Minnesota Wild (38-33-11 87 points) versus Dallas Stars (50-23-9 109 points)
Heading into the playoffs, these two teams are going in opposite directions. The Dallas Stars are 8-2 in the their last ten and were battling all the way to end to lock up the top seed in the Western Conference. The Minnesota Wild, on the other hand, have loss five straight games and are limping into the playoffs (thank you Colorado for completely falling apart). Since John Torchetti has taken over behind the bench, the Wild have been a better team but have still been very inconsistent at times. Injury wise, the Wild have questions marks on two key players. Zach Parise and Erik Haula status for Game 1 is still unknown. If they can’t go, Minnesota has no chance (sorry Wild fans).
The Dallas’ star forward (no pun intended) Tyler Seguin returned to practice on Monday and looks to be a go for Game 1. Having Seguin’s dynamitic play-making ability back will be a huge boost for the Stars during their playoff push.
X-Factors: Dallas– Jamie Benn would probably be the NHL’s MVP if it wasn’t for Patrick Kane’s remarkable year. He has had success against the Wild this season having nine points in fives games against them. I look for him to continue his success in the first round of the playoffs
Minnesota– Charlie Coyle is second on the team in goals this season but he has not scored since March 1st. If Parise can’t go, Coyle is going to have to pick up the goal-scoring slack. Coyle is going to need to use his big body to get to the dirty areas on ice and find his scoring touch again if the Wild want to have any chance of upsetting the Stars.
Prediction: Minnesota in seven. I know this is going against pretty much everything I just said but as many of you know, I’m a Wild fan…Sorry but I can’t go against my hometown team in round one.
Chicago Blackhawks (47-26-9 103 points) versus St. Louis Blues (49-24-9 107 points)
Lets start by saying I think this will be the best series to watch during the first round of the playoffs; two great teams. The St. Louis Blues went 8-2 in their last ten and were just two points away from facing the slumping Wild (Wouldn’t that have been nice). Instead, they get the defending Stanley Cup champions, Chicago Blackhawks. St. Louis will look to stop the trend of losing in the first round (Blues fans that’s three years in a row now but whose counting). Blues will look to use their physical play to try to slow down one of the best lines in NHL that consist of the leagues top scorer and top rookie scorer (is that even fair?). The Blackhawks’ line of Panarin-Anisimov-Kane has combined for 225 points this season, that’s more than St. Louis’ top-four scorers combined. For me it’s going to come down to experience and there’s no better team when it come time for the playoffs than the Blackhawks (maybe the Kings). This will be a series that will go back and forth, it will be series of big hit and beautiful goals, and it will be series you will not want to leave your couch for. Get your popcorn ready; the Blues versus Blackhawks is going to be a treat.
X-Factors: St. Louis– The goalie combination of Jake Allen and Brain Elliot. I believe they both will see time in this series and both have had incredible seasons for the Blues. A hot goaltender can steal wins for you in the playoffs and I think these two will need to steal some big games against the Hawks to get to the second round.
Chicago– Patrick Kane has been the best player in the NHL and will win the league’s MVP when it is announced. ‘Kaner’, as people call him, thrives in the playoffs. ‘Showtime’, another one of Kane nicknames, is already looking for his fourth Stanley Cup at age 27. And as we say goodbye to a legend in the NBA, Kobe Bryant, is time for new Patrick Kane nickname? How does the Blackhawk Mamba sound?
Prediction: Chicago in six. Kane is too good, Quenneville is a better coach, and Hawks are too experienced. The Blues won’t stop them.
Nashville Predators (41-27-14 96 points) versus Anaheim Ducks (46-25-11 103 points)
The Anaheim Ducks were the talk of the NHL because of their horrible start and their big stars doing nothing early. Wow, have times changed. The Ducks have gone on to win the Pacific Division and their stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry both have over 60 points to lead the team. Nashville has been led all year by two rising young stars. Filip Forsberg led the team in points in just his second season in the NHL and can be change any game with his speed and his shot. On the blue line, Roman Josi tallied 61 points and has taken over as Nashville’s best defensemen (that’s saying something when they Shea Weber back there too). Josi is only 25 years old and will soon win a Norris Trophy if he continues to improve like he has from year to year. The series comes down to the rising young stars of Nashville against Anaheim core veteran group with playoff experience.
X-Factors: Anaheim– Corey Perry found the back of the net 34 times this year, 13 more times than any other player on his team. Playing against All-star goalie Pekka Rinne, goals are going to be hard to come by. Perry is going to need to light the lamp a lot this series for Ducks to fly into the second round.
Nashville– Ryan Johansen is one of the newest members on the Preds and has tallied 34 points since coming over from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nashville was expecting to have Harvard forward, Jimmy Vesey for their playoff run but he decided not to sign (I think he’s got his eye on playing in Toronto with Stamkos and Auston Mathews next year). With Vesey vanishing, Johansen will have to pick up his game and bring big production to this series for Nashville to move.
Prediction: Anaheim in 6. Ducks fly high in the California sky. Nashville is too young yet and the veteran leadership on the Ducks will get them past the Preds.
San Jose Sharks (46-30-6 98 points) versus LA Kings (48-28-6 102 points)
The final Western Conference matchup is a battle of California. The intriguing match-up in this series in the Kings’ home record of 26-13-3 against the Sharks’ 28-10-3 road record. San Jose has the best road record in the NHL and being the lower seed they are going to steal a game at the Staples Center to move on. Depth down the middle, is one of the most important things to have if you are planning on going deep into the playoffs, both these teams have three quality centers. The Sharks centers, Thornton, Pavelski, and Hertl have combined for 204 points. The Kings aren’t far behind; their top three scorers are their centers. Kopitar, Carter, and Toffoli, have registered 194 points this season. Which team’s top three are going to control the series? The Sharks have lived in the Kings’ shadows the past few years and have struggled when it comes playoff time. Will they get over the hump this year? Only time will tell.
X-Factors: Kings- Drew Doughty has put together another great year for the Kings. He will be a finalist for the Norris trophy and many think is going to come down to him and Erik Karlsson (Does Karlsson even play D?). He impresses many with is two-way game. Doughty will need to be a rock on the blue line for the Kings to succeed again against the Sharks.
Sharks- The Sharks have their own defensemen that’s pretty impressive. Brent Burns had 75 points playing on the back end this season for the Sharks. His 353 shots on goal were second in the NHL, only behind 50-goal scorer Alex Ovechkin. The Sharks will need Burns to fire a ton on shots on Jonathan Quick because he’s been known to play pretty good during the playoffs.
Prediction: Kings in 7. Kopitar > Thornton, Doughty > Burns, and the big one Quick > Jones (Jones road the pine behind Quick the past two years). California goes to the Kings.
EASTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW COMING SOON!!