Playoff Predictions – Round 1 – Western Conference
1 – Chicago Blackhawks vs. 8 – Nashville Predators
The Chicago Blackhawks continue to be the modern day dynasty finding pieces to complement their big guns and staying relevant in the Western Conference. On the other hand, it was a process for Nashville to get used to life without Shea, but they were able to piece it together long enough to get to the post-season. While this may certainly become a long series, with the likes of Subban and Johansen raising their game, I think Chicago has too much depth and talent as they end this one rather quickly.
On paper, the goaltending duel is as even as this series gets. Having said that, Crawford often gets under rated while Rinne might get hung out to dry a little as this is not the defensively-minded Preds of the past. The blue line favours the Preds talent-wise, but not as a whole, if that makes any sense. Nashville has more ability to score from the blue line but Chicago has the right players in the right chairs and have the experience necessary to make up the slight talent gap. Up front is where Chicago has the marked advantage as the likes of Kane, Toews and Hossa are proven where the Preds are not. Strong first test for the Hawks that they should pass.
Prediction: Chicago in 5
2 – Minnesota Wild vs. 3 – St. Louis Blues
This is a very tough series to call. The Wild were a first half of the season beast, yet their recent play leaves doubts. On the other hand, the Blues sold some assets at the deadline and appear to be better for it. Add to the equation the fact that the Blues selling some parts should remove some pressure to win now, and the Bruce Boudreau choking ghosts and this one has all the elements necessary for an upset. After saying all of this, consider that the Wild boast Zach Parise and now Eric Staal who have enough experience to overcome the Boudreau effect.
Neither team really has the advantage in goal. Jake Allen has yet to prove anything while Dubnyk has been a little shaky since being destroyed by the head coach after the ASG. Blue lines are equally matched as well. While I really like Pietrangelo and Parayko, the Wild have better depth which could certainly come into the play the longer this series goes. Up front is much of the same. I prefer the Blues top end talent, but the Wild have more capable forwards at the bottom end of the roster which could come in handy in tight situations. This series really is evenly matched, right down to both teams’ high likelihood of choking.
Prediction – St. Louis in 7, mostly because I like the idea of another battle between the Hawks and Blues.
1 – Anaheim Ducks vs. 7 – Calgary Flames
The 11-point difference in this series will likely have many experts choosing the Ducks to end this quickly. An extended look at the standings tells a different story. Anaheim actually only had 1 more win on the season. What this says is perhaps simply that Anaheim has the ability to not get blown away in one single game. If Calgary can put any kind of doubt into the minds of the Ducks, they will have a chance as questions remains both on the blue line and in the crease for the Ducks.
Not a fan of either goaltender here but I think Elliott has a bit more experience if ever this series gets long. On the blue line, Anaheim boasts more skill, but Calgary has a better diversity to their blue line and bit more experience. Up front is where this series can really swing. Anaheim has far more experience and can really lean on the Calgary defenders whereas the Flames forwards will rely on speed and skill to get through. This series really comes down to which team can lure the other into playing their game as speed meets physicality. The longer the series goes, the better it will be for the speedy Flames.
Prediction – Anaheim in 6.
2 – Edmonton Oilers vs. 3 – San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks are fresh off their Stanley Cup Finals appearance, finally shedding the image of the choke artist. Edmonton is playing their first playoff round in a long time. Yet the presence of Connor McDavid sure puts into question the Sharks’ ability to even win one round this season. Add to this equation a very capable Cam Talbot and this could be an interesting series.
The goaltending is close in that Talbot has been a beast for Edmonton all season long, while many question his ability to keep it up after playing in so many games this season. Jones is not as flashy, yet his stable presence last season is what allowed San Jose to get the monkey off their backs. Experience being what it is at this time of the season, I’ll give Jones the edge. The blue line is very much slanted in favour of San Jose. So much so that it is likely to be the deciding factor in this series. How will Edmonton stop Brent Burns? The forwards match-up more evenly, giving the edge to Edmonton as McDavid is without a doubt the X-factor that could flip this series on its head in a hurry.
Prediction – San Jose in 6.
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