The NHL’s post-season is upon us, and while we’re once again on the outside looking in, we are still fans of the game, and love the excitement that the playoffs bring. We’re looking at each of the 8 First Round series, starting with the Western Conference.
From the get-go, the Colorado Avalanche have been the team to beat in the West, and there were times they looked downright invincible. With a seriously scary set of offensive weapons, solid defence and goaltending, Joe Sakic’s team is ready for a run. I would probably be a little more enthusiastic about their chances if it weren’t for the way they’re heading into these playoffs though. After starting April winning their first seven straight, they lost six of the last seven, including coming out on the wrong end of the scoreline against Winnipeg and Seattle. They also went 1-1-2 against Nashville this season, so I certainly wouldn’t be predicting a sweep here.
The Preds seemed to be comfortable heading into the post-season in a wild card slot, and then disaster struck on Tuesday in a 5-4 loss to the Calgary Flames, as goaltender Juuse Saros suffered a high ankle sprain in the third period. Depending on the severity, he could be lost to them even on a long playoff run, so the job of trying to keep the Avs from scoring a bucket o’ goals goes to David Rittich. ‘Big Save Dave’ better change his nickname from being ironic to literal if they hope to get through this one unscathed.
Westy - Colorado has a very large monkey on their back. The team has been good for quite a while, but they just haven’t had playoff success since Joe Sakic left. This year the Avs seem to have the pieces in place to get past the 2nd round.....if they can stay healthy.
Enter Nashville. They seemed to get up for every game against the Avs this year, beating them 3 out of 4. This series could be a blood bath, but I think this could be the year that the Avs figure it out. Avs in 6
Kent- This one should have been an absolute beauty, almost a lock to go seven games. Instead, it looks like a clear path to the second round. Nashville simply doesn’t have the goaltending to get them out of this series alive, unless Roman Josi can strap on the pads for a couple games. Without a miraculous recovery by Juuse Saros, they’re done. Avalanche in 5
jimmi - Seems like an Avalanche sure thing, unless the Preds use the radical EN strategy to start every game - use the old Bolts 7 on
5 4 trick. Won’t work well. Avs in 4
Beggsy - This is already a huge mismatch, and it only gets worse if Juuse Saros doesn’t play. The Preds win one on home ice, and raise a banner for their accomplishments heading into next season. Colorado in 5.
CALGARY FLAMES (1st in Pacific) vs DALLAS STARS (WC1)
We don’t really enjoy giving the Calgary Flames credit for anything around here, and even if we must, it’s begrudgingly and under protest. So anyway, the stupid Flames have been good this season, and stupid Head Coach Darryl Sutter has gotten some fine performances out of jerks like Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, and former Canucks Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev (who we love but are dead to us now). They go up against a Dallas Stars team with a coach who makes Sutter look like a spry youngster in Rick Bowness, an aging star in Joe Pavelski who seems determined to will this team to greatness, and a rising star in Jason Robertson who could be the difference maker here.
Dallas was so damn good down the stretch, and for a while it seemed like they were incapable of losing. Given Colorado’s history with the Stars the last couple years, they might feel like they dodged a bullet here. If you’re looking for an upset in the West, this might be where to hang your stupid cowboy hat. If Dallas has a weakness, it’s that they’ve been running on their 3rd and 4th string goalies for a while now.
Westy - I hate Calgary. Unfortunately, they are good. Dallas would have to have everything go right...and have Calgary lose half their defense and two top scorers. Flames in 5
Kent- Here’s your upset special, folks. I am gonna say something that might make people upset, especially in this neck of the woods, but in your hearts, you know it’s true. I don’t think Jacob Markstrom has a long playoff run in him. Dallas has been in full playoff mode for weeks now, and if they can get the goaltending they need, it’s going to be a thankfully short run on the Red Mile. Dallas in 7
jimmi - Just when I thought it was safe to get red-faced and mess with Texas, Kent could be upsetting the status quo. Stars in 6
Beggsy - Wow, my colleagues here are giving the Stars way too much credit. I watched quite a bit of Stars hockey down the stretch and they are, uh, not good outside of their top line. Calgary in 6.
