First Round Predictions: Western Conference
In which three of the series are almost unanimous picks. Almost.
The round-robin and qualifiers are done — the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs finally begin today! 2020 has been a weird ride so far, but we’re finally back to a sense of normalcy (kind of) with the start of some true best-of-seven series.
Our staff here at Defending Big D have spent the last *checks notes* 36 hours looking over the playoff matchups and making their picks. Here you will find our picks for the Western Conference — our predictions for the Eastern Conference can be found over there.
Who will be win? Who will lose? And who will be so terribly wrong with their picks that they’ll delete their social media out of shame? Let’s find out!
Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs Chicago Blackhawks (8)
Taylor: If you’re a fan of goal scoring, this will be the series for you. Golden Knights in 6.
Robert: The Golden Knights might be the best team in the West right now, and the Blackhawks are not nearly as good as Edmonton might have made you think. Still, Jonathan Toews is going to leadership his team to a heartbreaking loss, like all the best leaders in hockey. Golden Knights in 7.
Logan: Aren’t the Blackhawks obsolete by now? Kidding. While they did send the Oilers packing, the Blackhawks are no match for the Golden Knights, especially with Pacioretty inside the bubble now. Golden Knights (please, please, please) in 5.
Derek: I’m just going to come out and say that I don’t think this series will be all that close. Sure, Chicago has experience to work with, but the Knights aren’t exactly spring chickens. Vegas has too much talent, too much depth and too much balance, especially compared to Chicago, and they’ll be extra hungry after how their previous postseason ended. Golden Knights in 5.
Wes: Now that they’ve made the tough choice to hand their crease to Robin Lehner, Vegas is firmly entrenched at the top of the Western Conference. Getting Pacioretty back and Stone healthy borders unfair. This is your Stanley Cup front-runner, folks. Golden Knights in 4.
Ann: The Blackhawks are here on a technicality and the skin of their teeth. Vegas gets Pacioretty back after doing perfectly fine without him in the round robin. Golden Knights in 4.
Tyler: Vegas has the better offense, defense, and — if they stick with Robin Lehner in net — the better goaltending. Chicago was able to beat Edmonton because, well, they’re Edmonton, but no such luck here. Golden Knights in 5.
Rob M: Vegas looked down right scary in the round robin portion and that was without their best player in Max Pacioretty. The Blackhawks pulled off an upset, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are not a good hockey team. The Golden Knights overpower the Blackhawks — Golden Knights in 5.
Mark: Hearing “Chelsea Dagger” when the Blackhawks are a road team is the worst part of the bubble. Golden Knights in 4.
Final Tally: Golden Knights 9, Blackhawks 0
Colorado Avalanche (2) vs Arizona Coyotes (7)
Taylor: The speed, skill, and the depth of the Avalanche is likely going to be too much for the Coyotes to withstand in a seven game series. Avalanche in 5.
Robert: The Avalanche are fast, potent, young, and deep. The Coyotes, well, they’re a team. Again, don’t be fooled by how badly Nashville handled them; the ‘Yotes are not a playoff team. Avalanche in 4.
Logan: MacKinnon, Makar, and Rantanen on their own are enough nightmare fuel for any team in the league. Backed up by the depth of the rest of the Colorado roster? Sorry, Arizona, you guys had a decent season, but it’s not happening this year. Avalanche in 5.
Derek: Nathan MacKinnon is a man on fire right now, and he has proven in the past that he can elevate his play in big games. The rest of the Avalanche aren’t too shabby, either. I think Arizona will be able to squeeze out a couple wins thanks to their team structure and Darcy Kuemper, but it’s hard to bet against the sheer explosive talent of Colorado. Avalanche in 6.
Wes: Still mostly a one line team, but my goodness what a line. Also, thanks to the layoff, the key pieces are healthy. Don’t be fooled, Arizona gave up too many chances and too many shots against the Predators. The Avalanche is going to bury them. Avalanche in 5.
Ann: I cannot begin to tell you how badly I want Taylor Hall to lift the Cup in Edmonton wearing a different jersey JUST FOR THE NARRATIVE, but I just can’t see it happening. Snow over sand. Avalanche in 5.
Tyler: I actually think that Arizona is a good hockey team that underperformed in the regular season due to, in part, bad injury luck. Unfortunately for them, Colorado is the best in the West, and my pick to make the Cup Final. Avalanche in 5.
Rob M: The Coyotes looked so entertaining and found enough goaltending and defense to beat a better Nashville team in the qualifiers. The Avalanche are a whole different animal and proved why they are one of the favorites out of the West. The Coyotes are a fun story but the Avalanche are the real deal. Avalanche in 4.
Mark: Arizona plays a real Central team. Avalanche in 5.
