With a quick turnaround by the NHL to get the next round started Saturday evening, the HabsWorld writers are back at their keyboards to provide their predictions. This part will focus on the two Western Conference series.
Vancouver Canucks vs Vegas Golden Knights
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Canucks in 6 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Golden Knights in 5 games
Allan Katz predicts: Canucks in 7 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Canucks in 7 games
(Norm) Vegas will be well-rested for this series as they finished off the Chicago Blackhawks in five games. Former Hab Max Pacioretty has struggled so far, scoring only once. Their goaltending has been split between Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury when the latter struggled during the Chicago series. The Knights’ power play has also been subpar. I like Vancouver’s chances in this series. Young stars Elias Petterson and Quinn Hughes have been outstanding so far in this postseason. Petterson is tied for the league scoring with thirteen points. Goaltending has been very solid with Jacob Markstrom rising to the occasion, and the team has a good mix of veterans and youth with everyone playing their roles well. The team had a top-five power play percentage in the regular season which continued into the playoffs, which will be an important X-factor. The Canucks are Canada’s last chance for a team to win the Stanley Cup, and I will get behind that.
(Brian) – While I’m impressed with Vancouver getting past St. Louis, the Blues didn’t exactly put up much of a fight either. The Canucks have a deep attack but Vegas has a deeper one. I give the Golden Knights a big edge defensively which offsets any small edge that Jacob Markstrom has over the two Vegas options (and I suspect both Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury will see time in this series). Right now, I have the Golden Knights as my Stanley Cup favourites so I think they’ll be able to make short work of Vancouver even though the Canucks are playing quite well.
(Allan) The difference between a good season and a bad season can be stunningly slim. As we saw in the Habs-Penguins-Flyers play-in and playoff games, victory can be a few bounces your way or not to determine the winner. During the season, Vegas finished eighth in the league and the Canucks finished seventeenth so it would seem clear that the Canucks have little chance. Vegas scored 3.20 goals per game while Vancouver scored 3.30 goals per game. Vegas gave up 3.11 goals per game and Vancouver gave up 3.14. Now we can go deeper, but I’m going with the Canucks who are repping a sweet, beautiful, country while Vegas is repping sinning on every imaginable level. Okay, so Vegas sounds a lot more fun, but this Canuck is picking Vancouver anyway.
(Kevin) This has all the makings of a really fun series. The Knights are big, talented, hold a deep roster where they hold the edge is just about every position. The other thing they hold here is all the expectations. The Canucks are young, which has shown to be somewhat of a factor in the bubble, they are playing with house money as even with a loss here, their season will be considered a success, and they are still a very skilled group overall. The Canucks played Vegas hard in the regular season, AND they just beat a Blues team that looks a lot like the Knights. On the other hand, Vegas will need to ratchet up their intensity because their series against the Hawks did not have the same intensity as the Vancouver-St. Louis series. This is my upset pick as I keep a Canadian team alive and hope the Canucks win another long, physical match-up.
Colorado Avalanche vs Dallas Stars
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Avalanche in 7 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Avalanche in 6 games
Allan Katz predicts: Avalanche in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Stars in 6 games
(Norm) This match is such an offence versus defence. The Stars were one of the best defensive teams during the regular season. Their top pairing of Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg are equally good on defence and offence. Dallas’ top line of former Hab Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn is a formidable trio. Starting goaltender Ben Bishop was deemed unfit to play during the last series, but backup Anton Khudobin has stepped in and played well. The Avalanche certainly provide superior scoring, lead by superstar Nathan MacKinnon, who shares the scoring lead in the playoffs. His linemates Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog are arguably the best line in the NHL. Nazem Kadri leads the league with five power play goals in the postseason while providing his usual pesty style of play. On defence, they are lead by wunderkind rookie Cale Makar. This will be a close series and a fun one to watch, but Colorado will advance.
(Brian) – I don’t know what to make of Dallas. They got through Calgary without their starting goalie (and Ben Bishop is still unavailable to start this one) and had minimal contributions from their top line. To win a series in spite of those things is notable. On the other hand, I haven’t trusted their offence all season long and they were my pick for an early upset before Bishop was unavailable even. I haven’t seen enough to change that.
As for Colorado, they’re firing on all cylinders right now. They destroyed Arizona’s defence which is quietly one of the better groups in the league. Dallas is no slouch in that regard either but their performance against the Coyotes gives me confidence that they’ll be able to get through the Stars’ defensive structure as well. Khudobin historically struggles the longer he’s in the number one role so that bodes well for the Avalanche as well. I could see Dallas getting a couple of wins but Colorado should take this somewhat handily.
(Allan) Known as the Scottish twins by absolutely no one, Nathan MacKinnon and Nazem MacKadri lead an overwhelming offence that should beat the better defensive squad of Dallas. Ryan “Put em in their” Graves and Cale “The Difference” Makar will be solid enough on defence. This series should go five, but Anton Khudobin could steal two games for the Stars. The Stars also have the Rad Man, but Radulov won’t be the difference-maker… or should I say Makar?
(Kevin) The Dallas Stars are no Arizona Coyotes. The Avalanche are skilled, but I’m not sure they’ll know how to handle the big, chippy, and equally skilled Stars. Let’s not forget that the Stars are an experienced bunch too. I think the Avalanche figure it out and start matching the Stars intensity a little too late. Dallas will prove to be too big and too physical for the Avalanche for this year. Look out though, with a bit of goaltending, this one could turn in a hurry.