The 82-game, six and a half month journey has finished, but now it is time for the gruelling stretch that is the Stanley Cup playoffs. We were here for all of your fantasy hockey needs throughout the regular season, now we are back to provide you a playoff fantasy hockey pool of our own and insight on the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Today, I will be breaking down the Western Conference bracket and give you my picks as well as players from each series that should make a big impact. Also, be sure to check out the breakdown of the Eastern Conference.
The Western Conference was a ton better than the East this season. The 14 Western Conference teams averaged 95.29 points this season, while the East averaged 89.56. Of the eight playoff teams on each side, the West averaged 105.75 points–the East were at 100.38. However, the one thing the East has going for them, is that they play a less physical game as the West does, so by the time they reach the Stanley Cup finals, the Western Conference representative will likely be a little more beat-up.
Stanley Cup Stat: Five of the last seven Stanley Cup Champions have come from the Western Conference.
#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. #4 Dallas Stars
The Ducks won the Western Conference regular season title going 54-20-8, while Dallas squeaked in as the final seed with a 40-31-11 record. The Stars won the season series 2-1, outscoring Anaheim 11-9.
Anaheim comes in having won four in a row and seven of their last nine games, but who will be their starting goalie? Jonas Hiller did not play in their final four games and made only two starts in the Ducks last nine games. He’s lost his last three starts with a 4.15 GAA and .836 SV%. Frederik Andersen has won his last four starts with a 2.45 GAA and .924 SV%. Rookie John Gibson was won all three of his NHL starts while posting a ridiculous 1.33 GAA and .954 SV%. It is unlikely that they will roll with Gibson, so expect to see Andersen start game 1. In the regular season, the Stars had a tough time stopping Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as they combined for three goals and six assists (9 points) in three games.
Dallas’ Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin struggled against the Ducks this season, but were overall extremely good for the Stars this season. Seguin led the team in goals (37), assists (47) and points (84), while Benn was not far behind with 34 goals, 45 assists and 79 points. They are the key to the Stars success, but if they are going to have any chance they need Kari Lehtonen to play very well in goal. Since the Olympic break, Lehtonen is 11-5-0 with a 2.19 GAA and .923 SV%.
Prediction: Ducks win in 6.
Ultimately, the Ducks are too deep for the Stars and even if Seguin and Benn are scoring, chances are so are Getzlaf and Perry.
Key Player: Corey Perry
#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #3 Los Angeles Kings
The Sharks finished the regular season with 111 points (52-22-9), which was 11 points better than the Kings who finished at 46-28-8. The Kings won the season series 3-2 while outscoring the Sharks 12-8.
The Sharks come into play having gone 5-4-1 in their last 10 games and they have a similar goalie controversy as the Ducks do. I have a hard time believing Antti Niemi won’t be their game 1 starter, but he has struggled with consistency this season, while Alex Stalock has been superb when called up. Despite Niemi’s inconsistency, he has gone 10-4-1 in his last 15 starts, and you can’t bench a guy like that. However, the Sharks are in a great spot, because should Niemi falter, Stalock will be there. The Sharks are super deep, this season they had a 40-goal scorer (Joe Pavelski), a 30-goal guy (Patrick Marleau) and two 20-goal scorers (Logan Couture & Brent Burns), but the Kings can match that depth, making this one of the most intriguing series.
This Kings team looks a lot like the Kings team who won the Stanley Cup in 2012. They were struggling to score, but then they acquired Jeff Carter and the offence started pouring. This season they had their scoring woes again, but after acquiring Marian Gaborik, the offence improved. But offence is one thing, but this is the team who won the William M. Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals against. Anze Kopitar and Garborik come in on a tear. Kopitar has five goals and three assists in his last seven games. Gabo has eight points (2G / 6A) as well.
Prediction: Kings win in 7.
Goaltending is the key to the playoffs, but I think that is even more true in this series. If Niemi can find his game, the Sharks will be fine, but I am going with Jonathan Quick who has already proven himself in the playoffs.
Key Player: Jonathan Quick
#1 Colorado Avalanche vs. #4 Minnesota Wild
The Avalanche come into the playoffs on a roll, they have gone 8-2-1 down the stretch. However, the same can be said about the Wild who have won six of eight, but were rocked 7-3 in the season finale vs. the Predators. Colorado dominated the season series winning four of five games while outscoring the Wild 15-10.
A year after having the first overall pick (Nathan MacKinnon) the Avalanche had a phenomenal regular season under first year head coach Patrick Roy. Colorado finished the regular season as the fourth highest scoring team in the league (2.99 G/G) while having Semyon Varlamov lead the NHL in wins with the third best SV% in the league (.927 SV%). The one issue for the Avalanche, is they enter round one without their leading scorer Matt Duchene (23G / 47A). Duchene was expected to miss “roughly” four weeks and today marks the two-week point, so he could be back for game 3.
It has been a crazy season for the Wild. They had outstanding goaltending from Josh Harding, before complications with multiple sclerosis derailed his breakout season. After that, youngster Darcy Kuemper stood on his head, but now he is battling an upper-body injury. Now, veteran Ilya Bryzgalov, who was acquired at the trade deadline, has stepped in and played well as the Wild’s number-1. The Wild are led by three players who were signed or traded for last season. Zach Parise had 56 points, despite missing 15 games. Ryan Suter led the NHL in ice-time at 29:24 (more than 2 minutes more than anyone else) and finished t-17th among defensemen with 43 points. Finally, Jason Pominville, scored 30 goals for the third time in his carer.
Prediction: Avalanche win in 5.
Bryzgalov has played well, but at the end of the day he is the same goalie who has struggled for a few years in a row. Also, Varlamov has been absolutely on fire… So a big edge goes to the Avs.
Key Player: Ilya Bryzgalov
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #3 Chicago Blackhawks
Wow. What a first-round series this is going to be. A few weeks ago these were two heavy favourites to come out of the West. But all of a sudden the Blues were ravaged by injuries and lost six straight to end the season. While the Blackhawks lost both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The Blues won the series season 3-2, but two of those wins came in the shootout.
The Blues are without 218 regular season points in their lineup right now. Captain David Backes is out with a foot injury, but could be back for game 1. TJ Oshie is battling a head injury (possible concussion) so there is no saying how he will be when he comes back. Vladimir Tarasenko has been skating, but remains probably two weeks away from returning. The Blues are also without strong two-way forward and best face-off guy in Vladimir Sobotka and veteran Brendan Morrow. They acquired Ryan Miller before the trade deadline and things started off great, but have recently taken a turn for the worse. Miller has lost his last five starts while allowing a combined 18 goals on 125 shots (.856 SV%).
For the Hawks, Toews said he will “absolutely” be back in the lineup on Thursday for game 1, but Kane’s status remains uncertain. Even without Kane, they still have Patrick Sharp, who led the team with 78 points. Duncan Keith, who’s 55 assists led all NHL defensemen and was second with 61 points. As well as a number of other quality veteran players. They are the defending Stanley Cup Champions, so they need to be considered the favourite, despite the lower seed. Corey Crawford was great for the Hawks in the playoffs last year. He went 16-7 with a 1.84 GAA and .932 SV% en route to the Cup, and enters the playoffs having won seven of 11 with a 2.15 GAA and .913 SV%.
Prediction: Blackhawks win in 6.
The Blues are a very difficult team to play against when they are 100 per cent, but if there is a team you don’t want to face in the middle of a slump, it it Chicago.
Key Player: Patrick Kane
Editor’s Note: Please feel free to leave your bracket picks or opinions on all things playoffs. Nothing like a good hockey conversation, especially at this time of year!