Stanley Cup Qualifying Round: Western Conference Preview

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MARCH 05: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers is pressured by Ryan Carpenter #22 of the Chicago Blackhawks as he advances the puck at the United Center on March 05, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Just like in the Eastern Conference, the Western Conference has great matchups to start off the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round. In this best-of-five qualifier, teams will be competing to make it to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The games in the Western Conference will take place in Edmonton with games being played all day starting August first. We are just days away from the first puck drop since March and nothing will ever feel as great as what we’re about to see.

Stanley Cup Qualifying Round: Western Conference Matchups

Jets vs Flames

The Winnipeg Jets will face the Calgary Flames in the only Canadian matchup in the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round. These two teams were only separated by a point in the Western Conference standings but the Flames finished third in the Pacific (79 points) and the Jets finished in the first wild card spot.

The Flames took a step back from last season as teams have figured out how to slow down their top players like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm. The defensive core has the potential to be tops in the league but injuries have hit the blue line. The starting goal-tending has been shaky as well. David Rittich has started most of the games and has been shaky. He has a .907 save percentage and a 2.97 goals-against average. Cam Talbot has a little bit better numbers as the backup and he’s got a .919 save percentage with a 2.63 goals-against-average. The top line needs to get better, the defense needs to stay healthy, and the starting goal-tending has to be serviceable in order for this team to succeed.

The Jets lost a few key pieces in the offseason but they still seem to be alright. Their offensive attack has been good with five players over 20 goals and 50 points. Kyle Connor (39 goals, 73 points) and Mark Scheifele (29 goals, 73 goals) have been on fire for this team. They also have other top forwards that have been excellent like Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers. Their core is one of the best in the league and it’s complemented by great goal-tending thanks to Connor Hellebuyck. The Vezina Trophy finalist has a save percentage of .922 and a 2.57 goals-against-average. The Flames definitely have to step it up because the Jets are a serious contender.

Coyotes vs Predators

It’s a clash of two fifth-place teams when the Arizona Coyotes take on the Nashville Predators. The Predators finished four games ahead of the Coyotes in the Western Conference as the second wild card team.

Filip Forsberg is the offensive leader among the forward group as he has a team-leading 21 goals. Matt Duchene has been a bright spot ever since coming to Nashville. This season, he has the third-most points on the team with 42. The Predators also have one of the best defense pair in the league. Ryan Ellis has 38 points and is paired with Norris Trophy finalist Roman Josi, who leads the team with 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists). Goalie Pekka Rinne has been shaky this season and the numbers back it up but if he struggles in the playoffs, they have a good backup option in Juuse Saros, who has a .914 save percentage and a 2.70 goal-against-average. The Predators are always a tough team and they can challenge anyone.

On the other side, the Coyotes offense has struggled throughout the season. They don’t have a 20-goal scorer or a 50-point player. Their point leader, Clayton Keller, is a young and explosive player as he’s been what they needed all year. They have two, 19-goal scorers with Alex Galchenyuk and Brad Richardson. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been the anchor on that blue line with 44 points and has some playoff experience with the Coyotes from 2012. The offense has been bailed out by a great year of goaltending led by Darcy Kuemper. He’s been one of the best this season as he’s posted a .925 save percentage to along with a 2.33 save percentage. If the Coyotes want to survive, their star players will have to step up when they need them to.

Blackhawks vs Oilers

The Chicago Blackhawks have the least points by any Western Conference team in the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round with 72. Now they get a chance to write their wrong and try to upset a good Oilers team. The Blackhawks have to limit the shots against or they’re going to be in a lot of trouble. Returning to the ice, Corey Crawford has the experience they need in the net. They also have two experienced veterans up front in Patrick Kane (84 points) and Jonathan Toews (60 points) along with another experienced veteran on the blue line in Duncan Keith. If any team has a chance at an upset, it’s Chicago with their veteran presence.

The Edmonton Oilers finished second in the Pacific Division with 83 points and that’s due in large part to the number one and two point leaders in the league with Leon Draisaitl (110) and Connor McDavid (97). Even when missing a few games, McDavid still put up numbers like he never left. If he had played all the games, he might’ve even passed his current Hart Trophy finalist teammate in points. Draisaitl put the team on his shoulders when McDavid went down and continued the success even his teammate was healthy. These two alone will cause problems for teams but the goaltending will need to improve. Time has been split between Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen between the pipes and the numbers aren’t the best. They have a combined .910 save percentage with a 2.85 goals-against average. This will be one of the most interesting matchups to watch.

Canucks vs Wild

This series might get overlooked by some but it has the potential to be a good one. The Vancouver Canucks were tied with the Predators for the second wild card spot and the Minnesota Wild were just one point behind them. The Canucks have quite a young core as their top four point leaders are 26 or younger. J.T. Miller leads the way with 72 points and former Calder Trophy winner Elias Petterson is right behind him with 66. They have a sneaky offensive attack that can surprise a lot of people. In his first full season, Quinn Hughes has been great on the blue line with 53 points, the fourth most on the team. When healthy, goaltender Jacob Markstrom is one of the most dangerous in the game. He’s been serviceable in net this season with a .918 save percentage and a 2.75 goals-against-average.

On the flip side, the Wild have a good mix of a young core with veterans sprinkled in. One of those young players is Kevin Fiala, who has a team leading 54 points. They have quite the veteran leadership and several of them is tops on the team in points with Ryan Suter, Eric Staal, and Zach Parise. Devan Dubnyk has taken a backseat as the starting goaltender to Alex Stalock, who has the better numbers. Even though Stalock has better numbers, it’s hard to not stick Dubnyk in net for his experience and great goaltending in the past. This team has to find that extra gear and if they do, the Wild can be a team to look out for.

Around the Rink

While the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round will get underway August first, so will the round-robin games. The top four teams in each conference will compete against each other in round-robin play to determine seeding for the first round of the playoffs. Those four teams in the Western Conference are the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars. Over the next couple of months, the intensity will be as high as it’s ever been and it’ll be one of the most competitive Stanley Cup Playoffs we’ve ever seen.

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