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(Sorry I’m late – the students needed extra help today.)
As the playoffs start tonight, we wrap up our brief two-day intro coverage by looking at the Western Conference matchups:
Calgary vs. Colorado
Colorado already starts this series mentally down in the eyes of their fans, because they got FUCKED in the Draft Lottery. They held Ottawa’s pick & had the best odds to win the Jack Hughes sweepstakes. But I guess Maestro’s prayers to the ghost of Claude Lemieux paid off because Gary Bettman put his thumb on the scale & the first overall pick went to New Jersey, and the Av’s pick slid all the way to #4.
After losing Eichel to the Sabres & Matthews to the Leafs, there was no way he was going to allow the next big American hockey star to get away from the big media markets. If he’d gone to the Rangers, that would have been proof of the Darkest Timeline.
Anyway, to the task at hand.
Calgary was the surprise in the West this year, having gone from missing the playoffs last year to winning the Conference. Johnny Gaudreau is the heart & soul of the Flames, leading them in scoring, and Elias Lindholm & Sean Monahan are the other parts of a solid young core the Flames can build on over the next couple of years. Matthew Tkachuk has been a delightful pest in their lineup, and rock-solid defence has been anchored by Mark Giordano & TJ Brodie. Goaltending was their one question mark, but the emergence of David Rittich has meant they don’t have to put shaky old man Mike Smith in net as often, and the net result was them finishing 8 points clear of their closest rival in the Conference.
Colorado is a good young team as well, but their rebuild is a couple years behind the Flames. Nate McKinnon is a beast around which they are building a small dynasty, and if they’d gotten the Hughes pick they’d be laughing deep into the 2020s. Gabriel Landeskog & Mikko Rantanen are solid forwards that have benefitted from working the PP alongside McKinnon. The Av’s defence is a bit suspect at times, and the goaltending hasn’t been what one would consider Cup-challenger ready. Semyon Varlamov suffers from the Russian goalie trait of taking mental breaks during games, often to the team’s detriment. If the Av’s go out in four quick ones, look for them to try & lure Bobrovsky away from Columbus in the offseason.
Conclusion: If this series were in two years, it would be a seven-game classic between two very evenly-matched teams. At this juncture, the Flames are just too good.
Prediction: Flames in 5.
Vegas vs. San Jose
If we truly were in the Darkest Timeline, this is the Conference Final Gary Bettman would have engineered. Two recent Cup runners-up facing off in the first round is definitely not what he had intended, and hopefully will induce him to change the playoff format back to something akin to a 1-8, 2-7 traditional hierarchy.
Anyway, both teams have loaded up on talent, trying to take advantage of their window for success. And, counter-intuitively, both teams had a month each where they so supremely shit the bed they allowed Calgary to cruise through to win the Division & Conference.
San Jose’s big acquisition was last offseason when they acquired Erik Karlsson from the Senators for a couple of players and some magic beans. Paired with perennial team MVP Brent Burns, a defensive Cro-Mag
who leads his team in scoring, they anchor a rearguard that has, at times, needed to bail out the shaky goaltending of Martin Jones, whose GAA ballooned to almost three goals allowed per game. While they tied for the Conference lead with Calgary for goals scored with 289, they let in almost 35 more goals – by far the most for any playoff team. If they can’t get four goals per game, they’re going to lose quickly, because Jones doesn’t have the confidence to survive many shootouts.
Speaking of jitters, Marc-Andre Fleury everyone.
A perennial case of the yips is part of this guy’s repertoire. You can count on it happening; it’s the when that keeps people guessing. Last year he caught them in Game 3 of the Cup Final, and Vegas never really recovered. In previous years, when he won
three Cups with Pittsburgh, there was always a backup who could spell him for a game or series before it turned around. In Vegas, he’s pretty much all on his own, as Malcolm Subban – the Fedor Fedorov of the Subban family – gave a sub-.500 effort during his 18 games.
They tried to bolster the netminding at the trade deadline by loading up on scoring talent with the addition of Mark Stone, also from Ottawa & also for (different) magic beans. Combined with the offseason additions of Paul Stastny & Max Pacioretty, Vegas has all the firepower it needs to survive this round, provided Fleury doesn’t have one of his spells prior to May.
Conclusion: Given the shaky cages, each game could end up being 8-6 or 1-0, depending upon the favour of a benevolent God.
Prediction: Sharks in 6.
Nashville vs. Dallas
This series has no business existing if the Jets don’t spend the month of February scoring no goals & daring other teams to try and catch them.
