2021 NHL Playoffs Central: Bracket, schedule, scores, highlights, analysis

After a bubble-encased 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, we’re back to a more traditional setup for the 2021 postseason. However, there are some tweaks. Thanks to a one-year realignment, the first two rounds will be intra-divisional. Then, the four Cup semifinalists will be re-bracketed based on regular season record, with No. 1 facing No. 4, and No. 2 taking on No. 3.

From the first round all the way through the Stanley Cup Final, ESPN has you covered; consider this your homepage for the entire 16-team tournament from start to finish.

Read on for the full playoff picture, including previews, analysis, highlights, scores and more for each team and series.

Note: Intel on the West Division series will appear when those matchups are finalized after the games of May 13.

More: Check out the full NHL postseason schedule here.

The first round

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Central: CAR-NSH | FLA-TB

East Division

Series preview: While the Penguins’ speed could present challenges for New York — as it did in the regular season — the Islanders’ defensive structure thrives at this time of year. It’s now a yearly tradition: discounting the Islanders until they go on a playoff run that forces you to pay attention. Who takes this one? Read the full preview.

Series preview: When Washington hired Peter Laviolette ahead of the season, they wanted to light a fire under the group and instill urgency. This is one of the most star-studded series of the opening round, and it’s going to be a tight one. The last time these two met in the postseason, there were seven one-goal games; they also split the season series 4-4. Read the full preview.

Central Division

Series preview: The Predators shouldn’t be discounted, but we need to look at this matchup for what it is: a fringe playoff team versus a deep and talented squad that has looked strong all season, and captured the division crown from the defending Stanley Cup champions. Can the Preds pull a giant upset? Read the full preview.

Series preview: The Panthers were one of the best stories of the 2021 season, and have all the right pieces in place to have sustained success. But Tampa Bay has already been through its growing pains; their time is now. As long as health holds up, the Lightning should win this. Read the full preview.

North Division

Series preview: The first playoff meeting between these franchises since 1979 will undoubtedly be intense and physical, as the Canadiens try to brutalize and goad the Leafs with physical play. The infusion of reinforcements to the Canadiens’ lineup, especially Brendan Gallagher, will be a boost to Montreal. But the Leafs are rolling, and clearly the better of the two teams here. Read the full preview.

Series preview: The Jets were really spiraling down the stretch while the Oilers and a next-level Connor McDavid were steam-rolling through teams. Still, the return of Nikolaj Ehlers could be key, and Connor Hellebuyck is capable of a win on his own. That’s the optimistic view. The realistic view? Read the full preview.

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