Colorado Avalanche v Minnesota Wild
Season Series: Colorado 4 Minnesota 1
The Avalanche have had an amazing turnaround from last season where they finished bottom of the West. Semyon Varlamov has been a revelation between the pipes for the Avs. They have young sensation Nathan Mac Kinnon in the offence along with Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene, the oldest of these being aged 23 showing Edmonton that being young doesn’t mean being redundant. They have a fiery and influential coach in Patrick Roy and have kept going strong when being expected to eventually fall away.
Minnesota have talent in the form of Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter. In Josh Harding they had a goaltender performing well but he has not played since December 31, believed to be dealing with complications from multiple sclerosis. Niklas Backstrom is also out for the Wild meaning that they go into the playoffs with the enigmatic Ilya Bryzgalov and the inexperienced Darcy Kuemper. For the Wild to win they will need big performances from their defensive side to shut down Colorado’s attacking threat.
Verdict: Colorado in 6
St Louis Blues v Chicago Blackhawks
Season Series: St Louis 3 Chicago 2
This match up could be one of the most exciting in the playoffs. The defending champion Chicago Blackhawks against the team many have picked to win the Cup this year. Both sides have stuttered into the playoffs, St Louis have lost 6 in a row.
Chicago welcome back Patrick Kane for the playoffs who has missed a considerable amount of time, 12 games, and Jonathan Toews who has missed six games. They may have to get up to speed but the Blackhawks are more skilled when they are on the ice. Add in players like Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad and the Hawks are well equipped when it comes to depth in offence. They have talent in defence in the shape of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as well as depth talent there too.
St Louis have acquired Ryan Miller to play in between the pipes in a move that was seen as topping up for a run at the Cup. Miller’s time in Missouri has not gone all that well and the pressure will mount if the desired results don’t come. St Louis have a lot of talent too, TJ Oshie and Alex Steen have had outstanding seasons. In defence the Blues are strong with Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk the jewels in the defensive crown. They will need to be at their defensive best to match Chicago and to get through this series and into the next round.
Verdict: Chicago in 6
Anaheim Ducks v Dallas Stars
Season Series: Dallas 2 Anaheim 1
Anaheim have been the best in the West this year, finishing just one point behind Boston for the Presidents Trophy. In Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry they have one of, if not the best, pairing in the NHL. Some experts say that if there is a weakness for the Ducks it is in goaltending with Jonas Hiller the number one choice. He is good but just not elite.
Dallas have a strong one-two punch too in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, both are a big reason why the Stars have made the playoffs. In Kari Lehtonen they have a goal tender capable of stealing a few games, if not a series. They will need some more offensive output beyond Seguin and Benn to pull off the upset but they come into the playoffs on a good streak and playing must win hockey to finish the season.
Verdict: Anaheim in 5
San Jose Sharks v Los Angeles Kings
Season Series: Los Angeles 3 San Jose 2
This is a mouth watering contest in store in California. The Sharks have had a great season but must feel like they have not been rewarded appropriately with a match up against Los Angeles, though any match up in the West is tough. This Sharks team have been around the block. Players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are running out of time if they are to finally win a Cup. They have young talent in Tomas Hertl and in Logan Couture who has a few seasons in the NHL. In Antti Niemi they have a goal tender with experience of winning the Stanley Cup.
Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and are pretty much the same unit. They are defensively very solid with a top quality goal tender in Jonathon Quick. Anze Kopitar is the star man on offence but is ably assisted by Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik. The Kings are a bruising, no nonsense side who are built for the playoffs.
Verdict: Los Angeles in 7.