The Stanley Cup Playoffs is the elimination tournament that follows the National Hockey League regular season. Eight teams from each of the two conferences compete in four rounds of best-of-seven-series games, with the final round being the Stanley Cup Finals. The top three teams from each of the four divisions that make up the NHL enter into the playoffs. The final two teams entered are the two teams with the best regular season record from each conference that haven’t already qualified for the playoffs.
In the first round of the playoffs, the top-ranked team in the conference plays against the lowest-ranked wild-card, while the other division winner plays against the higher ranked wild-card. The second and third place teams in each division then play each other. The winners of each series progress to the next round until the Western Conference champions and the Eastern Conference champions face off in the Staley Cup Finals.
Dallas Stars (50-23-9, 109 points): The Dallas Stars were the highest scoring team in the regular season, with 267 goals to their name. The Stars front line is built around the talents of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, however it also has valuable contributors outside of the starters. Second-line centre Jason Spezza scored 33 goals this season. It is at the other end of the ice that Dallas has problems, as neither of the team’s goal-tenders, Niemi or Lehtonen, is an elite level goalie. If Dallas is to progress to the Stanley Cup Finals it will simply have to do what it has done all season, outscore the opposition.
St. Louis Blues (49-24-9, 107 points): The St. Louis Blues have a squad full of both elite level talent and depth that has already earned them a top-end regular season points total. Players and fans alike are hoping that their regular season success carries in to the playoffs. Unfortunately history is against the Blues, who have failed to defeat the NHL’s top level talent. In three consecutive years St. Louis played LA and Chicago going 4-12 in the three series combined and last year the Blues were defeated in the first round by Minnesota.
Anaheim Ducks (46-25-11, 103 points): This year the Anaheim Ducks adopted the playing style that has seen so much success come LA’s way in recent years. This means a greater emphasis on defence achieved primarily through size and strength. Anaheim has been successful on this side of the game, ending the season as one of small number of teams to concede less than 200 goals during the regular season. Counter to that has been the drop off in offensive output for the Ducks who scored the fewest number of goals amongst all Western Conference playoff teams.
Chicago Blackhawks (47-26-9, 103 points): The Chicago Blackhawks have struggled to maintain possession of the puck this year however this is a team that has won three Stanley Cups in the last six years and many of the key players from those previous championship victories are still with the team. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa lead the line with Patrick Kane leading a dominant second unit. In defence the Blackhawks field the talents of Keith, Hjalmarsson and Seabrook and goaltender Corey Crawford provides the last line of defence. This is a team with both championship quality and experience and they should never be underestimated.
Los Angeles Kings (48-28-6, 102 points): The Los Angeles Kings are known for their defensive play based on their physical size and strength. They also set out to dominate the puck consistently outscoring opposition during five-on-five play. While the Kings have two top-level defencemen in Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin, outside of their starters there is a significant drop off in quality. For a team built around defensive play injury to either starter could cause LA real issues in the playoffs.
San Jose Sharks (46-30-6, 98 points): The San Jose Sharks are incredibly strong down the middle of the ice with skilled players at centre, on defence and in net. Not only do the Sharks have skilled players at these positions but also enviable depth. The issue facing San Jose remains the same as it has for the last few years and that’s simply the quality of the Western Conference. San Jose needs to prove that it isn’t simply a good team and that it has the requisite quality to get past the top-tier teams in the West.
Nashville Predators (41-27-14, 96 points): The Nashville Predators have been incredibly successful at out-shooting opposition when playing five-on-five. Nashville out-shot opponents fifty-four to forty-six on average throughout the season, good enough for the third best record in the league. However, Nashville has had issues surrounding starting goaltender Pekka Rinne. Having started the season strongly Rinne’s play dropped significantly and coming into the playoffs his play is still sub-par. Without quality goal-tending Nashville isn’t likely to last long.
Minnesota Wild (38-33-11, 87 points): Considered to be the weakest team to make the playoffs the Minnesota Wild struggle to retain the puck spending much of their time in their own defensive zone. Since firing Mike Yeo and hiring John Torchetti in his place the Wild have improved and their record since the coaching change is comparable to that of teams such as Chicago, Anaheim and LA. Despite this it would be a surprise to see Minnesota not be a one-and-done team in this year’s playoffs.
Western Conference Stanley Cup Finalist Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks