2018 Western Conference Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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Western Conference Playoff Preview 

The NHL Playoffs start tonight! The 2017-2018 NHL season has seen a little of everything. One thing that was noticeable early on, was the increase in goals. Scoring in the league jumped up to 2.97 goals-per-game. Also, the average power play converted at just over 20%, which was a significant increase over years past. Goaltenders gave up some more goals on average as the normal mean save percentage dipped to near .909. In previous seasons, it was closer to .915.

The Western Conference is filled with some high-octane match-ups and a couple of these clashes feature bitter rivalries. This makes for some entertaining match-ups. This playoff season will be crazy! Let’s get started with the top and work our way down. Yes, this will include predictions and some projections as well. It is always good to listen to The Program and Lace Em Up Podcast for their previews as well.

Nashville Predators (C1) vs Colorado Avalanche (WC2)

Thursday, April 12, 9:30pm: Avalanche @ Predators | NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 14, 3pm: Avalanche @ Predators | NBC, CNBC, SN, TVA Sports
Monday, April 16, 10pm: Predators @ Avalanche | NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports
Wednesday, April 18, 10pm Predators @ Avalanche | NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports
*Friday, April 20, TBD: Avalanche @ Predators | TBD
*Sunday, April 22, TBD: Predators @ Avalanche | TBD
*Tuesday, April 24, TBD: Avalanche @ Predators | TBD
* if necessary

Members of the Colorado Avalanche celebrate their win over the St Louis Blues at the Pepsi Center on April 7, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Key Players: Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Pekka Rinne (Nashville). Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie, Jonathan Bernier (Colorado).

Head to Head: Nashville won all four match-ups. ​

The Skinny: Nashville went on a run that saw them nearly win the Stanley Cup last June. They continued onward and piled up 117 points (President’s Trophy win to boot). Colorado went from a sub-50 point season to making the playoffs behind the amazing effort of Nathan MacKinnon and his 1.75 plus points-per-game at home. What do the Avalanche have left in the tank without Semyon Varlamov and Erik Johnson ? That’s an excellent question. The regular season meetings featured an easy sweep by Nashville as they outscored Colorado 17-8. The first question is can the Avalanche slow down the Predators’ top line?

That answer is expected to be no. Then there is the depth of Nashville which is three lines deep, and arguably four. Nashville features the best top four in the playoffs when it comes to defense as well. The one thing Colorado has is unpredictability. Can their depth rise to the challenge? If it does, then this becomes a series. If it doesn’t, this series ends rather quickly. Nashville’s power play is also clicking at around 23% since the All-Star Break. Colorado’s penalty kill was three percentage points better with Varlamov in net. This is a match-up Nashville can exploit. If there is one silver lining for the Avalanche, it is that the Predators take a lot of penalties (299 which is the most in the NHL). Colorado’s power play is formidable but only 18.9% on the road). Also, it has yielded 8 of their 13 shorthanded goals away from home. Did we mention Nashville’s depth? That answer is probably a few times.

Prediction: Nashville in 5 – The Predators have way too much depth for Colorado to handle. Colorado may be able to keep it close but that is far as it goes.

Winnipeg Jets (C2) vs Minnesota Wild (C3)

Wednesday, April 11, 7pm: Wild @ Jets | SN, TVA Sports, CNBC
Friday, April 13, 7:30pm: Wild @ Jets | SN, TVA Sports, USA
Sunday, April 15, 7pm: Jets @ Wild | USA, SN, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 17, 8pm: Jets @ Wild | CNBC, SN, TVA Sports
*Friday, April 20, TBD: Wild @ Jets | TBD
*Sunday, April 22, TBD: Jets @ Wild | TBD
*Wednesday, April 25, TBD: Wild @ Jets | TBD
* if necessary

Nikolaj Ehlers #27 (second right) of the Winnipeg Jets and teammates congratulate Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets after they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks during NHL action on April 7, 2018 at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)

Key Players: Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg). Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba, Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota).

Head to Head: Winnipeg won three out of four match-ups.

The Skinny: Winnipeg went 32-7-2 this season at home, averaging 3.8 goals per game. The Jets had a power play which converted at nearly 25% over the second half. The only concern was their penalty kill, which was on the ice 274 times this year. Discipline is still a bit of an issue for the Jets, but they killed nearly 82% of their penalties. That was a noted improvement over the previous two seasons. Winnipeg, like Nashville, has superior depth and plays a physical game that features goal scoring ability from anywhere. Minnesota cannot say the same.

However, Eric Staal, is a 40+ goal scorer, and anyone on his line will immediately cause problems for Winnipeg. Yes, the Jets can match up well. However, this is a young team. Minnesota has a little more playoff experience. Devan Dubnyk is going to have to have the series of his life if the Wild expect to have any chance of winning this series. Minnesota’s top nine must play much better than they have all season. That includes Zach Parise, who has been just okay since his return. The Wild need to take advantage of youthful exuberance and nerves to have a chance. They must get to Connor Hellebuyck early and often.

Winnipeg’s top six, with their scoring ability and recent history may be enough. Minnesota has little chance of winning this series, but the Jets are a touch vulnerable with their fourth line and bottom pairing. The difference is Minnesota’s entire bottom six and woeful road numbers (3.41 goals-per-game allowed) may be too much for the Wild to overcome. Add in the fact that Ryan Suter is out due to injury, and Jared Spurgeon is not 100%, and the prediction becomes more clear.

