Western Conference Preview
The NHL Playoffs begin tonight, so Fanpicks is here to bring you all you need to know with our Western Conference Preview.
(1) Dallas Stars (50-23-7-2, 109 pts) vs. (WC) Minnesota Wild (38-33-9-2, 87 pts)
In the wild, wild West, the top-seeded Dallas Stars face the Minnesota Wild. It marks the first time the Stars, who relocated to Dallas from Minnesota in 1993, will face the Wild in the post-season.
The Stars come in blazing, having won nine of their last 11 while overcoming injuries to key forwards Tyler Seguin (Achilles tendon) and Patrick Eaves (lower body).
The Wild closed their own season out by losing their last five games, and though one can try to claim their minds were already on the playoffs… losing five in a row of anything in’t good. It begins to affect you, and they’ve already gone through a mid-season coaching change, so the psyche isn’t necessarily strong in that locker room.
To make matters worse, the club recently announced that offensive catalyst Zach Parise is dealing with a back issue and is out indefinitely. Thomas Vanek (18 goals) and Eric Haula (14) are also injured.
(2) St. Louis Blues (49-24-5-4, 107 pts) vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks (47-26-7-2, 103 pts)
The first series in the Western Conference to get underway features a pair of long-time division rivals. The Central division’s St. Louis Blues facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. It marks the 12th meeting between the two franchises, with Chicago leading the all-time series 8-4.
The Blues may have been the team nobody wanted to play against the most as the season wound to a finale. So, it’s a good thing Chicago probably has the best roster in the West.
Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook form a core that have already brought three Stanley Cups to Chicago in the last six years. So, even though the Blues are trending upwards they will certainly have their hands full.
(1) Anaheim Ducks (46-25-7-4, 103 pts) vs. (WC) Nashville Predators (41-27-12-2, 96 pts)
The Ducks’ victory capped an impressive run that began immediately following the NHL’s Christmas break. Anaheim opened the season 1-7-2 and was 12-15-6 following a 3-2 overtime loss at the Rangers on Dec. 22.
Starting with a 4-2 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 27, the Ducks closed the season 34-10-5.
Their run was just enough to catch California rivals the LA Kings and snatch the division crown away.
Offensive leaders Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were under fire early on, as Getzlaf didn’t score for the first 14 games of the season, and didn’t collect his first even-strength goal until February 4, 2016…Game number 49. But the duo ended-up finishing 1-2 in team scoring with 63, and 62 points respectively.
While youngin’ Filip Forsberg is an offensive dynamo( 33 goals, 64 points), Nashville’s strength lies in their defensive core. Shea Weber is the biggest name of the bunch, but D-partner Roman Josi (61 points) had the better season and should be a Norris candidate himself. Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis are no slouches either, which is why the club felt comfortable in dealing away potential franchise defenseman Seth Jones for star center Ryan Johansen who had fallen out of favour in Columbus.
John Gibson is young, but a proven big-game performer at all levels so he may get the majority of the starts, but Frederik Andersen has been in this position before.
Pekka Rinne had an off-season for his standards, so the jury is out on whether or not he’ll turn things around when it matters most.
The Ducks and Predators will meet for the first time in the playoffs.
The Kings will face the Sharks for the fourth time. The Kings have won two of three series including a first-round matchup in 2014, when Los Angeles became the NHL’s fourth team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.
Anze Kopitar is perhaps the league’s best centerman, as he dominates every aspect of the game with relative ease. He will be supported offensively by a streaking Jeff Carter, who has six goals in his last eight games, and a slew of talented vets.
Defensively, Drew Doughty is the Norris Trophy (league’s top D-man) favorite, and gets even better in the playoffs.
Goalie Jonathan Quick is probably the NHL’s best playoff goaltender, and set a personal career-high with his 40 victories this season.
Los Angeles squandered a chance to clinch the Pacific Division following a 4-3 shootout loss to Winnipeg on Saturday in which the Kings blew a 3-0 lead.
The last game of the regular reason maybe not seem important to clinched teams, but if the Kings can’t hold off the Jets up 3-0…there is serious reason for concern.
Joe Thornton had his best season since 2009-10 keading the Sharks with 82 points in 82 games. More often than not, he was busy setting up captain Joe Pavelski (38 goals ) and defenseman Brent Burns (27 goals, 75 points).
Martin Jones proved to be a fruitful acquisition for San Jose this year, but has only 57 minutes of playoff experience under his belt (no starts), compared to Jonathan Quick’s 4684 and pair of Stanley Cup rings.