What an epic first round of NHL Playoffs! Both division winners in the West were knocked off in six games at most while only one second place team in each division made it to the second round (it took San Jose two wins in overtime and a full seven games to make it). The wildcard teams look the strongest, but their opponents will make their run harder. The St. Louis Blues continue their winning ways since Mike Yeo was fired, the Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon may be the best player in the whole conference and Ben Bishop could possibly win the Vezina Trophy (the award for the top goalie in the NHL) if he keeps this level of playing up. We’re in for a wild ride to say the least.
Time now for second round playoff predictions. Note here it’s possible a lot of analysts’ playoff picks are probably close to mine.
First Round picks record: 1-3
#3 San Jose Sharks v. #8/WC2 Colorado Avalanche
It’s a shock these two teams won because of the teams they played and how both series were turned upside down. After being shutout in the first game in Calgary, the Avs didn’t just beat the Flames, they walloped them after the second game. Nathan MacKinnon is back to the version of himself fans wanted him to be after his rookie season. He alone set the tone that first series, and Calgary simply gave up. Gabriel Landeskog, the actual captain and Mikko Rantanen stepped up and were dominant as could be. Last but not least, Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer showed he’s a legitimate starter in the net and can come up big when it matters most. He was the only goalie in the first round who didn’t give up a penalty shot (a play after a serious penalty in which a player at mid-ice gets to try to shoot the puck into the net against the goaltender). If Colorado advances, it’s because these four will come up big again.
San Jose completed their comeback and most importantly Martin Jones got a good amount of confidence back. It was players like Tomas Hertl, Barclay Goodrow and Kevin Labanc who dug deep and got the Sharks out of the 3-1 hole they were in. It’ll get better for the team since San Jose had struggled with Vegas all season and was successful against the Avs the regular season, scoring a minimum of four goals in three games and winning all three. While the Avs will score as well, the Sharks have better depth and have to be relieved that this roster they’re facing isn’t as deep as Vegas’.
Prediction: Sharks win series 4-2.
#5 St. Louis Blues v. #7/WC1 Dallas Stars
What a thrilling first round of hockey from both of these clubs! While St. Louis caught fire in early January and hadn’t let up going into the playoffs, the way they dominated the Jets, especially in Winnipeg, is something a lot of sports analysts and fans didn’t see coming. It’s impressive how the left and right wings (forwards) have broken through and given St. Louis a lot of goals (Jaden Schwartz has had four goals in four periods as the most prominent example) and the centers (Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn being the main ones) have made their impacts. This is impressive considering there were a few games net-minder Jordan Binnington was uncharacteristically off and deserved criticism. The Blues believe they truly can get into the Stanley Cup Finals and don’t show any signs of letting up.
It’s been a different story in Dallas, where the Stars have been around the playoff caliber teams in their division most of the regular season, but didn’t really stand out besides playing good defense. Well, the Stars made their mark by ousting the Nashville Predators in round one of the playoffs. Not only did they get into the second round, they looked in control after the first three games. Putting Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin back into the starting lineup together seems like a good decision moving forward, unless the Blues find a way to jam them up in this next series. If the Stars can score three goals or more (they were 1-2 in the first round when scoring less than three), there’s a chance they could stretch the series and maybe advance. Ben Bishop was phenomenal in the final game with over 40 saves and yielding only one goal.
The thing to watch for in this series will be coaching, as it will show who can adapt better as the series goes along. Jim Montgomery is 3-1 since 2019 started against the Blues, and his squad has gotten better the more they’ve faced Craig Berube and Jordan Binnington. I look for Dallas to frustrate the Blues more and to take control beginning Game 3.
Prediction: Stars win series 4-2