2023 NHL Western Conference First Round Playoff Predictions

If one was told the NHL’s western conference had more 100 plus point teams make the postseason than the east (despite Boston’s historic season), many fans and analysts would question the validity. While true, many wonder if whoever comes out of the conference can put up a fight against an eastern conference heavyweight. Los Angeles followed up last year’s impressive season with improvement but has to face Edmonton again. Dallas and Minnesota are favorites to make the conference finals but couldn’t win their division against an up-and-down Avalanche team. The current Stanley Cup champions won’t have their captain all postseason and begin the playoffs against the newest NHL franchise. Only four teams advance to the second round. Time to break down which four have the best chance to move on.

#5 Los Angeles Kings v. #3 Edmonton Oilers

Captains Connor McDavid and Anze Kopitar have been playing chess style hockey ever since last year’s first round series went seven games.

How things change in a year. Last season’s playoff prediction was written as a sweep. Not only did the series go seven games but the regular season matchups after showcased the Los Angeles Kings being the only team to suffocate and slow down a historically great Edmonton Oilers power-play. Despite the goalie change from Jonathan Quick to Joonas Korpisalo, coach Todd McLellan’s done a better job guiding the team’s defense, improving the offense and growing young talent.

Like some teams this postseason, Los Angeles would fare better against another opponent. Edmonton will go as far as MVP favorite Connor McDavid takes them and Stuart Skinner has been the better goaltender the past two months in Alberta. He knows how to stop the Kings offense and slow down charges toward the net. The Oilers offense won’t be fully contained, but expect Los Angeles to drag down pace of play the longer this series lasts.

Prediction: Oilers win series 4-2

#8 Winnipeg Jets v. #1 Vegas Golden Knights

The Jets played their best hockey the last month of the regular season. Vegas needs to be careful and do the same if they want a deep run in the playoffs.

This postseason re-match of the 2018 conference finals won’t live up to the hype but it could surpass the potential. While Vegas was the best team out west, Winnipeg seesawed. Both Bruce Cassidy and Rick Bowness are coaches any player would want to play for. When the latter called out his team for abysmal offensive production, the star players led the way and stepped up when needed most. When Cassidy criticized the defense, the Golden Knights became one of the better units to defend against the puck.

The last time these two met in the postseason it was one sided after two games. That won’t repeat even if Vegas advances. The Jets still have an elite goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck and Josh Morrissey will lead a top ten defense against a Golden Knight offense needing an early test. If Bruce Cassidy’s team wants to get back to the Stanley Cup finals, they must learn valuable lessons and apply pressure against a team already in playoff form.

Prediction: Golden Knights win series 4-3

#7 Seattle Kraken v. #2 Colorado Avalanche

Seattle and Denver have bad blood in previous sports rivalries. This series should re-energize the hatred.

Don’t look now but another Seattle versus Denver rivalry is taking shape in the playoffs. This time it’s the Kraken’s franchise postseason debut, and it comes against the reigning Stanley Cup champions. A total reverse of last season, Seattle scores in bunches while playing lackluster defense at best. The Avalanche are also in a reverse. Injuries to captain Gabriel Landeskog, Erik Johnson and Darren Helm could present depth problems in later rounds.

Colorado’s defense is more stout this year with Alexandar Georgiev in net and Mikko Rantanen’s highest scoring year will present a lot of problems to the newest team in the league. Regardless of result, general manager Ron Francis did a great job with asset management and hiring the right people to coach up a jumbled roster.

Prediction: Avalanche win series 4-1

#6 Minnesota Wild v. #4 Dallas Stars

There won’t be a hotter and meaner seven game series out west than the former North Stars versus the Wild. May the best green win!

This is the best series in the conference. Minnesota’s lockdown defense, hot goal-tending duo and a potent offense (even without Kirill Kaprizov) faces a resurgent Dallas Stars team layered in offensive scoring depth and great defense. Dean Evason and Peter DeBoer are the right coaches for both teams at this moment.

Rivalries are the main theme between these teams. Both coaches faced each other in the postseason a few years ago (when DeBoer was coaching the Golden Knights) and pulled out every trick. The Stars’ connection to Minnesota before moving to Dallas ensures there will be many fan reactions, fights, intimidation and a lot of penalty minutes for both teams. Expect enforcers Ryan Reaves and Jamie Benn to land in the penalty box often and games elongated with a lot of four-on-four power plays.

As much as coach Evason’s Wild have succeeded and defied expectations again, DeBoer’s Stars have more veteran leadership, talent and enough playoff experience to win the series. This could be Dallas’ last chance for a deep run in the playoffs and cornerstones such as Benn, Tyler Seguin and Joe Pavelski will do everything possible to get near the Stanley Cup one more time.

Prediction: Stars win series 4-3

2022 NHL Western conference playoff picks: 4-4


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