Now that the Eastern Conference path has been predicted, it’s time to take a look at the West. Certainly a new-look west without Los Angeles or San Jose, but an intriguing one nonetheless.
#1 St. Louis Blues vs. #4 Minnesota Wild
Sporting Charts: Blues vs. Wild
The St. Louis Blues had some question marks in net entering this series (as in who was going to be the starter) and have decided to go with the youngster Jake Allen because he has the hot hand. And speaking of hot hands, Devan Dubnyk has been resurrected since being traded to Minnesota and helped carry this team to the playoffs. The Blues score more goals per game and give up fewer per game than the Wild and when you pair that with a 22.3% powerplay, the Wild will have their work cut out for them.
The Blues have far superior depth and have 9 players with 44 points or more and the Wild only have 4 players with more than 40 points. The Wild don’t have the depth on the blue line to try to lock up guys like Vladimir Tarasenko, and the Blues have more than enough on the back-end in Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester, and Alex Pietrangelo to lock up Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek. Blues in 5
#2 Nashville Predators vs. #3 Chicago Blackhawks
Sporting Charts: Predators vs. Blackhawks
The Nashville Predators may have surprised some people this year, but when you have a goalie like Pekka Rinne and he is finally fully healthy, he can carry you far. The Predators don’t have a prolific scoring team but they don’t have to be. Now the Blackhawks struggled down the stretch, but people forget that Patrick Kane hasn’t played in seven weeks. Unfortunately for the Preds, Kane has been cleared to play and I expect that to rejuvenate the Hawks and give them a new jump. Kane would have won the Art Ross if he hadn’t gotten hurt and if he can come back in the form that he was in prior to the injury, I like the Hawks chances.
Shea Weber and Roman Josi have formed quite a formidable pair and while Pekka Rinne is one of the best goalies in the league, I don’t think the Predators can score enough to keep pace. Oddly enough, the Predators ended up scoring more goals per game than the Blackhawks, but when you think about the fact that Kane hasn’t played in 2 months, that’s going to decimate your numbers. As for the Hawks giving up fewer goals per game than the Preds, I can’t explain that other than Carter Hutton’s numbers being significantly worse than Scott Darling’s. Blackhawks in 7
Division Final: #1 St. Louis Blues vs. #3 Chicago Blackhawks
Sporting Charts: Blues vs. Blackhawks
This would make for one helluva a Central Division Final; two teams with incredible amounts of depth going toe to toe. The Blackhawks blue line would have to be on their game to shut down the Blues offense that averages nearly 3 goals per game. And while the Blues have incredible depth on the blue line, the Blackhawks have one of the few groups of forwards that can overwhelm them. Jonathan Toews has been in great form all season and the addition of Patrick Kane will give him far more room than he’s had the past few weeks. I think the biggest difference will come down in net though. With Jake Allen and Brian Elliott still jockeying (and Allen barely winning) and Corey Crawford firmly established for the Blackhawks, I give Chicago the edge. An established, cup-winning goalie on an elite team is tough to take down. Blackhawks in 7
#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. #4 Winnipeg Jets
Sporting Charts: Ducks vs. Jets
The Winnipeg Jets snuck into the playoffs and their prize is a matchup with one of the most dominant teams from the regular season. Oddly enough, the Jets give up fewer goals per game (thanks to the emergence of Michael Hutchinson and the last month streak of Ondrej Pavelec) and average almost the same amount of goals scored per game as the Ducks. The Ducks had a rough start to the year with questions in net and the Mumps, but Frederik Andersen has taken the job and the Ducks seem to be healthy. The Jets don’t possess a defensive pairing capable of slowing down Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and this is where they will run into problems. The Jets have very good scoring depth, but the Ducks have a better blue line and better overall talent. Ducks in 5
#2 Vancouver Canucks vs. #3 Calgary Flames
Sporting Charts: Canucks vs. Flames
We have our first Western Canada playoff matchup in quite some time and it is sure to cause a stir up North. The Flames haven’t been in the playoffs since 2009 and I think this is where their advantage lies. Not only do they have superior goaltending, but they have the young, hungry lineup. I wouldn’t have thought that Jonas Hiller would have been better than Ryan Miller but he has been. He’s been superior in every statistical category, with 5 fewer shutouts, not great for Miller. In fact, there are rumors that Eddie Lack may end up starting instead of Miller because of his play this year and his injury trouble, which would prove to be interesting.
The Flames have far superior scoring depth and even with the injury to Mark Giordano, their blue line has played better this year. The Canucks improved, yes, but they struggle with possession and the inconsistency in net is going to be a huge problem. Look for the young flames led by Johnny Gaudreau to get it done. Flames in 7
Division Final: #1 Anaheim Ducks vs. #3 Calgary Flames
Sporting Charts: Ducks vs. Flames
The Flames were statistically superior in almost every single offensive category and in net, so how exactly did the Ducks get 12 more points than the Flames? It’s a bit of a rhetorical question because though the stats may not back it up when comparing head-to-head, the Ducks are a better team (the Ducks also went 3-2 against the Flames this year, if you want to compare actual games). Now the Flames could steal a series like this, they honestly could. Jonas Hiller is known for being a giant killer and the youngsters in Anaheim that took over the job for him are known to be inconsistent. The real difference comes down to the blue lines. If Mark Giordano was healthy, I would really like the Flames chances because Giordano was a potential Norris Trophy candidate before he got hurt. But without him, I’m not sure they possess the defensive capabilities to shut down Getzlaf and Perry for an entire seven game series…and let’s not forget about Ryan Kesler. Ducks in 6
Western Conference Finals:
#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. #3 Chicago Blackhawks
Sporting Charts: Ducks vs. Blackhawks
The Blackhawks may only be the #3 seed in their division, but for my money, these are the two best playoff teams in the west. Two of the three most complete teams and while they may not fit the mold of goaltending carrying them, their superiority in other positions makes them logical picks to advance this far.
The Blackhawks have been better in their own zone this year, with Anaheim averaging more goals for, but outside of that, the Blackhawks have been superior in every major statistical category. I actually had the Ducks advancing originally, but the more I looked at the stats and the more I thought about the return of Patrick Kane, I couldn’t pick against the Blackhawks. The Ducks will need Andersen to find his elite form in order to have a chance, but if he continues to play like he has (2.38 GAA, .914 SV%), then the Ducks aren’t going to get it done. The Blackhawks simply have too much depth on their team and have the advantage in net. Blackhawks in 7
Stanley Cup Final:
#3 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #1 New York Rangers
Sporting Charts: Blackhawks vs. Rangers
Based on my prediction at this point, the Blackhawks will have already played 3 seven game series and would probably run out of gas at this point. Not to mention they wouldn’t have played a team that can match them depth-wise with such an elite tendy. For me, it’s quite simple; if the Rangers don’t win the Stanley Cup this year, they may never win it again. They have a top 3 scoring offense and the best blue line in the league. They can shut down guys like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp, while Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello rack up points. It would be a close series, but Lundqvist in prime form is just too much for the Hawks. Rangers in 6
I probably could have been more specific and more in-depth with some of these predictions, but the bottom line is these will probably get messed up very shortly after the playoffs start. This is one of the most open years I’ve seen and there are legitimately between 7-9 Stanley Cup Contenders. I think that the Rangers are the best team, but they still aren’t a runaway favorite with the Canadiens, Ducks, Blues and Blackhawks looming. This could be the most entertaining playoff the NHL has had in years.