Final Tally: Avalanche 9, Coyotes 0
Dallas Stars (3) vs Calgary Flames (6)
Taylor: The bad luck in the goal-scoring department can’t last forever (as we’ve been saying all year long), right? Ben Bishop should bounce back after a less-than-Bishop-esque round robin appearance, and that’s where the Stars will have the edge on the Flames. Stars in 6.
Robert: The Flames are either the best or the second-best matchup the Stars could have hoped for going into the postseason. They’re weak in goal, which will help a team like Dallas that prioritizes quality over quantity (and sometimes not even that). They’re also mottled throughout their lineup, with some obvious strengths amid a lot of mediocrity. Wait, which team am I describing again? Stars in 6.
Logan: Going to defy my mom, the diehard Calgary fan, on this one despite our wager (loser crochets socks in the winner’s colors). Tkachuk may be an irritant on the ice, Gaudreau may be good at hockey, but that doesn’t outweigh the spotty consistency through the lineup and in the net. Here’s hoping Dallas remembers how scoring goals works. Stars in 6.
Derek: Luckily for the wildly inconsistent Stars, the Flames can be just as bad in this area, falling apart at times when you wouldn’t expect them to or to a degree that you wouldn’t expect. If they can keep their wits about them, Dallas’ ability to grind and choke opposing teams could really fluster this Calgary squad, who don’t quite have enough talent to blow open tight defenses. Stars in 7.
Wes: Tiffin and I talked about this on our last podcast (cheap plug). This series is a referendum on the Dallas Stars. They should win, the matchup is a good one, their style suits the playoffs, tons of reasons. Good teams, and the Dallas Stars promise that’s what they are, win series exactly like this one. Call me crazy, but I think they come through. Stars in 6.
Ann: The best matchup the Stars could have hoped for, to be honest. The Flames are also wildly inconsistent and if Dallas can pull their quality shots out, also weak in goal. They live to disappoint, but I can’t help myself. Stars in 6.
Tyler: Sure, Calgary doesn’t exactly strike fear into your heart. You know who else doesn’t? A team that’s scored four goals in four games this postseason (including exhibition) and whose only win was a 2-1 shootout against a team that went 0-4 this postseason (including exhibition). Flames in 6.
Rob M: Who are the Dallas Stars? Are they the team we saw against Vegas and Colorado, or the team that shut down St. Louis and scored a timely goal late? The Stars hope the answer is the latter. The Flames have some goal-scorers, some toughness, and a Norris defenseman, but not much else. Goaltending is an issue and the defending is spotty. This series comes down to which Dallas team the Flames are getting. Stars in 7.
Mark: Nothing wakes up a physical team more than having to deal with Matthew Tkachuk. Stars turn xG into G. Stars in 6.
Final Tally: Stars 8, Flames 1
St. Louis Blues (4) vs Vancouver Canucks (5)
Taylor: For my money, this will be one of the more boring first-round matchups. The Blues should have the experience to get them past the young guns of the Canucks. Blues in 6.
Robert: Ah, a series of foibles! Each team has a tragic flaw or three, but each one also has its points. Ultimately, the Canucks should lose this series every time. Then again, there are reasons the Blues started last year as badly as they did, and not all of them have to do with the coaching. Canucks in 7.
Logan: The Blues seem to have hit the post-Stanley Cup yips in the round robin, their old flaws showing through in stark clarity. Vancouver edged Minnesota and were aided by the young talent developing on their roster. Something tells me this series is going to be great popcorn fodder no matter which team you pick. Canucks in 6.
Derek: The defending champs are going to have their hands full with a plucky Canucks squad, who have an abundance of budding young talent that is capable of striking unexpectedly. However, their goaltending and defending leave a lot to be desired. The Blues don’t seem content on just one championship, and their drive and experience will carry them through. Blues in 7.
Wes: I’m not convinced the Blues can “switch it on,” but against a not-quite-ready Canucks squad they’ll probably have enough. X-Factor here is whether Vancouver’s young guns can get white-hot and steal a series. They won’t, but they might. Blues in 6.
Ann: Both teams have their fatal flaws, but the Canucks have more of them, even after steamrolling the Wild. The Blues looked way too human in the round robin, but they’ve been here more recently. Blues in 6.
Tyler: Call it a delayed Stanley Cup hangover, but St. Louis has not looked good so far this postseason. I still think they’re the better team than Vancouver, but the playoffs are all about keeping momentum going. I think the Blues fall in an early series hole and fail to climb back out. Canucks in 7.
Rob M: St. Louis struggled and were bitten by bad luck in the round robin games. To compound that, the Blues really were outplayed in most of those three games. The Canucks, on the other hand, handled the Minnesota Wild in four games, riding timely goal scoring and goaltending. I really like Vancouver but St. Louis is moving on. Blues in 6.
Mark: St. Louis is the better team, but the Canucks are the better story. Narrative over fact. Canucks in 7.
Final Tally: Blues 5, Canucks 4