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Off the Post: Western Conference playoff preview

Yesterday’s edition of Off the Post discussed the Eastern Conference teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now, let’s take a look at the four series in the Western Conference. This side of the league has the reigning champs, the Colorado Avalanche, striving to make another run and superstars like Connor McDavid trying to push his team to a new level. There’s been a lot of talk about the power of the East this season, but the West has some high-caliber groups with big expectations, too.  

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

No. 2 Dallas Stars vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild 

The Wild finished third in the Central Division this season, five points behind their first round opponent. While the group worked to find its identity mid-season –– and had success in the win column while doing so –– the Wild’s last stretch of regular season games in April saw them drop five of seven matchups. Nonetheless, they are a deep roster with both young legs and veteran experience. 

Winger Kirill Kaprizov leads his squad with 75 points, and Mats Zuccarello is second with 67. Additionally, University of Minnesota sensation Brock Faber just joined the Wild in the pros after his collegiate career came to a close in this month’s Frozen Four final. Minnesota has jump and will need it against a Stars team that’s been on a roll. 

Dallas won its last six games of the season, clearly clicking and leaning on its offensive depth. The team picked up Max Domi from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline, and he has slotted in well at center with Tyler Seguin on his right side. 23-year-old forward Jason Robertson topped the Stars with 109 points, including 46 goals. Dallas has a high-flying offense, scoring around 3.5 goals per game. They’ve also got strength between the pipes with former Terrier Jake Oettinger and his .919 save percentage. 

No. 2 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 3 Los Angeles Kings

It’s time for a rematch. The Kings and Oilers meet in the first round for the second year in a row with somewhat of a similar storyline. LA took Edmonton to seven games in 2022, turning the series into a much more competitive spectacle than expected. While the Kings ultimately lost, they proved they’re still built for the postseason. 

This year, all the noise is surrounding the Oilers. It seems the team and its fans are all in, and with a roster like the one they have, they should be. There’s no need to explain the magic that is the 153-point-scorer McDavid. His creativity and sheer skill on the ice is incredible –– and sometimes unbelievable –– to watch. Edmonton’s top six is big and scary. Leon Draisaitl is another guy that’s been on a mission all season. This is a must-win series for the Oilers, but I don’t think LA has any problem playing the spoiler. 

Veteran center Anže Kopitar led the Kings with 74 points in his 17th season with the team, and his playoff resume is invaluable to LA. Winger Adrian Kempe has also been consistent skating beside Kopitar on the first line. The one question mark for the Kings in the postseason is goaltending. With Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen gone, it’s between Joonas Korpisalo, who has playoff experience under his belt but was just recently acquired at the deadline, or Pheonix Copley, who has only been eased into the starter position this season despite his success. 

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. WC2 Winnipeg Jets

The Jets were on the edge of the playoff bubble up until the last moments of the regular season, securing the West’s second wild card spot with just two points ahead of the Flames. Winnipeg acquired veteran winger Nino Niederreiter from the Nashville Predators in February before the trade deadline, signaling that the group was looking to make a push for the postseason. And here they are. 

Led in points by Kyle Connor, who has 80, the Jets will still lean heavily on their goaltending to compete with the Knights. Connor Hellebuyck has stolen games for Winnipeg all season with a 2.49 goals against average and will be a big piece of the puzzle in the playoffs. 

Since making it to the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season, the Golden Knights have not been able to return to that point. Vegas missed the playoffs in 2022 but came back this year and won the Pacific Division during head coach Bruce Cassidy’s first season at the helm. Jack Eichel –– a former Terrier and one of the league’s top talents –– is finally getting his first taste of postseason hockey eight years into his career. The center leads his team with 66 points. Honestly, Vegas just doesn’t excite me. Based on seeding, they’ve got a high chance of making it to round two, but the Jets have been in playoff mode for essentially the last month. They’re big and strong and have nothing to lose. If I were a Knights fan, that would worry me. 

No. 1 Colorado Avalanche vs. WC1 Seattle Kraken 

This is arguably the least interesting series of the first round. It’s the Kraken’s first playoff appearance in their second year as a team and they’re competing against the defending Stanley Cup champions. To me, there’s no fire going in. The groups are going to have to create their own intensity and chippiness to make this one interesting. 

Seattle comfortably secured the West’s first wildcard spot after stringing together a five-game winning streak in early April. Winger Jared McCann scored a team-high 40 goals this year while skating on a productive first line with Matty Beniers and Jordan Eberle. The Kraken have a tandem of trusty goaltenders in Martin Jones and Philipp Grubauer and it never hurts to have depth in the crease. However, I just can’t bet against Colorado. 

The Avalanche’s 2022 run was spectacular and they’ve still got enough of the championship pieces to at least make it out of the first round. Nathan MacKinnon is having a career year with a personal-best 42 goals and 111 points. Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar is back in the lineup after dealing with a lower body injury, and Colorado has found some consistency in net with Alexandar Georgiev, who is a true competitor. They’ve got the physical edge, more experience and more talent. Most importantly, though, the Avalanche have a title to defend.

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