The NHL Playoffs get underway this Wednesday with 8 teams vying for the 2019 Stanley Cup.
The West seems to be wide open this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of 6 of these teams made the finals.
Calgary Flames (1) vs Colorado Avalanche (WC2)
The Avalanche turned it on down the stretch to make the playoffs after an awful stretch mid-season. They are a real threat to the Flames in this first round, but ultimately I don’t think they will have the depth necessary to keep up with the high flying Flames.
Calgary had a tremendous season with the additions of Lindholm and Hanifin paying bid dividends in the regular season. The top line of the Flames is among the best in the league and then further down the lineup you have guys like Matthew Tkachuk, and even James Neal on the third line who has had a slow season, but could be an x-factor if he gets going.
Then add in the Flames D, which also has a terrific top four with Giordano, Brodie, Hanifin and Hamonic. This is quietly one of the best top four D’s in the league, rivaling the Preds.
The question mark for the Flames is in goal, but I don’t think this is the series that goaltending could bite them. I think the Flames will be able to slow Mackinnon and Landeskog enough to outscore the Avs on most nights because I don’t see a lot of depth scoring from the Avalanche.
Play: Flames 1.44
San Jose Sharks (2) vs Vegas Golden Knights (3)
The Sharks definitely backed into the playoffs, but they were able to win their final two games and get Karlsson back into the lineup for the final game to knock some rust off. This is a team that was built to make a run, and they are in a good position to do just that having stayed in the Pacific Division bracket, which I think is the best division to be in for advancing to the Cup Finals.
This is going to be a tight series, which could really go either way, but I think the Sharks have more of the game breaking type of players. Karlsson is a huge x-factor and I think he can take his game to another level in the playoffs like he did two years ago for Ottawa.
The addition of Stone at the deadline was huge for Vegas, but their top line of Marchessault, William Karlsson and Smith has come back to earth a bit this year, while the Stastny, Stone and Pacioretty line has been solid, but still hasn’t gotten going at an elite level yet.
I’m leaning towards the Sharks to get revenge for last year and start a deep run.
Play: Sharks 1.91
Nashville Predators (1) vs Dallas Stars (WC2)
I like the Preds to win this series and I think they should cruise through the Stars. The Preds are healthy and I actually think on paper they are a better team than last years team that was favoured to win the Cup. Granlund and Simmons haven’t done a lot yet, but the addition of secondary scoring should help in this series to take some pressure off the Forsberg, Johansen and Arvidsson line. Add in the best top 4 D in the league and you have to think the Preds are in a good spot heading into these playoffs.
The Stars did well to make the playoffs, but honestly I think they overachieved.
I think the Preds are the best team in the Western Conference Playoffs, while the Stars are the worst, so I really like the Preds to advance.
**Just because I think they are the best doesn’t necessarily mean I think the Preds make the finals. Another series with the Jets could cripple both teams in the second round.
Play: Predators 1.61
Winnipeg Jets (2) vs St. Louis Blues (3)
This series is so hard to call. I really think it could go either way. That said, with the Jets as slight underdogs I have to lean to Winnipeg getting the job done.
The Jets have home ice advantage, which could play a factor in this series, and I just think the Jets are a more talented team on paper, while also having last years playoff run to draw on. Yes, the Blues were the best team in the West in the second half of the season, while the Jets stumbled down the stretch into the playoffs, but this is a Jets team that can catch fire at any moment, and one that knows how to win in the playoffs.
The return of Dustin Byfuglien helps this team in a big way and even though Jordan Binnington has been unbelievable for the Blues, if you’re a Jets fan you have to be confident in Connor Hellebuyck between the pipes.
Overall, I think the Jets are the better team if both teams are playing their best. The issue is that the Blues have been playing their best for the last few months, while the Jets have not. We will see if the Jets can flip the switch and be on their A-game in this series.
Play: Jets 2.15