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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Hockey News / Western Conference First Round Playoff Preview

Western Conference First Round Playoff Preview

A look at the Western Conference
Publish Date: 04/09/2019
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa
Source: Nhl.com

This is the second part of my Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview as I look into each series in the Western Conference.  A lot of strong contenders in the West and only a few will make it as far as they would like.  A Western Conference team hasn’t won the Cup since Chicago did in 2015, that could maybe change with a couple teams in the West.  Let’s get on to previewing each series and seeing how each team matches up with each other heading into Round 1.

 

Calgary Flames (1) vs. Colorado Avalanche (WC2)

After an underachieving year last season, the Calgary Flames bounced back in a big way in 2018-19 with 50 wins and 107 points during the regular season.  They will host the Colorado Avalanche who snuck into the playoffs for the second straight season after a disaster 2016-17 season two years ago.  Both teams play a fast, up tempo style of game and they both have star power that can make a difference on either side.

Season Series

October 13, 2018 – Flames (3) – Avalanche (2) OT

November 1, 2018 – Flames (6) – Avalanche (5)

January 9, 2019 – Flames (5) – Avalanche (3)

The only question that I have with Calgary is their uncertainty in net.  I don’t even know who for sure is the starter and how long he will be the starter for.  David Rittich has had a better season than Mike Smith, but Smith has the better numbers recently and since February.  Calgary needs them to be good enough if they want to make a deep playoff run because I think they are capable of it if they do get the stops that they need.  Colorado is coming into the playoffs hot right now after fighting for a spot down the stretch.  The Flames will need to shut down the Avs top line and hope that Smith or Rittich will play well enough to get the job done.

Team Numbers

Last 10 – Flames 6-4-0 – Avalanche 7-1-2

Powerplay – Flames 19.3 (18th) – Avalanche 22.0 (7th)

Penalty Kill – Flames 79.7 (21st) – Avalanche 78.7 (26th)

GF/Game – Flames 3.52 (2nd) – Avalanche 3.15 (10th)

GA/Game – Flames 2.72 (9th) – Avalanche 2.98 (16th)

5v5

Shot Share (CF%) – Flames 53.8 (5th) – Avalanche 49.9 (14th)

Scoring Chances (SCF%) – Flames 53.5 (5th) – Avalanche 51.2 (13th)

Goal Share (GF%) – Flames 55.7 (3rd) – Avalanche 50.5 (17th)

Colorado has had problems all season long with depth in multiple areas of their lineup.  Their top line of Mackinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog have scored 41% of their team’s goals and it’s very difficult to win in the playoffs without contributions everywhere.  Calgary has looked like a powerhouse for most of the season.  They have four good lines; they have one of the deepest defense cores in the NHL.  If Colorado were to make this a close series or win, it will probably be because of Calgary’s goaltending.  If Calgary’s goaltending is good enough, the Avalanche are just not deep enough to matchup with Calgary.  I have the Calgary Flames winning this series in 5 games.

 

San Jose Sharks (2) vs. Las Vegas Golden Knights (3)

This will probably be one of the most anticipated series of the first round of the playoffs.  The San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights will meet in the playoffs for the second straight season, after Vegas beat San Jose in 6 games last spring.  Both teams made huge adds at some point during the season looking to go all the way and one of them unfortunately has to go out in the first round.  Let’s look closer into these two teams.

Season Series

November 24, 2018 – Sharks (0) – Golden Knights (6)

January 10, 2019 – Sharks (3) – Golden Knights (2)

March 18, 2019 – Sharks (3) – Golden Knights (7)

March 30, 2019 – Sharks (4) – Golden Knights (3) OT

Both teams are coming into the playoffs on a bit of a slump.  Vegas went on a dominant 10-1-1 run after the trade deadline but have slowed own in the last couple of weeks.  The Sharks have been up and down since the deadline with a long win streak and losing streak, peddling along at around 0.500 hockey.  Mark Stone has been as advertised since coming to Vegas, he has formed chemistry with Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny as one of the best second lines in hockey.  Erik Karlsson has missed a decent amount of time over the second half of the season but when he’s been healthy, he’s been as dominant as he’s ever been.  He just returned to the lineup in Game 82 and looks like he should be healthy for the playoffs.

Team Numbers

Last 10 – Sharks 3-6-1 – Golden Knights 3-5-2

Powerplay – Sharks 23.6 (6th) – Golden Knights 16.8 (25th)

Penalty Kill – Sharks 80.8 (15th) – Golden Knights 80.9 (14th)

GF/Game – Sharks 3.52 (3rd) – Golden Knights 3.00 (14th)

GA/Game – Sharks 3.15 (21st) – Golden Knights 2.78 (10th)

5v5

Shot Share (CF%) – Sharks 54.9 (1st) – Golden Knights 54.4 (3rd)

Scoring Chances (SCF%) – Sharks 54.4 (2nd) – Golden Knights 54.9 (1st)

Goal Share (GF%) – Sharks 50.9 (14th) – Golden Knights 51.6 (13th)

Goals against and goaltending are what I think the difference in the series will be.  Martin Jones hasn’t had a great season and Marc-Andre Fleury has proven that he can steal games in the playoffs many times.  San Jose being 21st in GA and Vegas being 10th could play a big factor.  When you have two fast relentless teams like Vegas and San Jose, it’s about getting pucks back and exiting your zone quickly and not turning it over.  The team that has the worse goals against might be more exposed in that type of game, not being able to get out of there zone as effectively as the other.  I think this series will go the distance, and I have the Vegas Golden Knights winning this series in 7 games.

