A riveting first round of playoff hockey has come to a close, and what have we learned? Overtime still causes me to sweat profusely while I hyperventilate on the couch. As for the actual hockey that was played, we learned that exciting hockey can be played without a single game seven. Not one. Am I disappointed? Yes, a bit, but the record setting 18 games going to overtime in the first round helped offset that a bit. We got to see the Nashville Predators take out the West-Leading Blackhawks with some remarkable goaltending from Pekka Rinne, Jake Allen standing on his head en-route to his team beating the Wild, the Flames struggles in Disneyland continued, and Edmonton advanced in a series for the first time since 2006.
Got to love Playoff Hockey. Oh, and there’s more to come. So, lets get to it! Here is my Western Conference Playoff Preview (and predictions) for the second round!
St. Louis Blues v. Nashville Predators
(Beginning Wednesday Night at 8:00 ET in St. Louis)
I have a feeling I’m going to be using the words “goalie” or “goaltending” a lot for this preview, so bear with me. These two teams come into this matchup after knocking off the higher seed in their first-round matchup. Those series wins are largely thanks to ridiculous goaltending (hey there’s the first). Pekka Rinne is sitting at a casual 0.70 GAA and .976 save percentage. Are you kidding me? Against the Blackhawks? He was outstanding, shutting out the Hawks in the first two games of the series, then only giving up 3 more goals for the rest of the series. With goaltending that solid, the Preds were able to take games with a very competent offense, and some stellar defense. The Blues story is very similar. Riding some ridiculous netminding (switching it up) from Jake Allen, the Blues took the first three games from the Wild. This was a surprise considering the Wild were the second-best team in the West, next to Chicago. How about that? Allen takes an outstanding .956 save percentage and 1.47 GAA into the conference semifinals, and the Blues look to build on an impressive first round.
My Prediction: With both teams riding emotional highs and hot goaltending, it’s going to be a tough battle. Expect to see some tight checking, fantastic defense, and a lot of saves. The deciding factor in the series could very well be emotion, and if that is the case, Nashville takes it. So, I pick…… Nashville in 6.
Anaheim Ducks v. Edmonton Oilers
(Beginning Wednesday Night at 10:30 ET in Anaheim)
I find this series remarkably intriguing, because I could totally make a case for both teams moving on. Well, I’m going to make two cases, but I will eventually make a pick. Physicality is going to be a common theme in this series, with both teams laying the body at all times. However, I almost give the Ducks the edge on this fact alone, because the tight checking game they play is the only way the Oilers’ speed can be contained. A matchup between Ryan Kesler and Connor McDavid is going to be a highly-contested battle. Kesler, a Selke nominee, will certainly never be far from the Art Ross winning McDavid during this series. Anaheim swept Calgary in the first round, so they’ve been resting for longer than the Oilers, who finished up their series with the Sharks 3-days after the Ducks. While that could play a factor in this series, I do suspect the Ducks were watching the Oilers closely, and made sure to stay warm to keep up with the speedy Edmonton squad. The Oilers, surprisingly enough, have won games with defense, goaltending, and depth scoring. This comes as a shock, considering they do have a relatively high functioning offense. If the Oilers continue the strong the defensive play, and somehow find a way to kick their offense into gear, watch out. That’d be frightening to play against. That being said, the Ducks can pack a punch on either side of the puck (my goodness, that sentence was full of alliteration).
My Prediction: All in all, this should be an exciting series. Physicality, speed, and skill. What more could you want from a matchup? Unfortunately, this is where I have to make a pick, and the longer I put this off, the harder it gets. I do think the Ducks can hang with the Oilers and keep them in check by laying the body. If the Oilers can… duck… and dodge away from those checks, they should be able to win it. That being said, I’m going to go with my gut. I pick the Ducks in 7