NHL: Stanley Cup Playoff Western Conference Preview with our expert picks

NHL.com

It is that time of year again. The one all hockey fans wait for. It’s Stanley Cup playoff time! Let’s take a look at the matchups schedules and our staff picks for the first round.

First up is the Western Conference.

(1) Colorado Avalanche 51-24-7, 109 points vs. (WC1) Seattle Kraken 46-28-8, 100 points

The schedule looks like this.

Tue., April 18: Kraken at Avalanche, 10 p.m. ET, 

Thu., April 20: Kraken at Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ET, 

Sat., April 22: Avalanche at Kraken. 10 p.m. ET, 

Mon., April 24: Avalanche at Kraken, 10 p.m. ET, 

Wed., April 26: Kraken at Avalanche, TBA

Fri., April 28: Avalanche at Kraken, TBA

Sun., April 30: Kraken at Avalanche, TBA

The Colorado Avalanche will begin their Stanley Cup title defense against the Seattle Kraken, who will appear in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since joining the NHL as an expansion team last season.

The Avalanche have lost pieces from their championship team. Forward André Burakovsky signed with the Kraken as an unrestricted free agent on July 13, and captain Gabriel Landeskog, who missed the regular season and will not play in the playoffs due to a knee injury, still won the Central division.

After finishing last in the Pacific Division in their inaugural season, the Seattle Kraken improved by 40 points this season — the largest jump between a first and second season in NHL history — finishing fourth in the Pacific and earning the first wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.

Seattle hasn’t had a team face an NHL team in the playoffs since 1920 when the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association lost to the original Ottawa Senators in the forerunner of the Stanley Cup Final.

Players to watch:

Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon has produced 1.33 points per game in the playoffs. The center set NHL career highs in goals (42), assists (69), and points (111) in the regular season, finishing fifth in the League in scoring. When the Avalanche needed a victory to clinch the Central on Friday, he had four points (three goals, one assist), scoring the game-winner with 1:42 left in the third period.

Kraken: Jared McCann set NHL career highs in goals (40), assists (30), and points (70) in the regular season, leading the Kraken in goals and points. The forward has only three assists in 12 playoff games, all with the Pittsburgh Penguins over three seasons.

Goaltending:

Avalanche: This was one of the biggest questions for the Avalanche, who acquired Alexandar Georgiev in a trade with the New York Rangers when they lost Darcy Kuemper to the Washington Capitals in free agency. Starting 62 games, 30 more than ever before in an NHL season, Georgiev went 40-16-6 and five shutouts, tying for the NHL lead in wins with Linus Ullmark of the Bruins. Georgiev has appeared in only two playoff games, each in relief for the Rangers last season. Backup Pavel Francouz, who was limited by injuries this season, was 8-7-1 and had one shutout in 16 games.

Kraken: Philipp Grubauer went 17-14-4 with a 2.85 GAA and an .895 save percentage in 39 games this season. In 33 playoff games, 29 with Colorado, he has gone 19-11 with a 2.50 GAA, a .913 save percentage, and two shutouts. Martin Jones, who split time with Grubauer, and is day to day with an upper-body injury, was 27-13-3 and had three shutouts in 48 games.

Our Expert picks

R. Lambert, writer for the Avalanche: Avalanche in 5

Chris Lavallee, writer for the Bruins: Avalanche in 6

Elijah Webb, writer for the Solar Bears (ECHL): Avalanche in 6

Lauren, writer for the Maple Leafs: Avalanche in 5

Nik, writer for the Penguins: Avalanche in 7

The consensus here is the Avs just have too much firepower and experience for the upstart Kraken team.

Matchup number 2 in the Western Conference

Dallas Stars (C2) 47-21-14, 108 points vs. Minnesota Wild (C3) 46-25-11, 103 points

The schedule is as follows

Mon., April 17: Wild at Stars, 9:30 p.m. ET, 

Wed., April 19: Wild at Stars, 9:30 p.m. ET, 

Fri., April 21: Stars at Wild, 9:30 p.m. ET, 

Sun., April 23: Stars at Wild, 6:30 p.m. ET,

Tue., April 25: Wild at Stars, TBA

Fri., April 28: Stars at Wild, TBA

Sun., April 30: Wild at Stars, TBA

The Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild will meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time when they play in the Western Conference First Round.

