Monday 26th September 2016,
Balltribe

2015 NHL Playoff Preview — Western Conference

ducksbluesLWe’re gonna breakdown every first-round match-up, give you some expert analysis, and leave you with our staff picks for each series. We’ve posted our brackets on NHL.com/brackets, and feel free to join the Balltribe group and try and beat us! We’ll only hate you a little bit if you win.

Parity is the new buzzword in the NHL, and with 6 100+ point teams in the Western Conference, it’s easy to see why. In older seeding configurations, the 1st-vs-8th, 2nd-vs-7th, and even the 3rd-vs-6th place quarterfinal series would feel a little sleepy, and sweeps weren’t uncommon. Now, there’s little separation between the playoff cut and the bubble, so we’re in for a truly great postseason.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Winnipeg Jets

ANA-WPG-head-to-head
[The Hockey News]

TRIBAL LEADERS
Difference-makers and catalysts for both teams

The Jets are a punishing team to play against, and few players exemplify this style of play better than Big Buff himself. Byfuglien is huge consumer of ice time, quarterbacks the powerplay, and can reinvigorate his team with a timely and crushing hit. If the Jets pull the upset, he’ll be leading the charge.

The Ducks have one of the most effective, efficient, and deadly players in the world in their captain, Ryan Getzlaf. 25 goals, 45 assists, 70 points in this season alone, and his experience in leading the Ducks to their first Stanley Cup championship ’06 shouldn’t be underestimated.

YouTube Nostalgia
Greatest Playoff Moments for Each Team

Winnipeg
Listen to that crowd right around the 0:23 minute mark. How crazy will the MTS Centre be this time around?

Anaheim
Cup-winning season aside, the most compelling story to me was J.S Gigure’s incredible playoff run that earned him the Conn Smythe. 63 saves in a single playoff game? Unreal.

Mike’s Pick:I am pumped for this series. It marks the first time the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise has made the playoffs since 2007 in which the Thrashers were swept. Game Three will mark the first playoff game in Winnipeg since 1996. And the Jets are hot entering the postseason. There are a LOT of non-Jets fans around the NHL that are really pulling for these guys.

Never before will a lower seed split on the road prove to be more beneficial than here. Any team starting on the road hopes for a split heading home for three and four. But given the time that has passed between playoff games and the hockey-crazed Jets fans drooling on their game three tickets in anticipation of packing the MTS Centre could be disastrous for Anaheim. They In the time Winnipeg has had their Jets back, I’ve been a firm believer that in certain situations, the home crowd has been able to will the club to a victory. Should the Jets find themselves coming home tied at one, it very well could be the difference in this series. Would anyone truly consider this an upset if Winnipeg advanced? I certainly wouldn’t. It’s up to the fans to try and make games three and four (and possibly six) as miserable as possible for the Ducks. Anaheim will have to weather numerous “storms” to prevail in Winnipeg.

There are some questions in net for the Ducks, but consequently, which Ondrej Pavelec will show up for the Jets? My heart says Jets pull it off, but my head says Ducks in seven.

Adam’s Pick: I’m stoked to see playoff hockey back in Winnipeg. They’re supposed to be bringing back the whiteout. How cool is that? Anyway, I love Winnipeg’s energy and heavy-hitting style, but the Ducks are 20-1-6 in one-goal games. That dominance can’t ignored. Ducks in five.

St.Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild

STL-MIN-head-to-head

[The Hockey News]

TRIBAL LEADERS
Difference-makers and catalysts for both teams

For Minnesota — it’s easy to get caught up in the Dubnyk hype, and he’s been incredible, no question, but Parise is one of the most elite forwards on the planet. He’s going to find the back of the net in this series. If the Wild advance, it’ll be thanks to his offensive production, first and foremost.

The Blues have long lacked a serious offensive dagger in their top six, and at last, have found it in 23 year-old Russian phenom Vladimir Tarasenko. He’ll need to stay healthy and show up frequently in the boxscore to keep St.Louis rolling. He’ll draw the top defensive pairing every night, so look for him to pile up assists to linemates throughout the first round.

YouTube Nostalgia
Greatest Playoff Moments for Each Team

St.Louis
The Blues don’t have a whole lot of great postseason successes to choose from, sadly, but here’s one of my favorites — Steen’s Triple-OT winner against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Minnesota
Doesn’t get any more clutch than Andrew Brunette’s Game 7 OT goal against the Avs (Who else misses Steve Levy’s play-by-play?)

