By Mike Laybourne
The NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs are just around the corner, and therefore our preview of the Western Conference’s quarter final games is here, along with some storylines to look out for and our predictions! Once you’ve read our preview; shows us how wrong Mike is by joining the 4th Line Podcast’s Bracket Challenge! Face-off times for the opening games are below and games can be seen wherever hockey is usually seen. TVs, bars, actual arenas. You choose.
Chicago Blackhawks vs Nashville Predators
The Blackhawks and Predators have met in the first round twice before, in 2010 and 2015. Both years the Hawks went on to the Stanley Cup. This season, the Western Conference winning Blackhawks all but swept the Predators in the regular season, winning four of their five games. Chicago have home ice advantage and definitely have the edge going into this series. Pedigree doesn’t necessarily win playoffs, but it helps, and the Blackhawks have buckets of it.
The Predators quietly made it to the second wildcard space, finishing level on points with Calgary but with less wins. There are some excellent players on the team too. Off-season addition P.K. Subban has contributed, as has almost the entirety of the Preds’ roster. However, on paper at least, the Blackhawks are stronger and more adept at playoff hockey. Hawks’ head coach Joel Quenneville has taken teams to more than double the playoffs than Peter Laviolette has. It sure would be a nice story of the Preds could progress, but…
Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks win the series in five games.
Puck drops on Thursday April 13th at 20:00 ET.
Minnesota Wild vs St. Louis Blues
Early in the season it was clear that the Minnesota Wild had something special. Acquiring recently unemployed head coach Bruce Boudreau in May 2016 looked like a smart move and it’s paid off. Worryingly for Wild fans, the team’s performance dropped off almost the minute they clinched their playoff spot, although they rounded the season off with a four game winning streak. If Devan Dubnyk’s glove can stay hot, then he’s the key to the Wild’s Cup success.
The St. Louis Blues have only met the Wild in playoffs once, it was also a first round series and the Wild skated away winners. The Blues have a strong roster but their offensive firepower has been dominated by Vladimir Tarasenko and not many others. The goaltending hasn’t been particularly impressive for a playoff team and the lack of roster depth could be the team’s undoing. That said; playoff hockey isn’t like regular season hockey and the Blues may yet rally together to give the Wild a solid challenge.
Prediction: Minnesota Wild win the series in seven games.
Puck drops on Wednesday April 12th at 21:30 ET
Anaheim Ducks vs Calgary Flames
The Ducks and Flames have met just once before in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was in the first round in 2006 and the Ducks won the series in seven games. Now a Ducks team that was dumped out in the first round last season will be looking to go all the way. John Gibson will likely get the nod in net, but it’s also possible that he’ll share goaltending duties throughout the series. The firm of Getzlaf, Kesler and Perry will need to replicate that regular season success if the team wants progress. Rickard Rakell has impressed too, but like the Blues, squad depth is a slight concern.
The Calgary Flames surprised many by getting this far, but their late season surge sealed their second playoff appearance in eight attempts. Johnny Gaudreau will definitely be one to watch in the playoffs, as will Sean Monahan. The top defensive pairings are also strong going forward, but this is the Flames and they’ll need good Brian Elliott to turn up if they want to take anything from the series. Head coach Glen Gulutzan will really need to pull the team together though, and it’s unlikely that they can go the distance.
Prediction: Anaheim Ducks win the series in six games.
Puck drops on Thursday April 13th at 22:30 ET
Edmonton Oilers vs San Jose Sharks
McDavids Oilers have qualified for the playoffs for the first time in a million years. Thanks in no small part to some fella named Connor McDavid, who had a 100 point season. The worry for the Oilers is that they’re a team hoping to ride McDavid all the way to the final, and some might consider the them a bit of a one-trick-pony. It’s no accident that the team are in the playoffs, but aside from some top-notch forwards, their defense is just okay and Cam Talbot hasn’t dazzled between the posts.
Last season’s runners-up; the San Jose Sharks will be looking to go all the way this time. Defensively the team are sound, with Norris Trophy favourite Brent Burns and his magnificent beard guarding the blue line. There’s probably some others in there too. Up front is a concern though, injuries to Jumbo Joe Thornton and Logan Couture might be the deal breaker as both are key playmakers for the Sharks. Both players have been skating at practice but there’s not long left to get them game fit. That said:
Prediction: San Jose Sharks win the series in seven games.
Puck drops on Thursday April 13th at 22:30 ET