Dallas has qualified for the playoffs in the last two seasons. The Stars lost to the Calgary Flames in seven games in the first round last season. They advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This is the fourth playoff appearance for the Wild in the last four seasons, who are looking to advance to the second round for the first time since 2015.

Players to watch for:

Stars: It was another great season for forward Jason Robertson, who led Dallas in scoring. The 23-year-old also led the Stars with 41 power-play points (13 goals, 28 assists) and tied for the team lead with 13 power-play goals. This is the second full season Robertson has been on the top line, and it has worked well for all involved, especially Robertson. 

Wild: Kirill Kaprizov missed a month because of a lower-body injury, returning to play two games in the final week of the regular season, and still was Minnesota’s leading scorer. The forward’s numbers were down from last season due to the lost time. However, he was as effective as ever, with 75 points in 67 games. Kaprizov, who will turn 26 during the playoffs, always poses a threat to opponents, especially at crunch time. He scored six game-winning goals this season, tied for the Wild lead.

Goaltending:

Stars: Jake Oettinger carried the load this season and will have the net in the playoffs. The 24-year-old was 37-11-11. He had five shutouts, tied for second in the NHL with Alexandar Georgiev of the Colorado Avalanche. 

Wild: Marc-Andre Fleury was 24-16-4 with a 2.85 GAA, .908 save percentage, and two shutouts in 46 games (45 starts) this season, and Filip Gustavsson was 22-9-7 with three shutouts. Fleury has been a good mentor for Gustavsson, who has excelled in his first season with Minnesota after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators.

Our Expert picks

R. Lambert, writer for the Avalanche: Dallas in 6

Chris Lavallee, writer for the Bruins: Dallas in 5

Elijah Webb, writer for the Solar Bears (ECHL): Dallas in 7

Lauren, writer for the Toronto Maple Leafs: Dallas in 6

Nik, writer for the Penguins: Dallas in 7

Again another clean sweep. Our experts give this one a longer series but looks like we all like the Stars to make the second round.

Now for matchup number 3

(1P) Vegas Golden Knights 51-22-9, 111 points vs. (WC2) Winnipeg Jets 46-33-3, 95 points

The schedule for this matchup is as follows:

Tue., April 18: Jets at Golden Knights, 9:30 p.m. ET, 

Thu., April 20:  Jets at Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET,

Sat., April 22: Golden Knights at Jets, 4 p.m. ET, 

Mon., April 24: Golden Knights at Jets, 9:30 p.m. ET, 

Thu., April 27: Jets at Golden Knights, TBA

Sat., April 29: Golden Knights at Jets, TBA

Mon., May 1: Jets at Golden Knights, TBA

The Vegas Golden Knights are back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year as the Pacific Division champions and the top seed in the Western Conference.

After reaching the playoffs in their first four seasons, they missed last season.

This season was marked by change. Bruce Cassidy was hired as coach. Max Pacioretty, a high-scoring forward, was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, and No. 1 goalie Robin Lehner was ruled out for the season because of a hip injury.

However, Vegas found a way back into the playoffs.

The Jets were not assured of a playoff spot until the last game of their season, slipping in as the second wild card from the Western Conference after holding Nashville Predators.

From Valentine’s Day to the end of the season, Winnipeg was 13-14-2, the second-worst among playoff-bound teams during that span, ahead of only the Tampa Bay Lightning

Players to watch for:

Golden Knights: Jack Eichel led them with 66 points in 67 games. The No. 1 center has been battling injuries late in the season, missing two games because of an upper-body injury before returning for the final game Thursday.

Jets: Winnipeg rests its hat on being sound defensively; Josh Morrissey does it all. He was second on the Jets with 76 points in 78 games. Morrissey averaged 24:14 of ice time. He also was second among Winnipeg defensemen in blocked shots and first in takeaways. Morrissey makes an impact in all three zones.

Goaltending:

Golden Knights: The biggest question mark for Vegas is who will be in goal. They had five players start at least one game during the season. Rookie Logan Thompson was great until injuries limited him to 37 games. Jonathan Quick, who won the Stanley Cup twice with the Los Angeles Kings, is 5-2-2, with a .901 save percentage and a 3.13 goals-against average in 10 games. Laurent Brossoit made his season debut on Feb. 21 and was 7-0-3 with a 2.17 GAA in 11 games to possibly emerge as the Game 1 starter.

