The wild wild Western Conference has been an adventure all year. The Colorado Avalanche captured the Stanley Cup last season and for a while, it looked like they might not make it back to defend it. They battled through injuries and roster turnover to capture the Central Division on the final day of the regular season. Was this surge of a 7-0-1 record in April a sign of things to come? The key to any real playoff success starts with the health of Cale Maker. He hasn’t played since April 1st, so hopefully he is healthy to return to the blue line very soon. Outside of Makar, the Av’s need Nathan McKinnon and Mikko Rantanen looked in every game.
Yes, the Avalanche are the defending champions, but they are not the top seed in the Western Conference, that belongs to the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas has a lethal attack, led by Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault and they acquired Jonathan Quick, hoping he still has a little playoff magic left between the pipes. Another club with lethal offensive weapons and huge expectations are the Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid has been doing his part to replicate an Oilers legend (Wayne Gretzky) every time he stepped on the ice this season. He finished the year tops in the NHL for goals (64), assists (89) and points (153). These eye popping numbers make his teammate Leon Draisaitl look sub par; he only totaled 52 goals, 76 assists and 128 points. The LA Kings had an amazing season, totaling 104 points and could make for an interesting first round matchup. The Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild quietly put together 100 point campaigns and they get to face off in the first round. The Seattle Kraken, in year 2 of existence, not only produced a 100 point campaign, but captured the 7th seed in the playoffs. This is an exciting development for the new franchise and a positive sign for its growth. The final playoff spot in the Western Conference was grasped by the Winnipeg Jets and they get rewarded with a trip to Las Vegas.
Let’s skate through my predictions for the Western Conference Playoffs and who will reach the Stanley Cup Finals…
#8 SEED WINNIPEG JETS VS #1 SEED VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS:
- VEGAS HAS BEEN QUITE SUCCESSFUL SINCE THEY JOINED THE NHL AS AN EXPANSION FRANCHISE, A MODEL OF HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE…3 DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIPS IN 6 SEASONS OF EXISTENCE AND A STANLEY CUP FINALS APPEARANCE
- THIS VERSION HAS A LOADED ATTACK, SPEARHEADED BY EICHEL, MARCHESSAULT, STEPHENSON, SMITH, KARLSSON, STONE AND PHIL KESSEL.
- VETERAN DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS MUST BE LOCKED IN
- YOUNG GOALIES LOGAN THOMPSON AND ADIN HILL WERE SERVICEABLE DURING THE SEASON, BUT NOW EXPECTATIONS ARE RAMPED UP.
- VEGAS DID ACQUIRE VETERAN GOALIE JONATHAN QUICK AND IN HIS 10 STARTS, HE HAS GONE 6-2-2.
- CAN THE JETS CREATE CHAOS AND TAKE THE SERIES TO 7 GAMES?
- KYLE CONNOR, MARK SCHEIFELE, PIERRE-LUC DUBOIS AND BLAKE WHEELER MUST BE ON TARGET.
- IF WE GET “GOOD” CONNOR HELLEBUYCK BETWEEN THE PIPES, THINGS COULD BE VERY INTERESTING IN THIS SERIES.
- THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS WON ALL 3 MATCHUPS IN THE REGULAR SEASON
- PREDICTION: GOLDEN KNIGHTS IN 6 GAMES
PACIFIC #3 SEED LA KINGS VS PACIFIC #2 SEED EDMONTON OILERS:
- THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF THE McDAVID & DRAISAITL PLAYOFF SHOWCASE
- CAN ANZE KOPITAR, KEVIN FIALA, ADRIAN KEMPE AND OTHER KINGS SCORE AT THE RATE OF THE OILERS?
- PHOENIX COPLEY WILL BE CALLED UPON TO STAND TALL IN NET FOR THE KINGS AND DEFEND THE FORTRESS. HE WENT 24-6-3 ON THE YEAR, ALLOWING 2.64 GOALS PER GAME.
- THE KINGS MUST REMAIN OUT OF THE PENALTY BOX AND SCORE ON THE POWER PLAY TO KEEP THE PRESSURE ON THE OILERS.
- IF THE KINGS WIN THE SERIES, IT WILL BECAUSE THEY MAKE IT A PHYSICAL SERIES AND PREVENT THE SUPERSTARS FROM GETTING COMFORTABLE
- KINGS AND OILERS SPLIT THE SEASON SERIES 2-2
- PREDICTION: OILERS WIN IN 7 GAMES
CENTRAL #3 SEED MINNESOTA WILD VS CENTRAL #2 SEED DALLAS STARS:
- IF MINNESOTA WINS THE SERIES, THEY SHOULD GET THEIR NAME BACK AND BECOME THE NORTH STARS ONCE AGAIN
- THE STARS AND WILD SPLIT THE SEASON SERIES 2-2, BUT HAVEN’T PLAYED SINCE FEBRUARY 17TH
- IF THE STARS ARE GOING TO RISE, THEN THEY NEED JASON ROBERTSON, JAMIE BENN, TYLER SEGUIN AND JOE PAVELSKI TO BE FOCUSED
- THE CORE OF THIS DALLAS TEAM WENT TO THE STANLEY CUP FINAL IN 2020, SO THEY KNOW WHAT IT TAKES.