Mike’s pick: This was a tightly contested season series with each club winning once on the road and at home. Special teams should be the x-factor here with the Blues’ 4th best power play unit moving the puck against Minnesota’s NHL best penalty kill at 86.3%. One critical component for any Wild success will be finding a way to score on the man advantage as they enter the series with an abysmal 15.8 conversion rate, good for 27th in the league. Blues in six.

Adam’s pick: Minnesota has been on an absolute tear, sure, but my gut has been telling me they’ll cool off eventually. Blues have too much depth in their top six, and Suter can’t shut each threat down every night. Minnesota won’t be easy, but they’ll fall just short. Blues in six.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

NSH-CHI-head-to-head
[The Hockey News]

TRIBAL LEADERS
Difference-makers and catalysts for both teams

With Kane’s possible return hanging over the Hawk’s lineup, Chicago will need a huge performance between the pipes. Corey Crawford has drawn a ton of undue criticism — especially considering how many 30-win seasons he’s strung together for the Hawks. That being said, the Predators are streaky and can score in bunches. Crawford might need to steal a game or two for the Blackhawks to advance.

Analysis of the Predators usually begins and ends with Weber and Rinne, and yeah, Nashville couldn’t compete without either of them, but this series will likely depend heavily on secondary scoring. Neal will get Seabrook and Keith every shift. Filip Forsberg, however, could sneak under the radar and generate a ton of chances for the Preds.

YouTube Nostalgia
Greatest Playoff Moments for Each Team

Chicago
Tough to put anything else here except Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup winning overtime goal against the Flyers:

Nashville
How about the first franchise playoff goal scored at home for the Predators? I love this clip — listen to that building erupt after Legwand’s snipe.

Mike’s pick: Both clubs are limping into the post season with bruised egos if nothing else. Nashville one held a nine point division lead over eventual winner St. Louis after the All Star Break. Then suffered a complete nuclear meltdown over the stretch run. Chicago is also licking their wounds and is clearly a shell of its former self. But just when the Preds were feeling good about having home ice in the first round, they heard the worst possible news Monday: Patrick Kane is clear for game one. The way both teams have played towards the end of the season, this could be an ugly series to watch. But if Chicago figures it out first, now with Kane back in the lineup, Nashville could be in serious trouble. The difference here is between the pipes. Pekka Rinne is a world class goaltender; Corey Crawford? Meh. He can let his emotions get the best of him after a soft goal. Rinne gets the edge here. Preds in seven.

Adam’s pick: Toughest series to call in my opinion. Chicago has the experience, but if the Preds recapture half of the fast-paced offensive prowess they had in the regular season, they could make quick work of the Hawks. Nashville in a nasty seven gamer

Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames

VAN-CGY-head-to-head

[The Hockey News]

TRIBAL LEADERS
Difference-makers and catalysts for both teams

Calgary’s chances — especially sans Giordano — will rest heavily on the shoulders of defenseman Kris Russell. He’s going to be tasked with containing the explosive Sedin twins, and this will be the true test of his abilities. Is he a legitimate top-pairing blueliner, or is he just the best the Flames have at the moment?

The Canucks could sink or swim based on their goaltending, but I’m looking at Radim Vrbata as the real workhorse in this series. Tons of players have found success as their icetime with the Sedins increased, but Vrbata has a creative and devastating offensive ability independent of the twins. Vancouver will need point production from Vrbata if they want to see the second round.

YouTube Nostalgia
Greatest Playoff Moments for Each Team

Vancouver

Alex Burrows has ice water in them veins. Series-winning Game 7 OT winner against the Blackhawks.

Calgary

This is the first thing that comes to mind whenever I think about the Flames — Theo Fleury’s half-ice slide celebration after scoring the OT winner against the Oilers in ’91.

Mike’s pick: Personally, this is my second favorite match up beyond the Blues and Wild. This was another close regular season affair with each team winning twice. I, like many others, completely wrote off Calgary when prized defenseman Mark Giordano was lost for the season. They really seemed to be looking ahead to next year when they traded Curtis Glencross to Washington. I’ll eat my humble pie tonight as I am pleased to see another new face in the dance this year; Calgary absolutely earned their keep in the Pacific and deserve to be where they’re at. Vancouver is also a bit of a surprise after last year’s disappointing season with John Tortorella. Ryan Miller missed considerable time and Eddie Lack stepped up when they needed him. These two played a memorable seven game, first round series in 2004 enabling the Flames to push to game seven of the Finals. Both teams have weathered serious adversity to get here, but I like Calgary in a bit of an upset. Flames in six.

Adam’s pick: I’ve got that sinking feeling that Calgary is primed to run out of gas right in the middle of this series. Losing Giordano has to catch up with them eventually, right? I’m going to ignore my gut on this one. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are scoring threats every shift. Calgary in seven.

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