NHL playoffs preview: St. Louis is class of Western Conference, capable of second straight Stanley Cup
Teams rarely repeat as champions in any sport these days. The parity in most leagues simply make the task too difficult.
But the St. Louis Blues appear suited to bring home a second straight Stanley Cup this summer.
When the NHL playoffs get underway, the Blues will be a well deserved No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. They’ve looked as formidable, almost all of this season, as they did when rolling toward winning the Cup last season.
“A lot of people thought there would be a hangover, or whatever they want to call it,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo told NHL.com. “But if you look at our group – experienced, professional – I don’t think there’s any worry in our locker room that this thing wasn’t going to turn out the way we wanted, especially at the start of the year.
“We felt like we had a group that really kind of flipped that switch to get ready for the start of the season. That’s the reason we’ve been able to carry it as far as we have and why we’ll have success moving forward into the end of the (playoffs).”
The Blues will take on Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in a round-robin among the top four seeds in the West.
With what will likely amount to a four-month break, since the season paused, the Blues will be healthy and rested for what should be another tough run.
“We were getting excited as a team, I could feel that, but at the same time, it is a good break for our group,” Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. “We’ve played a lot of hockey in the past year. I guess you can say we played two seasons. For our group, it’s going to be good, it’s going to be exciting.
“Obviously, the excitement of the playoffs is what it is. There’s going to be no concern of getting up to pace and getting ready for those games.”
Previously, we took a look at the matchups for the Eastern Conference. Today, the Western Conference.
►(5) Edmonton vs. (12) Chicago
Records: Edmonton 37-25-9 (.585 points percentage), Chicago 32-30-8 (.514).
Storyline: The Blackhawks somehow find themselves in position to be in the postseason after a largely disappointing season – against Edmonton superstars Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.
Key: Draisaitl is the likely NHL Most Valuable Player and McDavid is generally considered the NHL’s best player. Are they ready to carry the Oilers to a Stanley Cup?
Key player: Chicago C Jonathan Toews. He hasn’t had a typical season, but can he recapture the magic after a four-month break.
Prediction: Edmonton in five.
►(6) Nashville vs. (11) Arizona
Records: Nashville 35-26-8 (.565), Arizona 33-29-8 (.529).
Storyline: The Coyotes are a young team getting a lot of attention as a possible darkhorse Stanley Cup contender. They have an intriguing blend of experience and talented youth.
Key: Nashville hasn’t had the type of season it expected, with many stars playing below par. Here’s a chance to erase all that.
Key player: Arizona C Taylor Hall. This is an opportunity to make a big statement before unrestricted free agency.
Prediction: Arizona in five.
►(7) Vancouver vs. (10) Minnesota
Records: Vancouver 36-27-6 (.565), Minnesota 35-27-7 (.558)
Storyline: Vancouver has several young players who are quickly becoming impact players, but because the Canucks play in western Canada, few know them. This tournament is a chance to change all that.
Key: Can the veteran, defensive-minded Wild slow down the quicker, younger Canucks?
Key player: Vancouver C Elias Pettersson. With 27 goals and 66 points, Petterson matched his rookie success and gets his first postseason experience.
Prediction: Vancouver in 4.
►(8) Calgary vs. (9) Winnipeg
Records: Calgary 36-27-7 (.564), Winnipeg 37-28-6 (.563).
Storyline: Western Canada will love this series, and many hockey fans should tune in also, because this should be as even and hard-hitting series of any this summer.
Key: Calgary might have more top-end talent, but Winnipeg probably has a bit more depth through the lineup.
Key player: Winnipeg G Connor Hellebuyck. The Commerce native gives the Jets the one big edge by either team in any position. Hellebuyck has arguably been the NHL’s best goalie this season.
Prediction: Winnipeg in five.
(1) St. Louis (42-19-10, .662 points percentage); (2) Colorado (42-20-8, .657); (3) Vegas (39-24-8, .606); (4) Dallas (37-24-8, .594)
Storyline: Defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis has looked even stronger at times this season than it did during its playoff run last spring.
Key: All four of these teams have great balance in their lineups and are healthy. All four have the experience to make a long run, too.
Key player: Colorado D Cale Makar. This will be a good opportunity for Makar to show why he is the likely Rookie of the Year winner.
Prediction: St. Louis continues its machine-like mentality and wins this little tournament also.