 

Nashville Predators (1) vs. Dallas Stars (WC1)

The first of two Central Division showdowns features the Nashville Predators taking on the Dallas Stars in the first round.  The Stars return to the postseason for the first time since 2016, after a coaching change in the offseason and new additions into the lineup.  2017 3rd overall pick Miro Heiskanen had a terrific rookie season on the backend and both Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin were stellar in net.  The Predators are coming off their second straight division title and are looking to get back to the Stanley Cup Final after coming so close to winning it all in 2017.

Season Series

November 10, 2018 – Predators (5) – Stars (4) OT

December 27, 2018 – Predators (0) – Stars (2)

February 2, 2019 – Predators (1) – Stars (3)

February 7, 2019 – Predators (3) – Stars (2) OT

February 19, 2019 – Predators (5) – Stars (3)

This is the series where both teams are most familiar with each other as they played each other 5 times during the season, Nashville getting the better of Dallas 3-2.  Nashville added to their already deep roster by adding Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds up front.  Simmonds isn’t the player he used to be at 5v5, but he will be a huge help to their 31st ranked Powerplay.  Granlund adds to the Predators top 6 and makes them so much more dangerous offensively.  We all know they have probably the best top 4 defense in the league, you add Granlund and Simmonds up front and now this team looks really scary.  Dallas was one of the best defensive teams in the league this season, ranking 2nd in the league in Goals Against.  They have dangerous guys up front, in Seguin, Benn and Radulov and they’re going to need them to do a lot in this series.

Team Numbers

Last 10 – Predators 7-2-1 – Stars 6-3-1

Powerplay – Predators 12.9 (31st) – Stars 21.0 (11th)

Penalty Kill – Predators 82.1 (6th) – Stars 82.8 (5th)

GF/Game – Predators 2,88 (19th) – Stars 2.55 (29th)

GA/Game – Predators 2.59 (4th) – Stars 2.44 (2nd)

5v5

Shot Share (CF%) – Predators 52.2 (7th) – Stars 48.3 (22nd)

Scoring Chances (SCF%) – Predators 51.1 (14th) – Stars 50.5 (15th)

Goal Share (GF%) – Predators 53.8 (8th) – Stars 50.6 (16th)

The Dallas Stars are a similar team to Colorado, they have a star top line, but their depth has been questionable, leading to Seguin, Benn and Radulov being relied on a lot during the season and down the stretch.  I have the same views on this series as I do the Calgary/Colorado series expect I’m much more confident in Nashville’s goaltending.  Both Nashville and Calgary are deep up front and on defense, but Pekka Rinne has proven to be more consistent and has shown that he can steal games in the playoffs.  This will be expected to be a stingy series and a defensive battle as both teams are top 5 in GA.  It’s a matter of who breaks through and who has the better odds of doing it over the course of a series.  Dallas is a good team, but I just don’t know if their depth can compete with Nashville.  I have the Nashville Predators winning this series in 5 games.

 

Winnipeg Jets (2) vs. St Louis Blues (3)

This is a brutal draw for both teams as two heavy weights will have to battle it out in Round 1.  It’s unfortunate that these teams have to play in the first round, but at the same time, this will most likely be a fantastic series to watch.  Both the Winnipeg Jets and the St Louis Blues are built to win now, and they will be in tough right off the bat as this will be expected to be a clash of the titans in the Central Division.

Season Series

October 4, 2018 – Jets (5) – Blues (1)

November 24, 2018 – Jets (8) – Blues (4)

December 7, 2018 – Jets (0) – Blues (1)

Winnipeg won the season series, but each team hasn’t played each other since early December.  The Jets and Blues have had very different second halves and they haven’t been the same teams down the stretch.  Winnipeg has struggled as of late, missing Byfuglien and Morrissey have really hurt them on the backend and it has resulted in their play being up and down.  Byfuglien is back already but Morrissey is still listed as Day-to-Day and I’m unsure if he will be back in Game 1.  The St Louis Blues were in last place in the league at the start of 2019 and they have gone on an incredible run since then.  I can’t quite put my finger on what went wrong for them at the start of the season.  I had them as a contender before the season started and they finally started to realize their potential in the second half of the season.

Team Numbers

Last 10 – Jets 4-5-1 – Blues 8-1-1

Powerplay – Jets 24.8 (4th) – Blues 21.1 (10th)

Penalty Kill – Jets 79.2 (22nd) – Blues 81.5 (9th)

GF/Game – Jets 3.29 (7th) – Blues 2.98 (15th)

GA/Game – Jets 2.96 (15th) – Blues 2.68 (5th)

5v5

Shot Share (CF%) – Jets 49.0 (19th) – Blues 51.5 (10th)

Scoring Chances (SCF%) – Jets 48.3 (21st) – Blues 52.2 (9th)

Goal Share (GF%) – Jets 50.6 (15th) – Blues 53.0 (10th)

The Winnipeg Jets are supposed to be among the Cup favorites after what they did last season and the team they have.  They have had a great regular season record overall but their play down the stretch is a little concerning.  It would be less concerning if they had a better first round matchup, but the fact that they have to play the Blues in Round 1 makes it really tough.  St Louis is a dangerous team that underachieved at the start of the season.  They are one of the hottest teams in the NHL going into the playoffs and the Jets really have their hands full.  The Jets will also have to deal with trying to solve Jordan Binnington who has been dynamite since being called up.  He is 24-5-1 with a 1.89 GAA and a .927 SV% with 5 shutouts, the Jets haven’t played him yet and he could be a huge difference maker in this series.  This series has the potential to be a long, brutal marathon, and in my final prediction, I have the St Louis Blues winning this series in 7 games.

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