Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview-Western Conference

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This year is the first year with the new AHL playoff model as the NHL playoff format. I am by no means a fan of this new format and would much prefer to have the old format back. I understand that owners want to save money and cut down on travel, but you pigeon hole teams into matchups that could/should be Western Conference Finals or Eastern Conference Finals matchups. Why not just take the division winners and seed them #1 and #2 and then fill in the rest? It would literally be the old format with the new divisions. It’s quite frustrating as a fan when the NHL changes stuff that doesn’t need to be changed. That being said, these four first round matchups are extremely juicy. And without further adieu, here is my Western Conference preview and predictions.

Central Division

#1 Colorado Avalanche vs. #4 Minnesota Wild
Sporting Charts Matchup Comparison

Patrick Roy had done a helluva job in his first year as head coach, though it does help when the team you take over for has been brutal and is littered with top 3 picks on the roster. I expected the Minnesota Wild to be a lot better going into this season, but the injuries in net took their toll on them. Despite having Zach Parise and one of the most underrated forwards in the league on offense (Mikko Koivu), the Wild don’t have the offense to keep pace with the Avs who score about 3 goals per game. Even though Matt Duchene is going to miss the first round of the playoffs, the Avs have enough to get past the Wild. Avalanche in 5

#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #3 Chicago Blackhawks
Sporting Charts Matchup Comparison

The St. Louis Blues backed into the playoffs in a gruesome fashion after starting out hot after the trade deadline. Both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Blues are dinged up and this series will be a struggle. The Chicago Blackhawks only finished third because of injuries to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Some bad news for Blues fans though, both of them will be back for the first round.

The Chicago Blackhawks finished 6 points out of first place in the division and you can guarantee if Toews and Kane had been around for that whole time, they would have won it. The only area the Blues are better than them is in net and the Blackhawks at full strength can solve Ryan Miller. The second best offense in the league against the third best defense makes for quite an interesting series, but if the Blues don’t get out of this funk they’re going to be in trouble. Blackhawks in 7

Semi-Finals:

#1 Colorado Avalanche vs. #3 Chicago Blackhawks
Sporting Charts Matchup Comparison

A matchup of the experienced cup winners against the up-and-coming young guns is always fun. This is the round where experience takes over. The Colorado Avalanche have an average blue line and Semyon Varlamov is not capable of carrying the youthful Avs past a team as good as the Hawks. The Avs have potential and will be a force in the future, but until they bulk up on defense, they will struggle with teams as deep as the Hawks. With Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson on the point, thats plenty for the Hawks to be able to shut down the Avs offense. Blackhawks in 6

Pacific Division:

#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. #4 Dallas Stars
Sporting Charts Matchup Comparison

The Dallas Stars are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and it’s only Jim Nill’s first year as General Manager (Nill was assistant GM for the Red Wings). Kari Lehtonen being healthy has been crucial for the Stars, as well as the play of Tyler Seguin on a line with Jamie Benn. The Ducks bulked up at the trade deadline and Jonas Hiller is always good for a solid round or two. Add in the fact that this is Teemu Selanne’s last go-round in the playoffs and the Ducks will have plenty to make a move past the Stars. Anaheim in 5

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #3 Los Angeles Kings
Sporting Charts Matchup Comparison

Another one of the glorious first round matchups in the Western Conference is this one between the two Cali squads. The Kings have a great deal of depth at every position, but have struggled to score goals all season. They thought Marian Gaborik would help bring up their goal scoring, but they’re still one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. Despite the Kings scoring woes, they do boast one of the best goalies in the league, and if anyone can carry a team, it’s Jonathan Quick. Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks have been on a tear this year; led by Joe Pavelski, who is having a career year. Antti Niemi has proven to be a solid playoff goalie and he has had a solid regular season yet again. I think this is finally the year that the San Jose Sharks stop underachieving and finally put it together come playoff time. Sharks in 7

Semi-Finals:

#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. # 2 San Jose Sharks
Sporting Charts Matchup Comparison

Another premium matchup between California rivals will give everyone great entertainment. As good as the Anaheim Ducks were in the regular season, Bruce Boudreau teams can’t seem to put it together in the playoffs. The San Jose Sharks have more depth on offense and I think their blue line will shut down Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. When that happens, the Sharks will take over. Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton will be too much for the Ducks blue line to contain. On top of that, Niemi is a better goalie than Hiller and that will show during this series. Sharks in 6

Western Conference Finals:

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #3 Chicago Blackhawks
Sporting Charts Matchup Comparison

The Chicago Blackhawks may have to play this series without home ice advantage, but that won’t come into play for this experienced group. As I’ve said multiple times, had Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews been healthy the whole year, this group would have been the #1 seed in the West. Depth is what wins championships, and it’s only fitting that the team with the most depth in the West moves on. It’s an experienced group and when healthy, there’s not a better team in the league. Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp provide secondary scoring that the Sharks blue line won’t be able to contain and if Niemi falters, the Hawks will move on. The San Jose Sharks always seem to be on the cusp of putting it together, but their blue line depth isn’t quite there yet. Blackhawks in 6

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