Jets: Winnipeg will go as far as Connor Hellebuyck takes it. Hellebuyck, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2020, is one of the biggest reasons the Jets are in the playoffs. He was 37-25-2. His 37 wins were tied for third in the NHL, and his save percentage was tied for fourth (minimum 20 games). He has struggled against the Golden Knights this season, allowing seven goals in two losses (0-1-1).

Our Expert picks

R. Lambert, writer for the Avalanche: Vegas in 5

Chris Lavallee, writer for the Bruins: Vegas in 7

Elijah Webb, writer for the Solar Bears (ECHL): Vegas in 5

Lauren, writer for the Toronto Maple Leafs: Vegas in 5

Nik, writer for the Penguins: Winnipeg 7

Not quite a clear consensus on this one. But still, a pretty safe bet to say that Vegas will make it to the second round.

To round out the Western Conference bracket, we have

(P2) Edmonton Oilers 50-23-9, 109 points vs. (P3) Los Angeles Kings 47-25-10, 104 points

The Schedule is this:

Mon., April 17: Kings at Oilers, 10 p.m. ET

Wed., April 19: Kings at Oilers, 10 p.m. ET

Fri., April 21: Oilers at Kings, 10 p.m ET

Sun., April 23: Oilers at Kings, 9 p.m. ET

Tue., April 25: Kings at Oilers, TBA

Sat., April 29: Oilers at Kings, TBA

Mon., May 1: Kings at Oilers, TBA

The Oilers and Kings face off in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Last season, Connor McDavid led the Oilers back from down 3 games to 2 in the Western Conference First Round to win the last two games and advance.

Drew Doughty returns for the Kings to face McDavid in the playoffs for the first time due to an injury he sustained in late 2022.

Key Players:

Oilers: This one is a no-brainer, Connor McDavid. He won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL scoring leader with 153 points and the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals. Though the Stanley Cup has eluded the Oilers captain, he now has a supporting cast around him and does not have to win games on his own. He will be challenging to contain. 

Kings: Anze Kopitar is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Kings. The captain is one of the few remaining players from the championship years. The 35-year-old had 74 points this season. He will also be relied on to keep the Oilers’ high-powered offense in check. His leadership will be relied on heavily if the Kings are going to pull off the upset.

Goaltending:

Oilers: Stuart Skinner is in his first full season with the Oilers and won the starting job ahead of Jack Campbell, who Edmonton signed as a free agent. Skinner broke a team record for most wins by a rookie goalie (29-14-5), previously held by Grant Fuhr (28-5-14) in 1981-82. He’s 14-1-1 in his past 16 starts. If he struggles or is injured, the Oilers could turn to Campbell. Campbell struggled with consistency, going 21-9-4 with a 3.41 GAA and .888 save percentage.

Kings: Joonas Korpisalo was acquired in a trade with Columbus. He was 7-3-1 with a 2.13 GAA, .921 save percentage, and one shutout in 11 starts. With Korpisalo, the Kings upgraded their goaltending and brought in a partner for Pheonix Copley, a 31-year-old who was 24-6-3 with one shutout. Korpisalo and Copley alternated starts toward the end of the season, and Los Angeles is comfortable with either one.

Our Expert picks

R. Lambert, writer for the Avalanche: Edmonton in 6

Chris Lavallee, writer for the Bruins: Edmonton in 6

Elijah Webb, writer for the Solar Bears (ECHL): Edmonton in 6

Lauren, writer for the Toronto Maple Leafs: Edmonton in 7

Nik, writer for the Penguins: Edmonton in 6

If the players do what we experts say, it looks like it will be Edmonton in 6. McDavid and Company just have too much offense for LA to handle.

That is a look at the Western Conference. If it goes by the expert picks, then we will see Colorado play Dallas and Vegas play Edmonton.

Stanley Cup Aspirations Cue’ the Duck Boats Pod

The boys are back after a long break but have plenty to talk about as the playoffs are in full swing. We go series by series, looking at how teams have fared so far and who will come out on top. Thanks for listening! Please rate and review our show on your favorite listening platform. Check out our partner's website at www.insidetherink.com for all your latest hockey news.
  1. Stanley Cup Aspirations
  2. The Final Countdown
  3. Here Come the Playoffs
  4. Home Stretch
  5. Kevy Cooks

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