Our second part of the playoff qualifiers series predictions focuses on the teams in the Western Conference.
Edmonton Oilers vs Chicago Blackhawks
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Oilers in 3 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Oilers in 3 games
Allan Katz predicts: Oilers in 4 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Oilers in 3 games
Paul Macleod predicts: Oilers in 4 games
(Norm) The Oilers dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are a scary pair for any pro team to face. Edmonton has the best power play in the league and second-best penalty killing. Their defence is average but when you can outscore the opposition most of the time, it doesn’t matter. Chicago still has a number of experienced veterans with Cup experience, like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Corey Crawford. The better half of the team is transitioning to a youth movement, and they may not be ready for prime time yet.
(Brian) The fact that Corey Crawford missed basically all of Stage 3 due to a positive COVID test has him behind in terms of conditioning which is never a good thing heading into a playoff-type series. The backup, Malcolm Subban, is a big step back so all of a sudden, the one element that the Blackhawks may have had an advantage in (starting goalie) seems to be nullified and in the process, changed this from a competitive series to one that looks like a cakewalk for Edmonton. Chicago’s back end isn’t the strongest which is great news for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to wreak some havoc and even if the rest of their attack is sluggish out of the gate, these two can get through this series pretty much on their own.
(Allan) Do you know how hard it is to build a team in Montreal, despite it being cosmopolitan, has gorgeous women, and European flavour? Imagine how hard it is to build a team in Edmonton, a city on the outskirts of Whitehorse, Yukon. By the time the Stanley Cup comes around Edmonton will be hamstrung by snowdrifts, glaciers, and polar bears. When Covid-19 arrived in Edmonton in February it looked around, repacked its bags and decided to hitch a ride with some birds to Florida. It’s so cold in Edmonton that Tim Hortons serves coffee on a stick. But with McDavid, Draisaitl the Oilers are the exciting team and the Blackhawks feathers are turning a little grey.
(Kevin) The Oilers defensive game is okay, but nothing special. No worry, the Hawks are considerably worse. The Blackhawks are offensively capable with Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Jonathan Toews. Oh, right, they’re playing the league’s top power play and a team that features both Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Well, there’s always goaltending for the Hawks? But this really will not be enough to overcome the mismatch here. Should be a short but entertaining series that resembles the high-scoring games of old-time hockey.
(Paul) A relatively slow Chicago defence versus a seemingly faster Connor McDavid and Co. ‘Nuff said.
Nashville Predators vs Arizona Coyotes
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Predators in 3 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Coyotes in 5 games
Allan Katz predicts: Coyotes in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Predators in 4 games
Paul Macleod predicts: Predators in 4 games
(Norm) Nashville’s Juuse Saros was one of the hotter goalies in the league this season, usurping starter Pekka Rinne. Under Saros, the Predators improved their position in the standings to help this team make it to this point. This team has one of the deepest bluelines in the NHL and although they have no superstar forward, they have a high number of contributors which will make it difficult for the Coyotes to contend. Arizona, after their shocking news of their GM and advanced stats architect quitting the team, is not in an ideal position to make it out of this bracket. They have a couple of game-breaking forwards in Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall, along with star defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but little depth beyond that.
(Brian) For all of the attention that Nashville’s back end gets, I’d say Arizona’s is better. The Predators have the more well-known goalie in Pekka Rinne (if he winds up starting ahead of Saros) but overall, the Coyotes have the better goaltending. Nashville’s forward group is considerably better but a lot of them – including Montreal’s big offseason target last summer in Matt Duchene – struggled considerably. Of course, Arizona’s top guns didn’t do a lot offensively either even with Taylor Hall playing for a new contract. This feels like a low-scoring series to me so in that case, I’ll lean towards the better with the better back end and goaltending to pull off the upset.
(Allan) On one side you have the French city Ville De Nash and on the other side, you have an improbable desert team. Both have average to bad offences and vibrant talent on the back end. Nashville could and should win, but it’s the goalie situation that will bring Zona the victory. Kuemper will be the difference-maker in this series. Like with Montreal the loser might land up being the winner by winning the first draft pick. Neither team is going far, but Hall and Kuemper should mean the difference.
(Kevin) So the Predators hand the reigns over in net to Juuse Saros and become one of the hottest teams in the league despite recent acquisition Matt Duchene’s inability to be productive. They face a team on the opposing trajectory as the Coyotes faded from the playoff picture as the season advanced. On paper, the end of the season was more indicative of things as both teams score by committee, even though Nashville has recently tried to acquire a bit more of a scoring identity with Duchene. The Preds have one of the best blue lines in the game, on paper. They’ve struggled this season, but the Coyotes aren’t as deep after Ekman-Larsson so the Preds still hold the edge there. Both teams ice underrated goaltending options, but it will be interesting to see if Saros can keep up his 2020 play or if Kuemper can rekindle his October magic.
(Paul) The Predator’ defence is too good for Arizona and even if Phil Kessel regains his playoff scoring mojo, it won’t be enough for the offensively challenged Coyotes to beat Nashville.
