NHL Playoff Preview: Western Conference

We already previewed the east, so now it’s time to take a look at the matches in the western conference, and there are once again some really interesting series on this side of the Bracket.

Calgary Flames (50-25-7) vs Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14)

The Flames had an incredible regular season under new head coach Bill Peters, and look to be the heavy favourites in this series against the Avalanche. However, at least from a lot of the brackets i’ve seen, the Avalanche seem to be a very popular pick to upset the Flames in the first round.

I’m not buying it, although I can see why they are such a popular pick.

It all comes down to goaltending, and there are still a lot of question marks with the Flames in net. Most people seem to have trouble visioning Mike Smith or David Rittich being able guide this team to a long playoff run. I would agree that those are valid concerns, and a serious question we will be asking very soon.

But for a first round matchup against Avalanche, the team in front of the goaltenders will be strong enough to hold off the Avalanche, that at full strength only have one elite forward line to be cautious off.

The Flames are much more deep at forward and defence, and a even though they have a slight disadvantage in net, it won’t be enough to knock them out in the first round. Might be a different story moving forward.

Calgary in 5

San Jose Sharks (46-27-9) vs Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7)

The closest series on paper should make for a fantastic battle. Both teams are cup contenders, and play fast and physical hockey. Of all the series’ in the first round, this was the one I had the hardest time deciding on a winner.

The Sharks are a little bit better offensively that the Sharks, by the Sharks have the edge defensively. I don’t think that has anything to do with the defence at all, but more with the goaltending. Fleury has had once again a very good season in-between the pipes, while Jones has had a brutal season for the sharks.

However, my gut is telling me that the Sharks are going to pull out a victory in this series, but it’s going to take them 7 games to do it. The health of Erik Karlsson is going to be crucial, as even though he is going to play, will he be 100%?

Martin Jones doesn’t need to stand on his head, but he needs to be much better if the Sharks want to advance. If he is able to play like a number one goalie like he has the past couple years, the Sharks should be moving on to the second round.

Winner: San Jose in 7

Nashville Predators (47-29-6) vs Dallas Stars (43-32-7)

Believe it or not, this is for me the most lopsided series I have in my bracket. Even though statistically, the Stars look almost better than the Nashville Predators. Now some of that is credited to the Vezina-like season Ben Bishop had, but not all of it.

Although if you look at the roster themselves, this series doesn’t seem so favoured in the Stars. The Preds from top to bottom have a stronger team then the Stars. Dallas focuses too much on their top line of Benn, Seguin and Radulov for offence, while the Preds have multiple lines that can dominate the game offensively.

Nashville had a terrific trade deadline, acquiring both Simmonds and Granlund to boost their already solid offence. The Stars simply don’t have the size to match the physicality of the Predators.

Lastly, I think the Predators are realizing their chance for a Stanley Cup is coming into it’s last couple years, and that drive and determination should power them right into the second round without having to worry to much in the first round.

Winner: Nashville in 4

Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5) vs St.Louis Blues (45-28-9)

This series is going to be an absolute nail-biter, with hard, physical play being right at the thick of it, but that necessarily doesn’t mean this will be a long series. The Jets were labelled as one of the Stanley Cup favourites at the beginning of the year, while the Blues had a terrible start to the season and fought their way back in the second half and almost won the Central division.

One of the biggest, if the not biggest, factor in the Blues incredible second half was the play of goaltender Jordan Binnington. The young goalie was incredible, and lead the Blues into the playoffs basically on his back.

However, he has no NHL playoff experience, and that does matter. I’m not saying he is going to stink come playoff time, but it’s tough to judge how a goalie will play in the playoffs without seeing him actually play in the playoffs. Some people might not agree, but that’s how I feel about it.

The Jets came so close last year, just to lose in the Conference finals to the Golden Knights. That stung, and they will have a burning drive this year to finally get over that hump and make it to the finals. Tough to judge if they will obviously, but the Jets experience and stronger mix of size and skill will come out on top in this series.

Winner: Winnipeg in 5

Thats all 8 playoff matches previewed, and it’s impossible to say which predictions will come true or not. Guess we will have to wait and see, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the best type of hockey there is.

Playoff hockey.

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