Monday, April 13, 2015

2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview - Western Conference Quarterfinals

The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs start on Wednesday night, here is a look at the Western Conference playoff picture. The Kings/Sharks shockingly missed the playoffs while the Jets, Flames and Canucks all made the playoffs. The rest of the Western Conference must be thrilled that the defending-champion Los Angeles Kings are out. Here is a look at the 1st round match ups in the West:

#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. WC #2 Winnipeg Jets

Season Series: Anaheim won the season series 3-0-0

December 7, 2014: Anaheim Ducks 4, Winnipeg Jets 3 (OT)
December 13, 2014: Anaheim Ducks 4, Winnipeg Jets 1
January 11, 2015: Anaheim Ducks 5, Winnipeg Jets 4 (SO)

Players to Watch:

Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Sami Vatanen, Jakob Silfverberg, Kyle Palmieri

Winnipeg: Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Mathieu Perreault, Mark Scheifele, Tyler Myers


Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf

Winnipeg: Dustin Byfuglien

Team Leaders:

Goals: Corey Perry - 33 (ANA), Blake Wheeler - 26 (WPG)
Assists: Ryan Getzlaf - 45 (ANA), Andrew Ladd - 38 (WPG)
Points: Ryan Getzlaf - 70 (ANA), Andrew Ladd - 62 (WPG)
Wins: Frederik Andersen - 34 (ANA), Ondrej Pavelec - 22 (WPG)
Shutouts: Ondrej Pavelec - 5 (WPG), Frederik Andersen - 3 (ANA)

Series Notes:
-This has the potential to be a fantastic series, 2 teams that like to throw the body around
-The Jets will host a playoff game in Winnipeg for the 1st time since 1996, the MTS Centre is going be play a huge factor in this series for the Jets.
-Will be interesting to watch the goalie battles for both teams, as both teams have 2 goaltenders who could start (Andersen/Gibson and Pavelec/Hutchinson)
-For the Ducks it is presumed that Frederik Andersen will be given the chance to start at first, but if he struggles than we could see John Gibson in net. Gibson is nursing an injury at the moment, if I had the choice I would start Gibson over Andersen.
-For the Jets it is also presumed that Ondrej Pavelec will be the starter going forward. Pavelec struggled a ton this season and watched Michael Hutchinson steal his starting job, only to take it back in the final months of the season. Pavelec was outstanding down the stretch and a big reason the Jets made the playoffs, so look for him to get the nod in goal.
-Getzlaf and Perry are my favourite duo in the NHL, it will be interesting to see if the Jets can limit these 2 in the series.
-The Ducks didn't have Ryan Kesler last year and he could be just the boost they need to go far.
-The Jets will rely heavily on the d trio of Dustin Byfuglien-Tyler Myers-Jacob Trouba, especially Byfuglien. When Big Buff is going the Jets are going, will be intersting to see if the Ducks can maintain him.
-Keep an eye out for Sami Vatanen, I think hes going to have a huge playoffs.
-The Jets will need their top 6 (Wheeler-Little-Ladd, Perreault-Scheifele-Stafford) to produce big time if they have a chance in this series.
-The 2 teams have never met in the playoffs before.

Prediction: While I do enjoy watching the Jets play and can't wait to see what their home crowd is going to be like, the Ducks remain the heavy favourite in this series and will take it.


#1 St. Louis Blues vs. WC #1 Minnesota Wild

Season Series: Season Series tied 2-2-0

November 29, 2014: St. Louis Blues 3, Minnesota Wild 2 (SO)
March 14, 2015: Minnesota Wild 3, St. Louis Blues 1
March 21, 2015: Minnesota Wild 6, St. Louis Blues 3
April 11, 2015: St. Louis Blues 4, Minnesota Wild 2

Players to Watch:

St. Louis: Vladimir Tarasenko, TJ Oshie, David Backes, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo, Alex Steen

Minnesota: Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Suter, Devan Dubnyk, Nino Niederreiter, Chris Stewart


St. Louis: Vladimir Tarasenko

Minnesota: Devan Dubnyk

Team Leaders:

Goals: Vladimir Tarasenko - 37 (STL), Zach Parise - 33 (MIN)
Assists: Alex Steen - 40 (STL), Jason Pominville/Ryan Suter - 36 (MIN)
Points: Vladimir Tarasenko - 73 (STL), Zach Parise - 62 (MIN)
Wins: Devan Dubnyk - *36 (MIN), Brian Elliott - 26 (STL)
Shutouts: Devan Dubnyk - 6 (MIN), Brian Elliott - 5 (STL)

*Dubnyk had 9 wins with the Coyotes before coming to Minnesota, he won 27 with the Wild.