Calgary Flames vs Winnipeg Jets
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Flames in 4 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Jets in 5 games
Allan Katz predicts: Jets in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Jets in 5 games
Paul Macleod predicts: Jets in 5 games
(Norm) Calgary has a great offensive top line with Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Sean Monahan, but do they have enough depth scoring to defeat Winnipeg? Their defence is very good with veterans Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, along with youngsters Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Anderson. Their goaltending duo is very solid with David Rittich and Cam Talbot. It’s mind-blowing to think that the Jets lost four of their six defencemen last season and they more than managed to stay in the race. Those blueline absences gave youngsters Neal Plonk and Josh Morrissey the chance to rise up the ranks and earn much more ice time. Former Hab Nathan Beaulieu resurrected his career in Winnipeg and led the team in plus/minus. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck played well also, but most of the Jets success is due to their top-6 forwards Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers.
(Brian) There are some teams that feel like they’re built for playoff success and Winnipeg is one of them. They have the offensive firepower to be more dangerous than they were during the regular season and Connor Hellebuyck is a Vezina contender for good reason. I don’t think Calgary is a pushover by any stretch and I suspect they’ll play better than they did in the playoffs against Colorado a year ago but this isn’t an ideal matchup for them. Johnny Gaudreau is a bit of a wild card coming off of a tough season by his standards and if he can take advantage of Winnipeg’s weakened back end, he may be able to be the difference-maker. I’m not banking on that happening so I’ll take the Jets.
(Alan) Truth is I want all Canadian teams to win, because… why not. I can guarantee you if this series plays out, a Canadian team will win. Calgary is an exciting vibrant city to live in; if they lose they’ll be sad, but they still live in Calgary. I doubt many players live in Winnie the whole year, but for the fans that still live there, this is all they got. If Winnie loses the fans have to go to bed knowing they will wake up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Now in no way am I making fun of… wait a second, of course I am. I owe an apology to all those who know Winnie is a great place to live. To all those, I say I’m sorry… that you live in Winnie. The difference-maker is a guy with a spectacular last name; Winnie Goal Attendant Hellebuyck. If he was a wrestler or an MMA guy he’d be world-famous, but what he is, is – a world-class goaltender in his prime. Winnie wins!
(Kevin) The Jets and Flames would have been in a battle for 11 games to determine their playoff fates had the stoppage not occurred. So now it will be five instead. The Flames feel they have something to prove after being ousted as the top seed last year. However, they face much of the same challenges as they land an opponent that plays a physical brand of hockey. The Jets have their own issues, mostly on the blue line. The Jets hold a decisive advantage in net with Connor Hellebuyck, but that’s negated by the Calgary advantage on the blueline. If it comes down to the forwards, it might really be decided by who shows up. Monahan and Gaudreau have been absolutely no-shows for the last two playoff seasons, so they need to contribute for the Flames to stand a chance. Then there’s the question of how effective Backlund, Tkachuk, and Mangiapane can be at shutting down the Scheifele line. I think this one comes down to the wire where the Jets’ pedigree will be just too much for the Flames.
(Paul) This is going to be a very close series, but I’m picking the Jets on the back of Connor Hellebuyck.
Vancouver Canucks vs Minnesota Wild
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Canucks in 4 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Canucks in 4 games
Allan Katz predicts: Canucks in 4 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Canucks in 5 games
Paul Macleod predicts: Canucks in 4 games
(Norm) Much like the Habs, the Wild must just be “happy to be here” when it comes to the postseason. They had no realistic chance of making the playoffs if the regular season had finished the way it was heading. Vancouver is a nice young team on the rise with young superstar Elias Pettersson plus stars Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat up front, providing a nice combination of size and skill. On the blueline, rookie Quinn Hughes burst onto the scene and managed top-pairing minutes for most of the season, looking more like a seasoned veteran on offence and defence. The team defence was not prime, allowing too many shots per game, although Jacob Markstrom rose to the starter’s role and played well.
(Brian) Vancouver has quietly put together one of the stronger forward groups this season and Tyler Toffoli, their big deadline acquisition, only adds to that. On the flip side, one of Minnesota’s top offensive forwards (Kirill Kaprizov) isn’t even allowed to play in this series for the same reason that Alexander Romanov can’t suit up for Montreal. I also don’t trust the Wild’s goaltending – picking between an underachieving Devan Dubnyk, an underwhelming Alex Stalock, and an unproven Kaapo Kakhonen doesn’t inspire much confidence for success. Some think this could be one of the closer series in this round but I think the Canucks hold a distinct advantage.
(Alan) The younger team, the Canadian team, the team with the better goaltender, Vancouver, should survive what might be a tight series and a confrontation between two teams where Minny has had the edge over the Canucks for a while until now. That is called a run-on sentence or a skate on … never mind.
(Kevin) Many will overlook this series, but I think this one will be very interesting. The Canucks wanted to make the playoffs after acquiring Tyler Myers and J.T. Miller in the offseason. They are there but do so with a very inconsistent showing over the season, so what version of the Canucks will we see? The Wild were on the bubble and fading until they fired Bruce Boudreau on Valentine’s Day. They finished off 8-4 after Boudreau left and were poised to make a push. The matchup features a Canucks team that relies heavily on its youth as Pettersson, Boeser, and Calder-nominee Hughes lead the way. The Wild continue to rely on the veteran presence of Eric Staal, Zach Parise, and Ryan Suter. Despite all these things, this series will likely come down to goaltending. The Wild’s usual starter Devan Dubnyk was replaced by Alex Stalock this season, and Stalock started the Wild’s exhibition game, so this is a huge unknown! However, he’s facing another playoff newcomer in Jacob Markstrom. Who will step up to the plate?
(Paul) Minnesota is a slow, plodding, “Meh” of a team. Vancouver has a significant talent advantage and will roll over the Wild in 4.