011. In all, Dallas made it to the playoffs nine times under Carlisle, losing in the first round in seven of those trips.

Multiple reports indicated organizational turmoil within Dallas’ front office, though owner Mark Cuban vehemently denied the rumors. The Athletic detailed the dysfunction in June. 

 

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Lionel Messi gets surprise birthday wake-up call from Argentina teammates at Copa America

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Lionel Messi gets surprise birthday wake-up call from Argentina teammates at Copa America

Let’s be real: No one likes to be woken up on their birthday. Except for world soccer star Lionel Messi, who even posted the video to his 221 million Instagram followers.

His teammates did him the honors on his 34th, walking into his bedroom with a surprisingly on-tune birthday song and adidas bags full of gifts that garnered a few laughs. There was something that looked like a cologne bottle, a pack of cornmeal, some wine and a bottle of holy water, which must be an inside joke.  

“Starting off my birthday with the boys, and receiving a few gifts,” he wrote. “Thanks a lot for making this day special, although I can’t be with my family, who I miss so much in these moments.” 

When you’re the greatest soccer player on the planet, you probably don’t mind that the world sees what you look like when you get out of bed, or the fact that you sleep with giant player cutouts above your bed. Granted, it’s not his personal bedroom — he’s in camp with Argentina for the Copa America in Brazil, where they apparently require the players to sleep in Argentina gear. 

Messi’s hoping his stay in Brazil will be remembered for things other than his birthday wake-up call. He’s trying to win his first Copa America with Argentina (it would be the country’s first since 1993) and in the process, he’ll be setting a record for most all-time appearances in an Argentina shirt. 

It’s a big year for the 34-year-old. His contract with FC Barcelona also expires on June 30 and the world will be watching to see what decision he makes on his club future. Many expect him to stay with the only team he’s ever known as a pro, but it’s unclear how the financial troubles plaguing the organization could affect his thought process. If Barcelona can’t pay the salary he’s seeking, or the team can’t pay for a high-level supporting cast around him, he could decide it’s best for him and the club to move on. 

For now he has some cornmeal to cook up. 

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MLB world unites to slam hideous All-Star Game jerseys: ‘Worst baseball uniforms I’ve ever seen’

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MLB to move 2021 All-Star Game to Coors Field, reports say

A swing and a miss.

MLB All-Star Game uniforms oftentimes have some kind of tie-in to the town in which its played. Or, at least, it used to be that way.

This year, MLB and Nike paired up for new All-Star Game unis and they look like they were ripped from a late 1800s game of polo, with a middle-school student slapping some generic clipart font on the front with team abbreviation.

MORE: 7 players we want to see in the Home Run Derby

According to Chris Creamer of SportsLogos.Net, the uniforms will be worn during the All-Star Game, while players uniforms of their natural team will be worn during the Home Run Derby.

The hats, on the other hand, are fine, utilizing the purple (Purple Mountain’s Majesty, and all) on the star highlighting the team logo on the front.

This year’s All-Star Game shifts from Atlanta, Ga. to Colorado after MLB pulled out amid the introduction of Georgia’s controversial new voter laws, which many see as a clear attempt at voter supression.

MLB fans and analysts alike took to the Tweet machine on Thursday to crack jokes and voice their displeasure with the uniforms:

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