2019 NHL Playoffs Preview: Western Conference, First Round.

While some could argue that the Western Conference isn’t as stacked as the Eastern Conference, it is still undeniable that this side of the bracket will be anything less than exciting. Five of the eight teams in the playoffs this year for the Western Conference have yet to win a Stanley Cup.

With familiar faces meeting new ones, let’s check out how the other half stacks up for this year’s NHL playoffs.

#1 Calgary Flames vs WC2 Colorado Avalanche

The Calgary Flames are the top seed in the Western Conference (50-25-7, 107 points) after being a no-show for last year’s playoffs. This year marks just their third playoff appearance in 10 years. And while they are one of three Western Conference teams in this year’s playoffs to have won a Stanley Cup, they haven’t done so since the ’88-’89 season.

However, I think most hockey fans know that the Flames have the upside in this match-up. They’ve scored the third most goals (289) in the league this season and 14 of those came against the Avalanche in just three games – winning all of them. Not to mention, the Flames allowed the 9th least amount of goals (223) this year as well. The Flames also have four players in the top-10 of +/- this season, second is the Hurricanes with two.

The Flames are stacked. Led by their young star, Johnny Gaudreau, this could be a quick series for the Flames if the Avalanche don’t play like their lives depend on it.

Much like the Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference, the Avalanche had to fight to the very end just to clinch a playoff birth. They ended up taking the Winnipeg Jets into overtime in their final game of the season winning 3-2. This is the Avalanche second straight season in the playoffs and the teams first back-to-back appearance since the franchise had an 11-year playoff run from ’94-’95 to 05′-’06.

The Avalanche’s first line of Landeskog (34 goals, 41 assists), Rantanen (31 goals, 56 assists), and MacKinnon (41 goals, 58 assists) is arguably the best in all of hockey. The problem is that they’re going to need to carry this team if they want a real chance of winning this series. The Avalanche just don’t have the depth that the Flames do.

Honestly, it comes down to goaltending. And if anything is pretty even in this series, it’s the Flames and Avalanche goaltending. Neither team has top-10 goaltending. And if one of their goalies performs poorly, neither will hesitate to bring the other in. Mike Smith (42 games) and David Rittich (45 games) basically split the season for the Flames and so did
Philipp Grubauer (37 games) and Semyon Varlamov (49 games) for the Avalanche.

Prediction: Flames win the series 4-1

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. Las Vegas Golden Night

The Sharks (46-27-9) are back in the playoffs yet again. Fans could say the same thing about the Sharks as I did about the Penguins in the Eastern Conference preview. Rarely do fans see the NHL playoffs without the Sharks in it. Out of the 27 years they’ve been in the league, they’ve only missed the playoffs six times – once in the last 15 years. But there’s just one catch… The Sharks are one of the five Western Conference teams in this year’s playoffs without a Stanley Cup.

Think you know who will win the Stanley Cup this year? NHL betting odds are ready to roll.

The Sharks had the second-best offense in the league scoring 289 goals – a franchise record led by the team’s captain, Joe Pavelski, with 38. And with 21-year veteran Joe Thorton alongside guys like Brent Burns (5th in the league in assists), Erik Karlsson, Evander Kane, Logan Couture, and Gustav Nyquist, it’s no wonder the Sharks were the second best team in the west.

The Sharks lost to the Knights in last year’s playoffs and now they’re out for revenge. But the Knights still won’t be a pushover despite having a down-year compared to last season. Sharks goaltender Martin Jones needs to step up huge for the Sharks after coming off arguably the worst season of his career with a .896 save percentage.

Unlike every other team in the playoffs, the Knights don’t have much history to talk about. Other than the fact they went to the Stanley Cup in their first season as a team last year, the Knights still remain one of the top teams in hockey.

But do they have enough to beat the Sharks this time around? Eh, maybe. Mark Stone, who they just signed to a new contract this season, was their leading goal-scorer with 33. That wasn’t good enough to even crack the NHL’s top-30. Not to mention, the Knights, as a team, couldn’t crack the top-10 in goals scored or the top-20 defensively. But they do have Marc-Andre Fluery who was second in the league with eight shutouts.

If Fluery goes on another playoff tear like he did in last year’s playoffs, there’s honestly no stopping the Knights from going back again. But the roster mismatch between the two teams may cause too much of a problem for the Knights this time around.

Prediction: Sharks win this series 4-2.

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