The NHL’s western conference was a roller coaster. A team from California made it back to the playoffs, Nashville fell to the eighth seed in their season finale against the Arizona Coyotes and the pleasant surprises of Dallas and Calgary should make this a fun playoffs to remember. Only four teams advance to the second round. Time to break down which four have the best chance to move on.
#6 Los Angeles Kings v. #5 Edmonton Oilers
Let’s begin the first round in the west with an easy series matchup. Los Angeles and Edmonton locked into the fifth and sixth spot a week before the regular season ended. The Oilers won all but one regular season game against the Kings. One of the wins was by three goals.
While Edmonton’s duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl faced criticism the past two years for quick first round exits, they were to veteran playoff teams. There are some former champions on this rejuvenated Los Angeles squad, but not the same amount Chicago had, nor is there the veteran depth or better coaching Winnipeg boasted. Goaltending is more stable up north with Mike Smith having a lights-out spring and the Oiler defense playing better. The Kings won’t have Drew Doughty, a critical dual player who defends well and helps the offense find rhythm.
Prediction: Oilers win series 4-1
#8 Nashville Predators v. #1 Colorado Avalanche
Another simple matchup. Had the Predators won against Arizona the last game of their regular season, this would be a different opponent. Nashville would be the one in Calgary and the Dallas Stars in Colorado. Avalanche fans can breathe relief knowing the superior Stars team won’t be the opponent in round one.
A decisive factor in this series is the injury to Predators goalie Juuse Saros. The ankle sprain sustained almost two weeks ago means backup David Rittich gets the start. Nashville’s struggled on defense since Saros’ injury, and Colorado will swarm and take advantage of the change all series.
While first in the league in most penalty minutes, once the Predators dropped out of the top ten in both goals for and goals against, the team cratered. It’s disappointing because Nashville is a team that could go further with Roman Josi, Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg having career years.
Prediction: Avalanche win series 4-1
#7 Dallas Stars v. #2 Calgary Flames
Maybe the most underrated series, coaches Daryl Sutter and Rick Bowness will have their hands full against deep offenses and solid defenses. This could be similar to the 2020 bubble series where both teams went on runs and the winner scored half a dozen goals in order to win round one.
A lot’s changed in two years. Calgary’s revamped in net while Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau scored 40+ goals each this season. The Flames power-play is top three in the league and has to score knowing Dallas committed the least penalty minutes.
Dallas has one 40 goal scorer in Jason Robertson while Roope Hintz and the ageless wonder Joe Pavelski aren’t far behind. The trio is why Dallas clinched a playoff berth despite a subpar performance by the first line. A plus for the Stars is the addition of Scott Wedgewood in net, who should start the series because Jake Oettinger plays hot and cold.
These two teams played each other three times in the regular season and all three were close. Dallas has more veterans and went through a rougher stretch than Calgary this season. While both head coaches have decades of experience, the veteran Stars may have one long run left.
Upset prediction in the first round: Dallas wins series 4-2
#4 St. Louis Blues v. #3 Minnesota Wild
I personally believe whoever wins this series represents the western conference in the Stanley Cup championship. They’re complete teams that are difficult to beat four times out of seven. Both Calgary and Colorado don’t have the experience in later rounds nor the talent these two have.
Get ready for one of the best series we’ll see this postseason. The goalie tandems of Ville Husso/Jordan Binnington and Marc-Andre Fleury/Cam Talbot will display why Minnesota and St. Louis were top four teams in the west. Forwards and centers Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas, Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan Hartman, Kirill Kaprizov and Nick Bjugstad ensure depth must step up for either to advance. Don’t be surprised if both team’s depth in every position makes this a long series.
St. Louis barely winning the regular season series sweep adds some bias. However they faced Wild goaltender Cam Talbot in all three games. They’ve yet to play against Fleury and a better defense anchored by Jared Spurgeon and Jared Brodin. The Blues could be in trouble if both Husso and Binnington crack under pressure in the first two games.
Prediction: Wild win series 4-2
Regular season playoff picks record: 3-6