Nonetheless, Nashville is just as good as the team that went to the Cup. Pekka Rinne might have lost a step since then, but he’s still head & shoulders above most other NHL goalies. Their defence is held together by the effervescent PK Subban (the Sergei Fedorov of the Subban family), and the triumvirate of Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm & Ryan Ellis helped ensure they surrendered the second-fewest goals in the Western Conference. While they don’t have anyone who scored more than 64 points, they have three consistent lines that guarantee them enough goals (3) to give them a chance to win most games.
The only team in the West to surrender fewer goals than Nashville? Dallas, with 202 over the 82-game season. (The Islanders led the league, with only 196 surrendered.) Captained by Jamie Benn, the Stars have spent the better part of this season looking up at the Predators & Jets, whilst forgetting to look behind them as the Blues caught & passed them with three weeks to go in the season, ensuring they’d be a wild-card team. They have ridiculous goaltending in the form of Ben Bishop, who registered a GAA of 1.98 – the only starting goalie to keep their average under two goals per game this season. The Benn-Radulov-Seguin line accounts for almost half their scoring, so if the Preds can keep these guys locked up, it should be a short series.
Full disclosure: The Stars are owned by local Vancouver businessman & asshat Tom Gagliardi, who made his fortune off of highways concessions the family obtained when his grandfather was the BC Minister of Highways. He only owns the Stars because he got fucked over by now-former friend & equal asshat Francesco Aquilini, who bought the Canucks out from under him. He got in trouble earlier this season for making some drunken comments about his players. I might have once thrown a punch at a family member of his.
Conclusion: This series comes down to goaltending, and which team can break through the defence more often. It should be the Predators, but each game likely will come down to a one-goal spread and a little bit of luck. This is the series that has the greatest chance of losing a top seed.
Prediction: Nashville in 7.
Winnipeg vs. St. Louis
On paper, this should be the most fun series. Both teams have awesome firepower, rock-solid defence, and goaltending that has kept them near the top of the table since January.
The Blues were in last place in the West at the turn of the year. They fired their head coach, and Craig Berube, the “interim” head coach, and guided this rag-tag band of misfits into a playoff position, and came two points from winning the grouping. Vladimir Tarasenko is his usual best, and big offseason signing Ryan O’Reilly led the team in scoring. The 1-2 punch of Jake Allen & Jordan Binnington firmed up their crease after Christmas & led the Blues in what’s considered one of the best mid-season turnarounds in NHL history. The only area of question is their defensive pairings. The Blues have been lucky that their defensive struggles timed up perfectly with their goalies going on hot streaks. If the Blues can get all three parts firing at once, they would be the sleeper team of the West.
The Jets have been near the top of the table since November, with a mid-winter slump that allowed the rest of the division to catch up to them. Patrik Laine appears to be off the schneid, and Blake Wheeler is the spoon that stirs this team’s coffee. Somehow, Mark Scheifele is still considered “underrated”, but he is as essential to this team’s fortunes as Laine or Wheeler; if teams can bottle him up, it paralyzes the other two. On defence, the Jets have Big Buff back in the lineup, and Tyler Myers has the wingspan of a pterodactyl – which helps hold up other team’s rushes. Goaltending is this team’s weak point; if Connor Hellebuyck is off, then the Jets are done fast & embarrassingly so.
Conclusion: If this turns into goals,
it’s the Jets. If the puck stays out, it’s the Blues.
Prediction: Jets in 6.
- NHL: Playoff hockey!
- Blue Jackets at Lightning – 7:00PM | USA / Sportsnet360
- Penguins at Islanders – 7:30PM | NBCSN / CBC
- Blues at Jets – 8:00PM | Sportsnet / NHLN
- Stars at Predators – 9:30PM | USA / Sportsnet1
- Golden Knights at Sharks – 10:30PM | NBCSN / Sportsnet
- NBA: final night of the regular season
- Magic at Hornets – 8:00PM | ESPN / TSN3
- Mavericks at Spurs – 8:00PM | TSN – Dirk Nowitzki’s last game
- Heat at Nets – 8:00PM | TSN2
- Thunder at Bucks – 8:00PM | TSN4
- Kings at Trail Blazers – 10:00PM | TSN
- Timberwolves at Nuggets – 10:30PM | ESPN / TSN4
- Jazz at Clippers – 10:30PM | TSN3
- College Baseball:
- Purdue at Indiana – 7:30PM | FS1
- College Baseball:
It’s only Game 1 – DON’T GET DRUNK TOO QUICKLY!