NHL: Western Conference Playoff Preview
In a highly competitive Western Conference, two highly anticipated series will take place, with the top-seeded Calgary Flames taking on the Colorado Avalanche, and the San Jose Sharks facing the Vegas Golden Knights for the second year in a row in the playoffs.
Few teams across the NHL have been as dominant all year long as the Calgary Flames. Recording 107 points on the season, the Flames have been led by star forward Johnny Gaudreau, who leads the team in goals, assists, and points with 36, 63 and 99, respectively. Center Sean Monahan is not far behind with 82 points, but his status is in question after dealing with illness toward the end of the season. Calgary’s offensive attack is top notch, but there are still questions in net. Goalies David Rittich and Mike Smith split time all year long, and it will be curious to see how head coach Bill Peters deals with this net minding problem.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Avalanche were extremely lucky to sneak into the playoffs. Winning eight of their last 11 game, the Avalanche slithered past the Arizona Coyotes with 90 points, good enough for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference. Center Nathan McKinnon is the unquestioned leader of the Avalanche, recording 99 points, 41 goals and 58 assists while recording the best plus-minus on the team at plus-20. The Avalanche go as he goes, with shaky goaltending by Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer providing little support. Unless McKinnon is on his game, it’s hard to believe Colorado can compete in this series.
Further out west in San Jose, California, the San Jose Sharks have been playing some of their best hockey in recent years. Finishing the year with 101 points, the Sharks had four 30-goal scorers in centers Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl, as well as wingers Timo Meier and Evander Kane. Head coach Pete DeBoer’s squad finished the year with 46 wins, but struggled down the stretch, losing seven in a row at one point in the month of March. The Sharks won their last two headed into the playoffs, but unless they can recapture their early season form, this team may have a very short Stanley Cup playoff experience this year.
In the Sin City, the Vegas Golden Knights have struggled at times to replicate the success of the 2017-18 season that saw them reach the Stanley Cup finals, unprecedented for an expansion team. In their second season, however, the Knights have taken a step back, finishing seventh in the west with 93 points. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been impressive once more at the age of 34, putting up eight shutouts and a goals against average just a tick over 2.50. The offensive attack from Vegas has certainly faltered at times this year, however, with points leader Jon Marchessault recording only 59 on the year. The offense remains balanced, with seven players recording at least 40 points, but there is no debating that this team is not the 2017-18 version of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Assuming things follow script, the Calgary Flames should easily dispose of the Colorado Avalanche. With a high-powered offense led by Gaudreau, the Flames have dominated the Western Conference all season long, and it’s difficult to envision that Nathan McKinnon will carry the Avalanche to a series victory. Calgary will win game five on home ice and send the Flames into the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, things are a little shakier between the Sharks and Knights. The two teams split during the regular season, winning once on each team’s ice. Though the Knights are only in their second season, there is no love lost between these two teams, and the same line of thinking should hold true in this series. The Sharks are the more lethal offensive team and have proved it all year. San Jose wins this one in a tight series, winning at the SAP Center in game seven to take on Calgary.
If these predictions do hold true, Calgary and San Jose should prove a competitive series as well. The top two teams in the west split during regular season play, but in a seven-game series, the same cannot happen. The Sharks put up a good fight, but the Saddledome crowd in Calgary proves too much. Flames take the Pacific in seven.
Andrew Destin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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