Yesterday we went over the match-ups for the Eastern Conference. If you haven’t read the post please click this link and check it out! Today it’s time for the West!
The first round of the playoffs is always the best except in the Western Conference because every year we see one or two really good hockey teams lose. The East I find more times than not, the good teams move on or there’s a Cinderella team you can hop on board with.
But let’s move on and analyze the Western Conference series, starting with the Dallas Stars and the Minnesota Wild.
Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild (season series 4-0-1 for the Stars)
How much fun are the Dallas Stars to watch now? Playing that run and gun style in today’s NHL isn’t easy to do but they’re magical mix of offensive veterans, youthful grit and two-way dmen has proved to be a winning combination. Acquiring Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya was genius on Jim Nill’s part. Who could’ve seen the emergence of Erik Karlsson v2.0 John Klingberg? Even Former Oiler Ales Hemsky had a solid year and only missed 7 games!
It hasn’t been the best of years for the Minnesota Wild. A shite start and the eventual firing of Mike Yeo turned into quite the little run under new coach John Torchetti. Without that boost there’s a good possibility they would’ve been on the outside looking in this month. I’m not a Wild fan but from the looks of things they got a pretty balanced contribution scoring wise and stayed healthy for the most part. Charlie Coyle is starting to become the centre everyone pegged him to be and Matt Dumba is also developing in an upward trend.
This is going to be a joke of series. The Stars are going to sweep the Wild four straight UNLESS Minnesota can get major production from Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Devan Dubnyk. Another factor going in is the health and consistent play of Kari Lehtonen and/or Antti Niemi. If either or both of them faulter it could spell doom for the Stars high-octane offense. But I can’t see that going down. The Stars addition of Kris Russell for this playoff run to an already talented and fairly deep D corps. should sort out the Wild’s anemic offense. Lastly, Tyler Seguin…
Not-so-obvious players to look out for: Defenceman Jared Spurgeon for the Wild is one of the best puck movers in the league and worth keeping an eye on. Antoine Roussel is one of the most irritating players in the league but also one of the toughest. He could come to be one of the most valuable players for the Stars this post-season.
St.Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks (season series 3-2-0 for the Blues)
The Blues and the Hawks… How many times have we seen this series over the years? I don’t recall it ever being as good as it is now, at least not in my lifetime. And It’s surely a toss-up too given the injuries that the Blues are going through with goalie Jake Allen and Captain David Backes dinged up. That’s not to say the Hawks are all that healthy either. Artem Anisimov, Marian Hossa, and Andrew Shaw are taking care of their own injuries too.
The Blues can’t seem to get the playoff formula right but this year might be their lucky year. They’re bigger and their major players are healthy (apart from the aforementioned Backes and Allen). Schwartz, Steen, Brouwer, Stastny are all good to go. Tarasenko is a scoring machine. On the back-end they’ve got three of the best and worst names to try to spell without looking in Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo, and Bouwmeester. Even their young guns are good. Robbi Fabbri, Ty Rattie and Colton Parayko are sure to make their mark.
Chicago is Chicago. You can never count them out nor should you but I’m having a tough time this year. As good as they are I’m concerned that the amount of games they’ve played over the last 3 or 4 seasons will wear on them. The additions of Andrew Ladd, Christian Ehrhoff, and Dale Wiese will make a difference but I don’t believe as big a difference as they are hoping.
I’m going to take the Blues in 6 games. In what could be David Backes’ and Ken Hitchcock’s final season with the team, I think they’ll pull out all the stops. I’m banking on Brian Elliott to steer them through.
Not-so-obvious players to keep an eye on: Andrew Shaw for the Hawks is one. He seems to be one of those guys who turns up his game come playoff time and he plays a very entertaining brand of hockey when he’s on his game. Jaden Schwartz for the Blues is a guy that can take over a game and he did have 22 pts in 33 games this year.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators (season series 2-1-0 for the Predators)
My goodness the Ducks are loaded for bear. They definitely rival the Caps and Kings for deepest roster but some of those key pieces aren’t going into this post-season 100%. Kesler, Gibson, Rakell, Bieksa, and Perron are all question marks right now.
I love this Predators team. The defense is outstanding and so is their top line but after that top line, it falls off a cliff. The only way the Predators even stay in this series is if Pekka Rinne stands on his head which he no doubtedly can do.
I’m going to take the Ducks in five here. I think they’re too deep and too good on the special teams to allow a team like the Predators to upset them in the playoffs. Then again this is a Bruce Boudreau team…
Not-so-obvious players to keep an eye on: I love to watch Ryan Ellis when he plays the Oilers. He’s got a HUGE shot for such a little guy and you’ve got to check out his beard… Woof! She’s a beaut! Rickard Rakell for the Ducks is my other guy. He’s developing into a fine-looking power centre and who can forget the OT winner he scored on Edmonton this year?
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks (season series 3-1-1 for the Kings)
Another series where a good team is going home early. This one I will watch ever game of I think. I’m only human and I can’t catch-all the series but this Battle of California is shaping up to be a beauty. I wonder what would happen if the Sharks upset the Kings and the Blues beat out the Hawks?… Could we put the dynasty talks to bed then?
The match-ups are just mouth-watering. Thornton vs. Kopitar, Carter vs. Pavelski, Lucic vs. Marleau, Toffoli vs. Couture, Quick vs. Jones, and lastly Doughty vs. Burns. The talent on the ice at any one time is staggering.
For the Sharks to come out of this series alive their bottom six are going to have to work their asses off. The top six will be fine against LA’s top six but when you pit the two teams’ bottom two lines, the Kings have the edge. Players like Tommy Wingels, Melker Karlsson, Matt Nieto, and Chris Tierney will need to step it up.
The Los Angeles Kings just have to play their game. They got even deeper with the acquisitions of Vinnie Lecavalier, Luke Schenn, and Kris Versteeg and this will only serve them better the more series they win. The Kings are a Cup favourite that’s for sure and looking at their roster, it’s not difficult to see why.
I don’t want to pick the Kings to win but after I said the Sharks wouldn’t make the playoffs this season in my pre-season preview, I think I’m going to hop on board. I can’t stand the Kings either so that makes it pretty easy to take the Sharks in 7.
Not-so-obvious players to keep and eye on: Vincent Lecavalier has been to the show before and he knows what it takes to get there. I’m keen to see his performance. Joel Ward is a very good playoff producer. He plays the kind of way that gets you goals and more importantly, respect. I think he could be a factor in any Sharks win.
To recap I’ve got the Blues, Stars, Ducks, and Sharks moving on into the Western Conference Semi-Finals.