NHL

NHL Playoff Predictions: Western Conference

After taking a look at the Eastern Conference playoff picture in the last post, this time we’ll be examining the Western Conference to see how teams stack up against each other and what outcomes we can expect. As always, leave me your selections in the comment section!

Chicago Blackhawks (1st Central) vs. Nashville Predators (WC2)

Season Series: 4-1 Chicago

The Blackhawks come into the playoffs as the Western Conference’s top team, finishing with 109 points, and are the clear favorite to eliminate the Nashville Predators. While the Predators have two 30-goal scorers in Victor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg, the Blackhawks are simply, once again, one of the deepest and most skilled teams in the NHL. Patrick Kane’s production speaks for itself, and Jonathan Toews is a proven playoff performer. With those two gentlemen leading the way, followed by a supporting cast of Artemi Panarin, Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, the Hawks should have no problem handling the Nashville Predators, especially if Pekka Rinne continues to be as inconsistent as he was during the regular season. While the Predators fall right in the middle of the league in shots against, with an average of 30.1, the Blackhawks allowed the 9th most shots against per game at 31.4. Additionally, the Predators shoot more than they allow, taking an average of 31.2 shots per game compared to Chicago’s 30.6. Taking this into consideration, and the fact that Nashville has a far younger team than Chicago, this series may turn out to be closer than you think. Nashville ranks as the 9th youngest team in the NHL with an average age of 26.85 while Chicago ices the oldest team in the league at an average 28.26 years of age. This should give the Preds a significant speed advantage and if they can exploit that, they may be able to take down the mighty Blackhawks.

Storyline to Watch: Crawford vs. Rinne. Each team’s goaltender put up average or worse numbers against each other all season long so one will need to step up in order to have an impact on their team’s fate. Corey Crawford put up a 2.52 GAA and a .921 SV% against the Preds while Rinne’s GAA versus the Blackhawks was 2.70 with an SV% of .895. These numbers simply are not good enough to vault their respective teams deep into the playoffs.

Chicago wins 4-3

Anaheim Ducks (1st Pacific) vs. Calgary Flames (WC2)

Season Series: 4-1 Anaheim

The last time these two teams met, just barely a week ago, Flames captain Mark Giordano caught Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler with a knee on knee hit as Fowler was rushing into the zone. Since then, there has been somewhat of a war of words going on between the two teams, building the tension up and making for what should be a highly physical and chippy series. Keep an eye on Flames rookie Matthew Tkachuk in this one, as he has antagonized opponents all season long with some questionable plays. Should revenge be exacted for Fowler’s knee, expect Tkachuk to be front and center of that battle. In terms of offense, Calgary scored 2 more goals than Anaheim this season, meaning the teams are relatively even, but Calgary had far better success on their powerplay. Goaltending may be the determining factor in this one as well, as Flames netminder Brian Elliott struggled mightily the first half of the season, but was one of the top tenders in the second half, while Ducks goalie John Gibson has had to deal with injuries and inconsistency.

Storyline to Watch: Mark Giordano vs. everyone in a Ducks uniform. After knocking out Anaheim’s No. 1 defenseman a week ago, Giordano will be in every Duck’s crosshairs throughout this series and it shouldn’t be long before tempers flare. This will definitely be one of, if not the most exciting series of the first round.

Anaheim wins 4-2

Edmonton Oilers (2nd Pacific) vs. San Jose Sharks (3rd Pacific)

Season Series: 3-2 Edmonton

The Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs for the first time since their magical run to the Stanley Cup Finals 11 years ago on the backs of 100-point sophomore Connor McDavid and second-year starting goaltender Cam Talbot, who set an Oilers single-season record with 42 wins. Meanwhile, the Sharks’ usual suspects Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Martin Jones helped the team make their 11th post-season appearance in the last 12 years. After losing out on the Stanley Cup by two wins last spring, San Jose will have their work cut out for them trying to shut down McDavid and fellow phenomenal sophomore Leon Draisaitl. The Sharks have to stay out of the penalty box if they have any chance at winning this series, as their 80.7% penalty kill, which ranked 18th in the NHL, will need to be better against the Oilers 5th best powerplay. The Sharks do have an edge in the faceoff dot, however, as no team was worst in that respect of the game than the Edmonton Oilers all season. Overall, San Jose and Edmonton are two very evenly matched teams and should make for one of the more exciting first-round matchups.

Storyline to Watch: McDavid vs. Burns. Brent Burns is one of the best defensemen in the NHL but his skills will be put to the test trying to keep the league’s highest scorer at bay, but San Jose is an aging team so McDavid should be able to use his speed to create some deadly chances.

Edmonton wins 4-2

Minnesota Wild (2nd Central) vs. St. Louis Blues (3rd Central)

Season Series: 3-2 St. Louis

Before the St. Louis Blues fired long-time coach Ken Hitchcock, nobody was even sure they would make the playoffs. Now, however, they come into the postseason in the 3rd spot in the Central Division after a complete turnaround from goaltender Jake Allen. Before Hitchcock’s dismissal, Allen did not even resemble an NHL goaltender, going 17-13-0 with a goals against average of 2.87 and an SV% of .895. Since the coaching switch, his numbers have vaulted to 16-7-0 with a sparkling 1.85 GAA and .938 SV%. Those numbers are 4th league-wide over that time frame, far and away better than his Wild counterpart Devan Dubnyk. While Dubnyk had a fantastic first half of the year, he has steadily been in decline since. His record since January 1st is decent at 21-12-0, but it’s his stat line that should have Wild fans sweating. His GAA in 2017 is 2.69 and his SV% was .908. That is not reflective of the Devan Dubnyk that finished 3rd in Vezina Trophy voting just 2 seasons ago. The Wild stumbled into the playoffs and the Blues picked their game up down the stretch, making this series as even as any other in the playoffs.

Storyline to Watch: Goaltending, again. As noted above, goaltending will be the biggest factor between two teams that play a relatively similar style game with strong defense and evenly distributed offense, and one will need to rise up and steal a game or two for his club.

St. Louis wins 4-1

 

Statistics taken from:

http://www.espn.com/nhl/statistics

http://www.hockey-reference.com/

http://www.nhl.com

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