MINNESOTA WILD (2nd in Central) vs ST LOUIS BLUES (3rd in Central)
Two teams that are fairly easy to dislike in this series, who both have a lot in common, starting with their head coaches. The Wild’s Dean Evason and Blues bench boss Craig Berube were teammates on the Kamloops Jr Oilers in the early 80’s. These teams also have goaltending issues heading into the playoffs, though one team seems to have less of a problem than the other. The Blues have Stanley Cup winner Jordan Binnington riding the bench a lot, because he’s been downright awful at times this year, losing his starting job to Ville Husso this year.
Minnesota has Cam Talbot, who’s had a really good year, but went out at the deadline and splurged on Marc-Andre Fleury, who has the Stanley Cup pedigree for sure. The issue is who do you go with here, and what kind of fallout is there going forward based on who gets chosen. I would imagine Evason’s leash will be short for whoever does start. A real coin-toss of a series, with the Blues trying to fit in another run before their window starts to close, and the Wild trying to replicate that one fluky run we really don’t want to talk about.
Westy - This might be the best series in the west. These two teams do not like each other. St. Louis has had Minnesota’s number over the past few years. It’s funny that Van has done ok against St Louis, but not against Minn and yet Minn can’t beat St Louis. Some teams just match up better against others. St. Louis in 6
Kent- You want a war? This one is gonna bring it. Yes, the Blues have been rolling over Minny of late, but every dog has its day, and with a far better 1-2 punch in net than the Blues, it’s gonna go the distance but it’ll be the Wild that emerge from the rubble in this series. Wild in 7
jimmi - This is another example of why 3 teams need to be playing against each other in the 1st round. Not only would more teams be involved - which would be good for us - even better, I could spoil my ballot. The Wild isn’t awash in Granlunds anymore. And the Blues window was shut last year - or at best, ajar. Wild in 6
Beggsy - Easily the best Round One matchup in the Western Conference. St. Louis dominated Minnesota in the regular season, but overall I like the Wild better. Minnesota in 7.
When you look at this matchup, it doesn’t scream out as two teams being fairly evenly matched, but their records this season certainly suggest this. The Oilers looked like they were going to be in trouble until they pulled the trigger on Dave Tippett, bringing in Jay Woodcroft, who had been running the bench for the AHL Bakersfield Condors since April of 2018. Since his arrival, the Oilers have been on a tear, and so has Mike Smith, which is pretty strange at this stage in his career.
So we have the Oilers hanging their playoff fortunes on Mike Smith, against the Kings, who hope to get one more run out of Jonathan Quick. It’s as hilarious as it is intriguing, and truly a shame there isn’t a way for both teams to lose a series, because if it could happen, this would be the series. The Oilers have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and a supporting cast that’s been good down the stretch, but they’re suspect defensively, something that the Kings could take advantage of. While I would hesitate to call it an outright upset, it sure would be nice to see Alex Edler get a bit of a run before he’s done, especially at the expense of the Oilers. And let’s face it, another early Oilers exit has to result in some kind of changes, because the mix is obviously not right should they falter yet again.
Westy - Did you know that the Oilers and Kings haven’t met in the playoffs in 30 years? I still remember when the Oilers lost in 82 to the Kings in the 1st round and this opened the door for the Canucks to get to the finals. This isn’t 1982. McDavid and Draisaitl seem ready to move on to an eventual Battle of Alberta in the 2nd round. Oilers in 5
Kent- The Oilers have been phenomenal since the coaching change. The Kings have been really all over the map over the past couple months, and did just enough to keep from falling out of the playoffs. While the chance for Mike Smith to totally blow this series remains high (he is still Mike Smith, after all), the Kings are outmatched here. No Miracle in Manchester incoming, and unfortunately it’s gonna be a cruise to the Second Round for Edmonton. Oilers in 5
jimmi - A prairie cruise can be a rough ride. But still... it’s Oilers in 6
Beggsy - I think this series could be more intriguing than it looks on paper. The Kings’ experience behind guys like Anze Kopitar and Philip Danault could cause problems for the Oilers who haven’t won a series in five years. Also, Mike Smith/Mikko Koskinen are complete Wild Cards. The Oilers and Flames both move on to give us the battle of Alberta, but Edmonton doesn’t make it look easy. Edmonton in 7.