The NHL Playoffs are upon us. Every year one of the sixteen teams in the playoffs capture the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup. This year we have some amazing matchups in the first round that should make for a load of interesting series. While the Eastern Conference appears to be shifting to the more dominant conference, the West is showing the most intriguing matchups for me this year. Without further elaboration, here are my first round Western Conference playoff predictions.
Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche
The Calgary Flames finished the regular season with the top point total for all Western Conference teams with 107 points. They are led by star forward Johnny Gaudreau who scored 36 goals this year and had 63 assists. The Flames have a multitude of forwards who can also score the puck at a high rate including Sean Monahan (34 Goals), Elias Lindholm (27), and Matthew Tkachuk (34). On the other hand, Colorado had to get hot at the end of the season to make the playoffs as the second wild card, but do not underestimate this tough Avalanche team. Mikko Rantanen looks to be ready for the playoffs in time and this will allow the Avalanche to reform their top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan Mackinnon, and Rantanen which combined for 106 goals this season. This matchup should definitely be closer than advertised and except for a couple of high scoring thrillers.
The Pick: Flames in 6
San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights
San Jose and Vegas are great opponents for one another because they compliment each other’s strengths and this should no doubt lead to a great series. San Jose is the number two team in the NHL in goals scored with 289 this season. They have four players with 30 or more goals this year including Joe Pavelski (38), Tomas Hertl (35), Timo Meier (30), and Evander Kane (30). But the downside to all this scoring is that they are the worst out of all the playoff teams with 258 goals allowed this year. Vegas should be able to counter the Sharks offensive attack if star goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury can replicate past playoff performances, including last year’s Stanley Cup run where he finished with a .927 save percentage. The key for Vegas is to continue to be aggressive and allow few scoring chances for San Jose.
The Pick: Golden Knights in 7
Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
This will be the classic defensive matchup between some of the best goalies in the league. Ben Bishop’s stellar play allowed the Stars to make the playoffs for the first time in three years. He posted some of the best stats of his career with a 1.98 goals allowed average, a .934 save percentage, and seven key shutouts. The Dallas offense underperformed this year which led to a +8 goal differential, the lowest of all playoff teams. Nashville has two solid goaltenders in Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros, and we could potentially see both of them during the playoffs. Nashville does not boast a lot of offensive firepower, but solid play from players such as Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson could prove to be all that is needed to defeat this Stars team. Dallas forwards Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov will definitely have their hands full trying to score against the likes of P.K. Subban and Roman Josi, the Predators top defensive pairing.
The Pick: Predators in 5
Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues
The Jets and the Blues are two of the best teams that the NHL has to offer, and we will definitely be in for a treat with this first-round series. Both these teams have a lot of depth on offense and solid goaltending, but this matchup will ultimately be determined by the defense played by both of these teams. The Blues top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is no stranger to the Stanley Cup Playoffs having gone six times in his career. He will be counted on to provide a lot of leadership to the younger St. Louis players, and he will have to use his past experience to his benefit. The Blues rank fifth in the league having allowed just 220 goals this season, but they will face a Winnipeg team who is top ten in scoring and top five on the Power Play. Penalties will play a huge factor in deciding this series and the game plan is simple for each team: Winnipeg must draw penalties and convert on scoring chances, and St. Louis must keep the games clean and continue to dominate puck possession time.
The Pick: Jets in 7