Playoff Preview: Western Conference Semifinals

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In 24 hours the second round of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin. In the West, we have the St Louis Blues vs Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks going head to head with the Edmonton Oilers. Here are my thoughts of these two series.

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First, let’s start with the St. Louis/Nashville series. These two teams are meeting in the Playoffs for the first time ever which is one of the reasons I think this is your toss-up series. The other reason being that neither team is that good. However, both teams are riding a ton of momentum following their round one series. St Louis defeated Minnesota, who was arguably one of the best teams in the regular season despite their final 10 teams Nashville swept one of the best playoff teams and the top team in the Western Conference in the Chicago Blackhawks. Even more impressive than that, Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped 123 of 126 shots faced in the series, shutting out Chicago twice. Head to head Nashville won the season series 3-2 over St Louis However, as we saw in the first round, the means nothing because Montreal swept the season series from the Rangers, yet lost the playoff series to them. One of the biggest factors going into this series is rest. Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators have not played since last Thursday. Jake Allen and the Blues played on Saturday however 3 out of the 5 games against the Wild went into OT. St Louis was grossly outplayed in their series against the wild being outshot 182-134, only going 1 for 19 on the Powerplay and losing over 50% of the faceoffs every night. Whereas Nashville was evenly matched with Chicago only being outshot 124-126, they did only go 1 for 8 on the Powerplay and beat Chicago in faceoff winning percentage 3 out of 4 games.

For St Louis to win, They are going to need Jake Allen to put in another top notch performance equal to and surpass round 1. For Nashville, it is all going to hinge on how Pekka Rinne bounces back from the week long rest.

This is a tough call but I say Nashville takes this in 6 games.

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Switching gears now to the series that I feel will produce the team going to the Stanley Cup Finals from the Western Conference; Anaheim Ducks vs Edmonton Oilers. In head to head action in the regular season, Edmonton won the series 3-2. The last time these two teams met in the Playoffs was the 2006 Western Conference Finals where Edmonton won the series 4-1. The Ducks are also coming off of a long rest, having swept the Calgary Flames in Round 1. Edmonton is in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Ducks are 18-9 in playoff games over the past three years. The big question in this one is Edmonton’s young captain Connor McDavid. He was kept to only 4 points (2G 2A) in the series against San Jose, with his second goal not coming until he scored an empty netter in game 6. As the NHL regular-season scoring leader with 100 points, McDavid will test the shut-down abilities of the Ducks’ best checking line, center Ryan Kesler, a Selke Trophy nominee, and wings Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg. The other factor for the Oilers is McDavid’s leadership. He was a fine leader in the regular season, which saw the Oilers rebound from 70 points in 2015-16 to 103 this season. However, his inexperience in the NHL playoffs may be a factor, especially going up against the leadership of veteran Ducks Captain Ryan Getzlaf, whose 5 points (3G 2A) lead the Ducks in the first round against Calgary. Another key factor for this series in the health of the Ducks defense. If they are expecting a long run in the playoffs they will need No. 1 defenseman Cam Fowler and top-four defenseman Sami Vatanen to return.

As for goaltending, well this one is evenly matched Heading down the stretch there were some concerns in Edmonton over the workload being placed on the shoulders of Cam Talbot. However, he is showing no signs of wearing down. Ducks young 23-year-old goalie, John Gibson, has been dubbed the Ducks goaltender of the future for years. His play finally caught up with the hype when he won his first playoff series, starting all four games. Also, watch for Edmonton forward Leon Draisaitl to continue to be a thorn in the side against Anaheim. In the regular season, Draisaitl had 8 points (6G 2A) in 5 games against the Ducks including two game-winners in overtime.

I see this series going the distance with Edmonton squeaking out a series victory in Game 7 and return to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2006.

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