How the First Round of the NHL Western Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs Will Go
After the Stanley Cup Qualifiers decided who could move on to play for the Stanley Cup, we are down to 16 teams remaining in the NHL bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.
Here are At the Buzzer’s picks for the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs.
Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (12)
Before the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, I had the Edmonton Oilers making it to the Western Conference Final. With the star power of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisiatl, there was no way the measly Blackhawks could defeat the juggernaut Oilers.
Much to mine and the rest of the NHL’s surprise, the Blackhawks knocked the Oilers out of the Stanley Cup relatively easily. Chicago’s stars shined in the four-game series as Jonathan Toews had 7 points, Dominik Kubalik had 6 points, and Patrick Kane had 4 points. The Blackhawks are certainly hot coming out of the qualifying round, but the Golden Knights might be even hotter.
The Knights won all three of their round-robin games, and they scored 15 games over that stretch. While I didn’t think Vegas was prepared to make a run deep into the Stanley Cup, they are now in the best position they can be at the number one seed.
The key to the Golden Knights’ success is if their veteran goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury can return to his dominant playoff form. While I certainly have much more respect for the Blackhawks and their grit than I did at the beginning of this postseason, I don’t think they can squeak past Vegas. I have the Golden Knights winning in 5 games.
Colorado Avalanche (2) vs. Arizona Coyotes (11)
Though I predicted that the Coyotes would upset the Predators, I was still a little shocked when they actually beat Nashville in four games. There has been much debate over the regular season as to who should start in goal: Antti Raanta or Darcy Kuemper.
That question has seemingly been answered for the meantime, as Kuemper has absolutely shined in goal for the Coyotes against the Predators. During their series, Kuemper had a save percentage of 0.933 and a GAA of 2.71. Things seem to be going the Coyotes way, but the Predators can by no means be compared to the Avalanche.
The Avalanche have been an absolute tear as of late, as they went 2-0-1 in the round-robin round outscoring opponents 9-5. With the star power of goalie Philip Grubauer and Calder Memorial Trophy Finalist, Cale Makar, there is no stopping the Avalanche. The Coyotes looked good but with the Avalanche making it to the Stanley Cup Final in my predictions, Colorado will sweep Arizona and win in 4 games.
Dallas Stars (3) vs. Calgary Flames (8)
With Connor Hellebuyck, Patrick Laine, and Blake Wheeler, I thought there was no way the Jets could lose in the qualifying round. Much to the contrary, the Flames made a joke out of the Jets. Over the four-game stretch, the Flames recorded 3 wins and outscored the Jets 16-6.
Things for the Stars, on the other hand, didn’t work out so well. The Stars were pretty lucky to sneak into the round-robin stage, as their win percentage was just slightly better than the surging Oilers at the end of the regular season. During the round-robin stage, the Stars were 1-2-0 and their one win came in a shootout. The Stars were also outscored 10-5 over that three-game stretch.
The Flames seem to have all the momentum in the world while the Stars just don’t seem to have anything going for them, and in hockey, momentum really is the most important thing. Dallas probably has more star power with Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop, but they don’t seem to be succeeding as a team. Calgary was a well-oiled machine against the Jets, so I have the Flames upsetting the Stars in 6 games.
St. Louis Blues (4) vs. Vancouver Canucks (7)
The St. Louis Blues seemed to have had a similar fall from grace in the round-robin stage as the Boston Bruins, as both teams started at the 1-seed and left at the 4-seed. The Blues were 0-2-1 in their last three games and were outscored 10-6 over that stretch. On the other hand, things were pretty smooth sailing for Vancouver.
After a rocky start in which they were shut out 3-0 by the Wild, the Canucks won the next three games to win the series. In that stretch, the Canucks outscored the Wild 12-7. While it seems that the odds may be tipping in the Canucks’ favor on this one, I can’t not pick the defending champs. Quinn Hughes has been mighty impressive in his rookie season, but the likes of Ryan O’Reilly, Alex Pietrangelo, and Jordan Binnington cannot be matched. I could see this matchup going either way, but I have the Blues winning in 7 games,.
Pierson Scheinberg is a student who lives in California, and attends the College Preparatory School. Pierson lived in Baltimore, Maryland until August 2017 when he moved to the Bay Area. Pierson is an avid golfer who enjoys watching all sports. He is a writer and sports analyst for At the Buzzer.