Just like the East, I finished an even 2-2 with my predictions. It wasn’t shocking to see the Predators or Wild lose, but it was surprising to see them put up a fight. Both teams had a lot of holes, but they gave their opponents a run for their money. It was a gift to watch Connor McDavid carry the Oilers on his back and still miss the playoffs. One day this team will be good, but that day is not today. For the Jets, even Connor Hellebuyck couldn’t save them. Maybe that series would have been different had Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine not been injured, but give Calgary credit; they came out to play.
Now the “real” playoffs start. We move from a best-of-five series to the traditional best-of-seven. Let’s take a look at the matchups and pick some winners.
Dallas Stars Vs. Calgary Flames
Prediction: Flames in 5
The Dallas stars managed to win one game in the round robin tournament, and it came in the shootout. Ben Bishop seems to be dealing with an injury and both John Klingberg and Tyler Seguin were forced to miss at least one due to being “unfit to play.” Even if the Stars were healthy, they don’t have what it takes to get past this Calgary team.
The Flames made Connor Hellebuyck look like Martin Jones, and that’s hard to do. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but Hellebuyck didn’t look amazing, and his team didn’t do much to support him. Maybe that’s because the Flames were relentless. Matthew Tkachuk was his typical self, and despite only registering two points, he was a presence all over the ice.
The biggest surprise was the Flames top line doing damage. Sean Monahan didn’t have a great season, but he finished with six points in four games. The biggest surprise goes to Milan Lucic, who had four points in as many games. When you’re getting points from him, you know things are going well.
Dallas has pieces to score goals, but they just aren’t doing it enough. They scored five goals in three games and gave up ten. The Flames are a good team, and they will give Dallas all kinds of trouble. I don’t expect this series to be very competitive.
St. Louis Blues Vs. Vancouver Canucks
Prediction: St. Louis in 6
It’s concerning that the defending Stanley Cup champions finished last in the round robin tournament, while allowing ten goals. They didn’t have injuries to deal with, and they played some competitive hockey games, but in the end, they just couldn’t win. The blessing here is that they get to face off against the Canucks.
No disrespect to Vancouver fans, but the Minnesota Wild made them look average at times. This series was supposed to be an easier one for them, and Minnesota took them to overtime of game four.
There are some positives here for Vancouver. Quinn Hughes had six points in that series, and he looked really good. There’s no question that he was their best player in the series. Jacob Markstrom also played very well in the four games, and he’s going to need to do the same if the Canucks want to have a chance in this series.
On the other side, Jordan Binnington had himself a round-robin to forget. It’s only two games, but a .895 SV% and a 4.10 GAA is #NotGood. We know just how good he can be, and the Canucks have two very good lines that can score goals. He’s going to need to find his game, and quickly, if the Blues want to make it to the next round.
So why am I giving St. Louis the advantage here? It’s simple: they’ve been here before, and playoff experience at this point is key. Ryan O’Reilly is one of the best two-way centerman in the game, and I expect his line to completely eliminate Elias Pettersson and company. The kid is going to realize that playing against Eric Staal and O’Reilly isn’t quite the same.
They still have to get the job done, and I know Vancouver will push them. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Blues don’t find their way and get eliminated, but great hockey teams find a way to win, and the Blues are a great hockey team with a lot of depth. You can’t take that away from them.
Colorado Avalanche Vs. Arizona Coyotes
Prediction: Colorado in 7
It’s always a pleasure to watch Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche play. They were good in the round robin tournament, and they will be good against the Arizona Coyotes.
Speaking of the Yotes, I expected them to get past the Predators, but they certainly didn’t make it easy. If it wasn’t for Darcy Kuemper, they probably would have been eliminated. Juuse Saros was average, and the Coyotes took advantage of that, but they also gave up 163 shots to a team that wasn’t able to muster any offence during the regular season. We know Roman Josi is good, but you can’t allow a defenceman to take 14 shots on goal in one game. Yeah, that’s how many shots he had in game four alone.
Kuemper finished with a 2.77 GAA, but a .933 SV%, which tells you everything you need to know. The Coyotes are built to place defence first, any they did very little of that. They don’t have the firepower to keep up with teams offensively, so it’s crucial that they play well defensively and limit chances. If they give Colorado that many chances, they are going to get destroyed in four games.
I do expect them to tighten things up, and that may force Colorado to open up. Philipp Grubauer was good in his two games, but we know he has holes in his game, and Arizona can exploit them. Seven games seems like a stretch, but it’s not as crazy as you think. We know that good defence and good goaltending can win you a series, and the Coyotes have both. They need to take away time and space from Colorado’s top line and force someone else to beat them.
In the end, it’s going to be a tight series, but you can only contain MacKinnon for so long before he goes out and blows by you and finishes one top shelf.
Las Vegas Golden Knights Vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Prediction: Las Vegas in 5
What a mismatch on paper this is. The Golden Knights blew everyone out in the round-robin, scoring 15 goals in three games, and they are about to get Max Pacioretty back. For the Blackhawks, Corey Crawford was less terrible than Edmonton. We know the Oilers couldn’t keep the puck out of their net, and the Blackhawk’s top line made sure everyone else knew it. This series is going to feature a lot of goals, but unfortunately, they’ll be coming from the same team.
It’s no secret that the Golden Knights have the advantage in goal. It’s ironic that the Hawks traded away Lehner, only to probably face him in the playoffs. There’s an outside chance that Fleury gets the start in game one for Vegas, but Peter DeBoer won’t give his “number one” goalie a long leash knowing his “back up” goalie can get the job done.
For Chicago, it really comes down to play good team defence. We saw what the Blue Jackets just did to the Leafs, but can Chicago really replicate that? That’s probably their best chance at getting to the next round, but good luck trying to convince Patrick Kane to play team defence first.
Can Corey Crawford stand on his head and win a game for his team? Maybe, but we can’t expect him to do it four times in one series. The fact that Chicago doesn’t have a good back up goalie (sorry Malcolm) adds a ton of pressure on Crawford to perform. He’s been here before, but that was then and this is now. It was nice to see them upset Edmonton in the first round, but that’s as far it goes for them.