Series Notes:
-Besides Andrew Hammond there hasn't been a bigger surprise in the NHL this season than Devan Dubnyk. The Wild were last in the division and well out of a playoff spot before acquring Dubnyk for a 3rd round pick, and my god has this move paid off for Minnesota. The wild have gone 28-9-3 since acquiring Dubnyk, with Dubnyk starting 39 of those 40 games. It will be interesting to see how Dubnyk fairs in his first taste of playoff hockey (never made the playoffs with Edmonton, Nashville or Arizona).
-For the Blues there hasn't been a brighter story that the rise of Vladimir Tarasenko, who posted career-highs in goals (37) and points (73) to lead the Blues in both those categories. The Blues will need Tarasenko at his best for this series.
-The Blues will also need a big series out of Alex Pietrangelo and recently returned from injury Kevin Shattenkirk. The Wild can score throughout their lineup and the Blues need to match them.
-Look out for the Blues top 2 lines in the playoffs, we know what Steen-Backes-Oshie are capable of but it will be really interesting to watch Schwartz-Lehtera-Tarasenko as well.
-It will be interesting to see who plays for the Blues, veteran goalie Brian Elliott or young gun Jake Allen. I personally am a fan of Allen but it is presumed Elliott will have first crack at the Wild.
-The Wild have one of the most consistent defensive units in the NHL and they can score too, guys like Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, and Marco Scandella.
-The Wild have a lot of depth forwards that can score, keep an eye out for Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter especially.
-Chris Stewart looks like a new player since joining the Wild, his big body translates well for playoff hockey and I expect him to have a big series.
-The 2 teams have never met in the playoffs before.

Prediction: This is the 3rd season in a row the Blues had a great regular season but end up with a tough 1st round match up. This series could go either way, but the Wild look like a different team with Devan Dubnyk in net and I think they could pull off the upset.


#2 Vancouver Canucks vs. #3 Calgary Flames

Season Series: Season series tied 2-2-0

October 8, 2014: Vancouver Canucks 4, Calgary Flames 2
December 20, 2014: Vancouver Canucks 3, Calgary Flames 2 (OT)
January 10, 2015: Calgary Flames 1, Vancouver Canucks 0
February 14, 2015: Calgary Flames 3, Vancouver Canucks 2

Players to Watch:

Vancouver: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Radim Vrbata, Ryan Miller, Nick Bonino, Alex Edler

Calgary: Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler, Dennis Wideman, Kris Russell, Jonas Hiller


Vancouver: Sedin Brothers

Calgary: Sean Monahan

Team Leaders:

Goals: Radim Vrbata - 31 (VAN), Jiri Hudler - 31 (CGY)
Assists: Daniel Sedin - 56 (VAN), Jiri Hudler - 45 (CGY)
Points: Daniel Sedin - 76 (VAN), Jiri Hudler - 76 (CGY)
Wins: Ryan Miller - 29 (VAN), Jonas Hiller - 26 (CGY)
Shutouts: Ryan Miller - 6 (VAN). Karri Ramo - 2 (CGY)