- DALLAS GOALIE JAKE OETTINGER IS FROM LAKEVILLE, MINNESOTA….WILL NERVES OF PLAYING IN HIS HOME STATE, AGAINST POSSIBLY THE TEAM HE GREW UP WATCHING BE A BURDEN
- OETTINGER WENT 37-11-11 THIS SEASON, ALLOWING 2.37 GOALS PER GAME.
- THE MINNESOTA WILD ALWAYS SEEM TO BE THE TEAM THAT JUST CAN’T GET OVER THE HUMP, CAN THEY PUT IT ALL TOGETHER THIS TIME?
- IF THEY ARE GOING TO ADVANCE, THEY WILL NEED MATS ZUCCARELLO, KIRILL KAPRIZOV, MATT BOLDY, JOEL ERIKSSON EK AND OTHERS TO SHOW UP EVERY NIGHT.
- PREDICTION: WILD WIN IN 7 GAMES
#7 SEED SEATTLE KRAKEN VS #2 SEED COLORADO AVALANCHE:
- THE KRAKEN MAKE THEIR PLAYOFF DEBUT AGAINST THE DEFENDING CHAMPIONS
- SEATTLE TOOK 2 OF 3 DURING THE REGULAR SEASON
- THE KRAKEN ARE LED BY JARED MCCANN, JORDAN EBERLE, YANNI GOURDE, DANIEL SPRONG, JADEN SCHWARTZ AND ALEX WENNBERG….A COLLECTION OF PLAYOFF VETERANS
- PHILLIP GRUBAUER WAS THE GOALIE FOR THE AVALANCHE LAST YEAR AND NOW HE GETS TO FACE THEM, ALONG WITH MARTIN JONES, WHO HE HAS BEEN SPLITTING TIME WITH
- IS THIS AVALANCHE TEAM HEALTHY ENOUGH FOR A DEEP PLAYOFF RUN
- ALEXANDAR GEORGIEV HAS BEEN SOLID FOR COLORADO, BUT HE MUST IMPROVE HIS GOALS AGAINST PER GAME AVERAGE OF 2.53.
- PREDICTION: COLORADO SURVIVES IN 7 GAMES
EDMONTON OILERS VS VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS:
- THIS SERIES GIVES US A FACE-OFF OF THE TOP 2 PICKS FROM THE 2015 DRAFT. McDAVID WENT 1ST OVERALL TO EDMONTON AND JACK EICHEL WENT 2ND TO BUFFALO
- THIS WILL BE A SERIES THAT COULD SEE A MINIMUM OF 6 COMBINED GOALS SCORED A GAME
- WHICH GOALIE (STUART SKINNER FOR EDMONTON OR JONATHAN QUICK FOR VEGAS) WILL BE THE MOST COMPETENT
- OILERS GOALIE STUART SKINNER IS FROM EDMONTON, SO HE HAS THE ADDED PRESSURE OF CARRYING THE PLAYOFF HOPES OF HIS CHILDHOOD TEAM
- EDMONTON WON 3 OF THE 4 MEETINGS DURING THE SEASON, WITH THE ONLY LOSS COMING IN OVERTIME
- OILERS MUST REMAIN OUT OF PENALTY TROUBLE AND CAPITALIZE ON THEIR POWER PLAY CHANCES
- PREDICTION: OILERS WIN IN 7 GAMES
MINNESOTA WILD VS COLORADO AVALANCHE:
- THE AVALANCHE ARE THE VETERAN TEAM, BUT THEY CAN’T OVERLOOK MINNESOTA
- McKINNON AND RANTANEN MUST START HOT AND NOT ALLOW THE WILD TO HANG AROUND
- IF MAKAR IS STILL OUT, THE DEFENSIVE PAIRS WILL NEED TO STEP UP.
- MINNESOTA MUST PLAY PHYSICAL AND KNOCK THE AVS OFF THEIR GAME
- IF THE WILD GET ON THE POWER PLAY, THEY MUST SCORE 35-45% OF THE TIME
- PREDICTION: AVALANCHE OVERCOME THE WILD IN 6 GAMES
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS:
EDMONTON OILERS VS COLORADO AVALANCHE:
- THE AVS HAVE THE EXPERIENCE BUT THEY DONT HAVE THE FIREPOWER
- THE KEY TO THE SERIES IS LIMITING McDAVID AND DRAISAITL
- CAN THE ALEXANDAR GEORGIEV STAND ON HIS HEAD
- PREDICTION: OILERS WIN THE WEST IN 7 GAMES
The NHL gets their superstar Connor McDavid in the Stanley Cup Finals as well as a team from Canada.