The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin this Monday, May 2. This is the most exciting time of the year for hockey fans, with the first round filled with great matchups. This article will focus on the matchups happening within the Western Conference. Here are the first-round NHL playoff predictions for the Western Conference.
(1) Colorado Avalanche vs. (WC2) Nashville Predators
The Colorado Avalanche finished as the best team in the Western Conference and are the favorites to win it all. They have elite depth and a brigade of high-level scorers which make them so dangerous. Their defense is equally stout, being led by the top-line pairing of Cale Makar and Devon Toews. As for goaltending, the tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz has been effective most of the time. Although it should be noted that Kuemper is in a bit of a slump right now, letting up three or more goals in his last five appearances. This includes four in his last start against the very team he’ll be facing in the first round in the Nashville Predators.
The Predators also boast a strong offensive attack. Matt Duchene scored a career-high 40 goals with defenseman Roman Josi putting up a career-high 96 points. They also went 3-1 against the Colorado Avalanche in the regular-season series, winning 5-4 in a shootout this past Thursday. However, the Predators are likely without their starting goaltender Juuse Saros, who suffered a recent ankle injury. This leaves David Rittich as their likely starter, whose 3.57 GAA and .886 save percentage is not very promising.
With that being said, the Avalanche should be able to win this series despite their regular season struggles against this team. Two of their regular-season losses required overtime which, in the playoffs, is a distinctly different style of play than the regular season 3v3/shootout. And with the Predators without their star goaltender, the Avalanche offense shouldn’t have many scoring issues. The Predators are talented enough to win a game in this series, but the Avalanche should be able to efficiently win in this round.
Prediction: Avalanche in 5
(2) Minnesota Wild vs. (3) St. Louis Blues
This series has the potential to be one of the best in the first round in general. The Wild are led by the highly productive line of Kirill Kaprizov, Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello. They’ve also benefited from a great rookie season from Matt Boldy, who scored 39 points in 47 games. Defending the crease is deadline acquisition Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot, both of whom are dependable options.
The Blues have four highly productive players of their own to counter the Wild. Vladimir Tarasenko, Robert Thomas, Pavel Buchnevich and Jordan Kyrou have all scored 75 points or more. Tarasenko has been the biggest story for the Blues, coming back from two injury-plagued seasons and offseason trade rumors to return to form and score a team-high 34 goals. The Blues also operate with a solid goaltending tandem with Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso.
These teams are so evenly matched that it proves rather difficult to pick a winner. The Blues swept the season series 3-0, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. All three games were tightly contested and the Wild never hosted the Blues on home ice. The only “home” game the Wild had was hosting the NHL Winter Classic at Target Field. The home-ice advantage could prove to be an important factor for the Wild in this series. This series could easily go either way, but the difference could be found in special teams. The Blues are top five in power play and PK percentage, while the Wild have had struggles in both departments. The series will go the distance, but the Blues will ultimately prevail on the strength of their special teams.
Prediction: Blues in 7
(1) Calgary Flames vs. (WC1) Dallas Stars
The Flames are a well-put-together team across the board. Three players finished with 40 goals in Johnny Gaudreau (40), Elias Lindholm (42) and Matthew Tkachuk (42). In addition, Gaudreau finished tied for second in total points in the NHL with 115. Backing up this strong offense is goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who had a campaign worthy of being a Vezina finalist. He posted a career-high 2.22 GAA along with a league-leading nine shutouts, also a career-high.
The Stars’ offense is driven by their first line of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Joe Pavelski. Their skaters also have a fair amount of recent experience, making the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2020 postseason. Jake Oettinger is not nearly as dominant as the goalie on the other side, but is more than capable of keeping the team in games. The concern for the Stars is their scoring depth past the first line, which is very streaky.
The Flames won the season series 2-0-1, where all of the games were decided by two goals or less. While the Stars’ defense and experience present a solid threat, the Flames should be able to prevail. Their depth and goaltending might be too big of a haul for the Stars to overcome in this series. The Flames will also be playing with a chip on their shoulder, seeking to avenge their 2020 series loss to the Stars and advance past the first round for the first time since 2015.
Prediction: Flames in 6
(2) Edmonton Oilers vs. (3) Los Angeles Kings
The Oilers are, in a way, the Toronto Maple Leafs of the west. They’re a good team loaded with highly talented players, but haven’t gone deep in the playoffs. Everyone knows what you’re getting with the Oilers. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl carry the offense, both scoring over 100 points this year. They’ve added some important pieces to their offense with Zach Hyman in the offseason and Evander Kane after his mid-season release. The biggest question mark with this team is their goaltending. Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith have both had subpar seasons, although Smith is riding a significant hot streak into the playoffs.
As for the Kings, they’re making their first postseason appearance since 2018. General manager Rob Blake had a tremendous offseason that helped bring the Kings back to relevance. The acquisition of Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson proved to be especially important as they finished third and fourth in total points on the team. They also have a number of long-term players who helped lead the team to the postseason with Adrian Kempe, Drew Doughty and their points leader Anze Kopitar. Their mixture of newer players and players from their 2012 and 2014 championship teams gives them a solid foundation.
The Oilers won the season series 3-1, winning the last three after dropping the opening contest. The concern for the Kings in a possible upset is that they’re without their best defenseman in Drew Doughty. Without him their blue line defense isn’t anything great and may have trouble shutting down the Oilers. The experience of Jonathan Quick will help them out a little bit, but not enough to win this series. Although the Oilers have some goaltending and consistency problems, they should ultimately come out victorious in this series.
Prediction: Oilers in 6
Featured image courtesy of NHL Public Relations
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