Colorado Avalanche (#1) VS St. Louis Blues (#4)
The Avalanche were possibly the only team in the NHL that dominated for the entire regular season and didn’t show any signs that would lead people to doubt that they are cup favourites. They look poised to make a deep run in these playoffs, and they start with a favourable matchup against the Blues.
St. Louis struggled to find their form this season, and at times looked like they might be in danger of dropping out of a playoff spot at the hands of the Coyotes. They were able to hold onto the fourth and final playoff spot in the West but have a nightmare of a task going up against the Avalanche.
The Blues allowed 167 goals this season, which were the most of any playoff team. Meanwhile, the Avalanche led the league in goals scored with 197. That alone should make the Blues major underdogs heading into this playoff series.
Both teams had a strong power play this season, with the Blues actually having the slight edge in that category, firing a 23.2% on the season, while the Avalanche finished the season at 22.7%.
The penalty kill is a whole different story, as while the Avalanche were top 10 on the season in that category, the Blues were 25th in the league. A 77.8% penalty kill is not something you would feel great about trying to stop MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Makar.
The Blues aren’t the same team that won the Stanley Cup back in 2019. That team felt different, like they were on a mission, using a combination of physicality and excellent team defence to power their way to a championship. They will have to find that style and then some if they want to take down Colorado, but that seems highly unlikely.
Prediction: Colorado in five
Vegas Golden Knights (#2) VS Minnesota Wild (#3)
The Golden Knights finished 2nd overall in the NHL standings; therefore, they cannot be thrilled to match up with the 9th overall Minnesota Wild in the first round.
The Golden Knights battled it out with Colorado all season for the division, and league, title. Colorado ended up first despite both teams having 82 points, and now Vegas has to deal with the electric Minnesota Wild.
Electric isn’t a word we associated with the Wild very much in recent years, but this season was different. Whether it was a philosophy change on how they play or the arrival of Kirill Kaprizov, this team now plays with much more speed and skill than they have in recent years.
Despite some great offensive talent on each roster, both teams had a bottom ten powerplay this season. The difference in specialty teams comes on the penalty kill, as the Golden Knights were top in the league this season with an 86.8% penalty kill.
The key for the Golden Knights will be to try shutting down the Wild’s top offensive weapon in Kirill Kaprizov. The young Russian tore up the NHL in his first season with 27 goals and 51 points. The Golden Knights signed a great shutdown defender in Alex Pietrangelo in the offseason, and he should be glued to Kaprizov all series.
The Wild, on the other hand, besides finding space for Kaprizov to do his thing, will need their top-four on defence to shine. Suter, Dumba, Spurgeon, and Brodin are a terrific top-four defensive group when they are at their best, and they will need to be to slow down the Golden Knights offence. With help from goaltender Cam Talbot, who was spectacular in the second half of the regular season, it can be done.
The Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild had some terrific battles in the regular season, and this series predicts to be nothing different. Many are already getting excited for a possible Colorado and Vegas second-round matchup, but the Wild won’t go quietly. The Wild look like a team playing with a lot of confidence and are primed to give the Golden Knights trouble here in the first round.
Prediction: Minnesota in seven