The Western Conference playoffs this year will have a different tone than in recent years. Two teams are playing to prove they are more than just a regular season juggernaut, three young teams are trying to prove they belong in the postseason, and one team is looking to continue their successful post season runs of recent seasons. The grandest stage for all hockey players, The opening round is sure to see a lot of great games between teams that do not want to be the first ones to go home.
#1 St. Louis vs. #4 Minnesota Wild
The St. Louis Blues (51-24-7 1st Central) and the Minnesota Wild (46-28-8 4th Central) meet in the opening round of the NHL playoffs. The Blues won the central division after winning five of their final six games in the regular season.
These two teams met on the final day of the regular season and the Blues defeated the Wild 4-2. St. Louis has defeated many legitimate team to boost their confidence heading into the playoffs, including two victories over the Blackhawks, a victory against the Penguins, and a win against the Calgary Flames. The return of Valdimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen, St. Louis top two points leaders. Their ability to integrate with the team’s developed game plan in their absence will be a pragmatic part in the Blues winning this opening series.
Minnesota earned the final wild card spot after a hot run in the second half of the season. Since Jan. 15 the Wild’s record has been an NHL best 28-9-3. Aside from the Ottawa Senators and the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Wild are the hottest team in the NHL. The Wild’s success has been credited to goalie Devan Dubnyk for the majority. Minnesota’s defense will be vital in winning this series, they are sixth in goals against per game and fourth in shots against per game in the NHL.
The Blues and the Wild split the season series 2-2 so this series will be a back and forth test for both teams. The series begins April 16th at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Heavy’s Pick: Wild in 7
#2 Nashville Predators vs. #3 Chicago Blackhawks
Key Players: Filip Forseberg, Patrick Kane, Bryan Bickell
Nashville’s season has been a surprise to everyone. This young hungry team jumped out to an early hot start and remained consistent throughout the season. A couple of mishaps and a St. Louis winning streak caused the Predators to fall out of the top of the division into a series with the Blackhawks. Nashville has played well against Chicago this season.
Sensation Filip Forseberg transformed the Predators this season from a rebuild into a contender. The Predator’s center finished the season with 26 goals and 37 assists, helping Nashville clinch the second spot in the Central division of the Western Conference.
The Blackhawks are lower in the division standings than normal because of an injury to Patrick Kane. The team was still able to manage finishing above a wild card position due to trades for Kimmo Timonen, Antoine Vermette and Andrew Desjardins to help even out the loss of Kane. But luckily for the Blackhawks, and unfortunate for the Predators, Patrick Kane will be cleared to play game one according to reports. The return of Kane is definitely a huge boost for Chicago as they look to return to the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2013.
Nashville will keep up with the Blackhawks, but they are too young and Chicago is too much of a powerhouse.
The series begins April 15th 8:30 p.m.
Blackhawks in 6
#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. #4 Winnipeg
The Anaheim Ducks (51-24-7 109 points 1st Pacific ) and the Winnipeg Jets (46-28-8 100 points 5th Central Division) face off in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. These two teams met three times this season and the Ducks won all three match-ups but the games were close. Two went to overtime, one the Ducks dominated.
Winnipeg finished the season strong going 10-3-1 in their final 14 games giving them the opportunity to play for a chance at the Stanley Cup. Goalie Ondrej Pavalec ended the season on a high note giving up only one goal in three consecutive road games. Defeating the Canucks, Wild, and Blues in a row shows that the Jets are not a team that got lucky earning the Wild Card.
Anaheim finished the season tied with the Blues for the top spot in the Western Conference but earned the higher seed due to a tiebreaker. Their star power and toughness can be tough for any team in the West. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryann Kesler lead the offensive attack for the Ducks, While none of their stats are overwhelming Anaheim finds ways to win, even when they are outshot against their competition. The Ducks have one of the best winning percentages in the league when their opponent outshoots them. Though the odds are not in the favor of a team that’s outshot in the playoffs, the Ducks will be one of those teams that if the opponent keeps them in the game, they will capitalize.
This series begins Thursday April 16th 10:30 ET. The Ducks are playing to prove they are more than just a dominant regular season team, expect them to make a statement against the Jets.
Heavy’s Pick: Ducks in 5
#2 Vancouver Canucks vs. #3 Calgary Flames
This two three match-up from the Pacific division is very different from recent years. The absence of the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks gives young teams like the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks a chance to show off their skates.
Vancouver (48-29-5 101 points 2nd Pacific) earned home ice finishing behind the Ducks in the division. Calgary’s exciting young talent lead the Flames to a 45-30-7 finishing with 97 points. This will be the first time these two teams meet in the playoffs in 11 years.
Neither team’s statistics jump off the page, they are middle of the pack in just about every category. Vancouver is 19th in shot attempt percentage with 49.53 and the Calgary were one of the worst teams in the league in this area shooting 44.43 percent, 28th in the league. The two teams are identical in the league’s ranking with goals per game. The Calgary scored 2.89 goals per game and Vancouver with 2.88 goals per game, seventh and eighth in the league respectively.
The difference between these two teams lies in the penalty kill. Penalty kill and power-play units are crucial in the Stanley Cup playoffs and Vancouver is second in the league in Penalty kill while the Flames are 20th.
Rookie Johnny Gaudreau and sophomore Sean Monahan have picked up the slack after Mark Giordano tore his bicep in February, but expect Calgary to experience some growing pains before making a Stanley Cup run.
Calgary’s miraculous season will end in Vancouver. The series begins April 15th at 10:00 p.m. ET.