Prediction: Winnipeg in 5 – Winnipeg is the best team in the league at home when it comes to offense. Enough said!

Vegas Golden Knights (P1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (WC1)

Wednesday, April 11, 10pm: Kings @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Friday, April 13, 10pm: Kings @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 15, 10:30pm: Golden Knights @ Kings | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 17, 10:30pm: Golden Knights @ Kings | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Thursday, April 19, 10pm: Kings @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports​
*Saturday, April 21, TBD: Golden Knights @ Kings | TBD
*Monday, April 23, TBD: Kings @ Golden Knights | TBD
* if necessary

The Las Vegas Golden Knights warm up before an NHL game against the Calgary Flames Saturday, April 7 at the Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, AB. The Flames won the game 7-1 (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Key Players: William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Erik Haula, James Neal, Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas). Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles).

Head to Head: Vegas and Los Angeles both won twice.

The Skinny: Vegas was the feel-good story of the 2017-18 season. Just when it looked like they may falter, the Golden Knights kept it together winning the Pacific Division (109 points). This team featured at least six players who posted career bests. William Karlsson was the breakaway player with 43 goals on just 184 shots (and a +49). Marc-Andre Fleury was able to post a .927 save percentage while starting less than 50 games. He should be rested going into the playoffs. Vegas and their top six has shown the ability to crater Los Angeles, even Anze Kopitar’s line from time to this in match-ups.

Also, can Los Angeles continue to be great on the penalty kill (85% — number one in the league)? This is essential against Vegas as Jonathan Quick will have to be the last line of defense often. The Golden Knights average 3.56 goals-per-game, but Los Angeles yields only 2.51 goals per night on the road. Los Angeles is stacked defensively and will play a downhill game in the playoffs, (hard paced with physicality). Can Vegas’s quick puck movement neutralize Los Angeles? It will be a back and forth struggle. Watch the depth of the Kings in this series. Michael Amadio and Adrian Kempe are players to watch for Los Angeles while Alex Tuch could cause the Kings fits in this series. These goaltenders will be tested with quite a few high danger chances, and both have delivered Stanley Cup championships
before.

This figures to be a series that has some noticeable swings of momentum. Vegas wins if they jump out early and Los Angeles wins the longer they can play their brand of hockey. It’s that simple.

Prediction: Los Angeles in 7 – Los Angeles is one of the few teams that can turn Vegas’s pace against them. Will it be enough? We will find out.

Anaheim Ducks (P2) vs. San Jose Sharks (P3)

Thursday, April 12, 10:30pm: Sharks @ Ducks | USA, SN360, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 14, 10:30pm: Sharks @ Ducks | NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports
Monday, April 16, 10:30pm: Ducks @ Sharks | CNBC, SN1, TVA Sports
Wednesday, April 18, 10:30pm: Ducks @ Sharks | GOLF, SN1, TVA Sports
*Friday, April 20, TBD: Sharks @ Ducks | TBD
*Sunday, April 22, TBD: Ducks @ Sharks | TBD
*Tuesday, April 24, TBD: Sharks @ Ducks | TBD
* if necessary

San Jose Sharks celebrate right wing Timo Meier (28)’s goal during the third period of the regular season game between the San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota Wild held April 7, 2018 at the SAP Center in San Jose, CA. Final score: Sharks- 3, Wild- 6. (Photo by Allan Hamilton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Key Players: Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, Ondrej Kase, Hampus Lindholm, John Gibson (Anaheim). Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Brent Burns, Martin Jones (San Jose).

Head to Head: San Jose won three out of four match-ups against Anaheim.

The Skinny: This series is expected to feature a ton of ugly. San Jose and Anaheim feature teams with a good amount of depth and shut down possibilities at every turn. Yet, there is enough firepower to keep both teams honest. It is a series that comes down to goaltending more than any other. Why? John Gibson can play out of his mind, but can he stay healthy? Martin Jones has dragged San Jose to the Stanley Cup Final. Can he regain that form? There may be times in this series where both goaltenders are at their best and worst, all at the same time.

Injuries are going to be key in this series like any other. Joe Thornton is out for Game 1 and potentially the series. Evander Kane is questionable to play in the first game. Cam Fowler is out, and John Gibson is probable. These two teams are expected to fight for every inch of ice. This series, next to Boston and Toronto, should be the most highly contested. San Jose’s penalty differential of +32 could come into play as Anaheim conversely has a league worst -60. It is mostly why Gibson’s health is so vital. He is the Ducks best defender and penalty killer. Ondrej Kase and Adam Henrique could be a scary third line duo which could hurt San Jose often as the games dwindle. San Jose arguably is the better team but remember that Anaheim has home ice advantage. It is likely to come down to a Game 7.

The Sharks and Ducks will test the limits of net front presence like no other rivals in these games. Expect a lot of the unexpected in this one as these teams are rather evenly matched. Can the Ryan Kesler line shut down the Pavelski-Kane duo and the Sharks power play for that matter? If they do, Anaheim wins this series. If they do not, Anaheim loses. ​

Prediction: Anaheim in 7 – The Ducks three centers may just be too much for San Jose along with their depth. San Jose must draw way more penalties to win this series late. Anaheim with that home ice advantage barely gets past the Sharks.

 

Written by Chris Wassel / @ChrisWasselDFS

Special to HockeyClan

 

Main Image: The Nashville Predators are shown with the Presidents’ Trophy prior to the NHL game between the Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets, held on April 7, 2018, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

 

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