Series Notes:
-The 2nd of 2 all-Canadian match ups (joining Montreal/Ottawa), this is one of my most anticipated series to watch.
-The line of Jiri Hudler-Sean Monahan-Johnny Gaudreau was perhaps the best line in the NHL in the 2nd half of the season. The line combined for 86 goals, 116 assists for 202 points this season. Hudler has won a Cup with the Red Wings but this will be the first taste of playoff hockey for Monahan and Gaudreau, will be interesting to see how they do.
-The Flames are without Captain and best player Mark Giordano for the rest of the season, impressive they made the playoffs without him for the last 2 months but a shame that he can't play in this series. However since he went down we have seen the emergence of Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell, they have been logging big minutes every game for the Flames and have been contributing as well. Look for the pair to have a big impact on this series.
-The Flames have Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo in net, both played solid this season but nothing spectacular. Hiller has playoff experience and will likely start at first, but if he struggles (he has known to in the past) then Ramo will get his shot.
-The Canucks made the playoffs the first year under Head Coach Willie Desjardins, he did a fantastic job this season and might get nominated for the Jack Adams.
-The Sedins had another impressively consistent season, with Daniel getting 76 points and Henrik getting 73.
-Radim Vrbata has thrived since signing with the Canucks, scoring 31 goals and a career-high 63 points.
-Ryan Miller will start for the Flames but is also coming off an injury, if he struggles don't be surprised if Eddie Lack gets his chance.

Prediction: This series is going to be really close and could go either way, however I love the way the Flames play they are extremely entertaining to watch. The Flames will pull off the upset


#2 Nashville Predators vs. #3 Chicago Blackhawks 

Season Series: Chicago won the season series 3-1-0

October 18, 2014: Chicago Blackhawks 2, Nashville Predators 1 (OT)
October 23, 2014: Nashville Predators 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2
December 6, 2014: Chicago Blackhawks 3, Nashville Predators 1
December 29, 2014: Chicago Blackhawks 5, Nashville Predators 4 (SO)

Players to Watch:

Nashville: Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne, Filip Forsberg, Pekka Rinne, James Neal, Roman Josi

Chicago: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Corey Crawford, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook


Nashville: Shea Weber

Chicago: Jonathan Toews

Team Leaders:

Goals: Jonathan Toews - 28 (CHI), Filip Forsberg - 26 (NSH)
Assists: Mike Ribeiro - 47 (NSH), Marian Hossa - 39 (CHI)
Points: Jonathan Toews - 66 (CHI), Filip Forsberg - 63 (NSH)
Wins: Pekka Rinne - 41 (NSH), Corey Crawford - 32 (CHI)
Shutouts: Pekka Rinne - 4 (NSH), Corey Crawford/Antti Raanta - 2 (CHI)

Series Notes:
-Perhaps the biggest surprise of this series is the return of Patrick Kane, who was expected to be out until late May with a broken clavicle. Kane healed much quicker than expected and was taking full practice today, 2 days in advance of the series opener. Look for #88 in full flight in this series.
-Always interesting to watch the top guns on Chicago come playoff time, especially Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa. Chicago will need big production from these 4 to get past the Predators.
-The Hawks will also need a huge performance from their defense, in particular Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The Hawks will also need Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya to shut down the Predators.
-Will be interesting to watch former Conn-Smythe winner Brad Richards in his first playoffs with the Blackhawks.
-Corey Crawford had another strong season for the Hawks, look for him to play well in this series.
-The Predators were one of the NHL's biggest surprises this season under new Head Coach and possibly Jack Adams winner Peter Laviolette. The Predators were always strong defensively under Trotz but Laviolette has turned them into a dangerous team offensively as well.
-Pekka Rinne had a fantastic season with 41 wins in 64 games this season. It was impressive considering he was sidelined for most of last season and was limited to just 24 games.
-Will be interesting to watch Filip Forsberg in his 1st playoffs, he had a tremendous season and will get nominated for the Calder.
-The Predators have one of the deepest defensive units in the NHL: Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Seth Jones, Cody Franson and Mattias Ekholm. The Predators will rely on Weber and Josi to shut down the top guns on the Hawks like Kane and Toews.
-The Predators don't have many pure-scorers but they are deep on forward and are very strong defensively.
-The Hawks beat the Predators in 6 games the last time the teams met in the 1st round in 2010 (the Hawks went on to win the Stanley Cup).
Prediction: This is going to be a very close series, two strong teams with elite goaltenders. However, with the return of Patrick Kane I can't see the Hawks losing.


This would have Anaheim, Minnesota, Calgary and Chicago moving on to the next round. The match ups would be as follows:

#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. #3 Calgary Flames
#3 Chicago Blackhawks vs. WC #1 Minnesota Wild

-Joel Forman - The Forman Faceoff

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