The day has finally arrived. Tonight is the night as the NHL playoffs face off Wednesday night. It’s now time to get into the Western Conference playoff preview. In case you missed it, here is the Eastern Conference playoff preview.
There’s also still a little bit of time to get into the FanVsFan NHL.com Bracket Challenge. Just click this link, and you’re in. There’ll be a small prize for the winner.
If you have comements, tweet me @DanMountSports or comment below.
Colorado (1) vs. Minnesota (1st Wild Card)
Records: Colorado (52-22-8, Central Division champions); Minnesota (43-27-12, 1st Wild Card)
Season series: Colorado won 4-1
Players to watch: Colorado, Semyon Varlamov (41-14-6, 2.41 GAA, 2 shutouts); Minnesota, Jason Pominville (30 goals-30 assists). The Avalanche give up a ton of shots per game and have ridden Varlamov this whole season. Ponminville leads a Wild offense that likes the grind out games, and plays sound defensive hockey.
X-factors: Colorado, Nathan MacKinnon; Minnesota, Ilya Bryzgalov. The young top pick of last year’s draft has totaled 24 points and 39 assists this season. He’s proved Patrick Roy’s gamble to be a correct one. Bryzgalov came over from Edmonton and has stepped in for Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper and Nicklas Backstrom (who’ve all bee injured). Bryz needs to step up his game even more to help Minnesota get the upset.
Prediction: I give Minnesota a lot of credit for fighting so hard, but I love Colorado in this series. The Avs win it in 5.
St. Louis (2) vs. Chicago (3)
Records: St. Louis (52-23-7, second in Central); Chicago (46-21-15, third in Central)
Season series: St. Louis won 3-2
Players to watch: St. Louis, Alexander Steen (33 goals-29 assists); Chicago, Patrick Sharp (34 goals-44 assists). Steen got off to a hot start and leads a Blues team that has been struggling as of late. Sharp keeps scoring and no matter who is in and out of the lineup.
X-factors: St. Louis, Ryan Miller; Chicago, the health of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Miller has struggled in the last couple of weeks after getting off to a solid start when he was traded from the Sabres. Toews and Kane are both expected to be back for game one, but will they be rusty?
Prediction: The Blues do have to get healed up, but they're missing T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Berglund. If the stars don’t come back, I expect the Hawks to win in six.
Anaheim (1) vs. Dallas (2nd Wild Card)
Records: Anaheim (54-20-8, clinched top see din the West); Dallas (40-31-11, second wild card, 5th in Central)
Season series: Dallas won 2-1
Players to watch: Anaheim, Ryan Getzlaf (31 goals-56 assists); Dallas, Tyler Seguin (37 goals-47 goals). Getzlaf and Perry carry most of the scoring load, but they’ve got good support from other players like Nick Bonino, Mathieu Perreault and Andrew Cogliano. Seguin has thrived after being partnered with Jamie Benn. Seguin has answered the questions that faced him at the beginning of the year.
X-factors: Anaheim, Nick Bonino; Dallas, Kari Lehtonen and Tim Thomas. Bonino is versatile and can play wing or center. He’ll be needed deeper in the playoffs. Lehtonen and Thomas have helped the Stars through that patch when they lost second-line center Rich Peverley after a cardiac incident. They’ll need to be on their game to keep the Stars in this series.
Prediction: I’ll pat myself on the back for picking the Stars to make the playoffs at the beginning of the year. However, the run ends here and the Ducks take this in five.
San Jose (2) vs. Los Angeles (3)
Season series: Los Angeles won 3-2
Players to watch: San Jose, Joe Pavelski (41 goals-38 assists); Los Angeles, Jonathan Quick (27-17-4, 2.07 GAA, 6 shutouts). Pavelski and Logan Couture have provided loads of offense for the Sharks. They are one of the best puck-possessing teams in the league. Quick has come back from early-season injury to give the Kings the stopper they need. L.A. also is one of the top teams in puck possession.
X-factors: San Jose, Anti Niemi; Los Angeles, Drew Doughty. Niemi is fighting off the challenge of Alex Stalock to stay the number one netminder. Doughty carried Team Canada to the gold medal, but is coming off an upper-body injury. Doughty will be needed to stop the Sharks tough group of forwards.
Prediction: This is going to be one of the best series of the opening round. The Kings don’t give up goals and that’s what will carry them to a hard-fought seven game series victory.
That’s it for the first round. I’ll come back with recaps every couple of days. Take care and enjoy the playoffs.
Dan Mount is an NHL columnist for TJRSports.com. He is based out of Watertown, NY.