NHL Playoffs Series Picks: Western Conference
- Updated: April 15, 2014
The Western Conference playoffs are expected to be a dogfight and there’s good reason for that. As many as six teams have a realistic chance of capturing the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, awarded to the Western Conference champions, and it’s conceivable that there will be one or two first-round upsets.
St. Louis is a slight favorite to win the West at 5 Dimes, with San Jose, Chicago, and Anaheim close behind, but discounting the Los Angeles Kings would be a mistake. Either Colorado or Minnesota will advance to the conference semifinals with plenty of confidence and won’t be an easy draw.
Dallas vs. Anaheim
The Ducks are clearly the better team and are -185 favorites to get past the Stars, while Dallas is +160. The Ducks have some goaltending issues right now and the playoffs aren’t the time to be trying to sort things out, but it looks as though Jonas Hiller will be on the bench Wednesday night when the series starts with Frederik Andersen the most likely candidate to be between the pipes.
The Stars took two of the three games played between the two teams this season and have a solid goaltender in Kari Lehtonen, but can’t match the Ducks’ top two lines. It won’t be a walk in the park for the Ducks, but if they get decent play from whoever plays in goal, they should be able to advance in this series.
Chicago vs. St. Louis
The Blues had the Central Division all but locked up before a late collapse that saw the team lose its last six games, dropping down to second place and setting up a showdown with the Chicago Blackhawks. While both teams have been battling some injury problems, expect to see most of the players back for this series.
Even though the Blues are the higher seeded team, not many people are giving them much of a chance against the defending Stanley Cup champions, as public polls have 70% of the crowd selecting Chicago. The sportsbooks don’t believe it will be quite so easy for Chicago and 5 Dimes has both teams -110.
Ryan Miller hasn’t been great since arriving in St. Louis, but he also hasn’t played behind the best team the Blues can field and that won’t happen here, as St. Louis will still be missing a few players, but some of the main cogs will be back and that should be enough for St. Louis to pull a bit of a surprise and win the series.
Minnesota vs. Colorado
While everybody talks about the collapse of the St. Louis Blues, it’s worth noting that the Avalanche didn’t help themselves either by dropping their final two games of the season and backing into the top spot in the division. That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in such a young team and oddsmakers have taken note, as Colorado is -135 and the Wild are +115.
Many people thought the Wild were a bit nuts when they grabbed Ilya Bryzgalov at the trade deadline, but he has played well for Minnesota and will be the key for Minnesota to pull off an upset.
Colorado won four of the five meetings between the two teams, but they haven’t met since January and the Wild added several pieces to their line-up since then. The key thing here are the odds, which are practically asking people to take the Avalanche, so I’d be inclined to grab the Wild and possibly hedge in the series if Minnesota goes up.
Los Angeles vs. San Jose
Another great first-round series sees rivals Los Angeles and San Jose going at it once again and the Sharks are -145 with the Kings +125. The Kings took three of the five regular season meetings between the two teams.
The Sharks’ failures in the playoffs are well documented and the Kings are one of the teams that nobody wanted to face in the first round. The Sharks have a definite advantage offensively, but the Kings are the best defensive team in the NHL.
The Sharks have been solid at home all season long, having gone 29-7-5, while the Kings were 23-14-4 both home and away this year. The Sharks were 22-15-4 on the road this year.
One very good team will be going home after this series and I’m inclined to think that team will be San Jose, as the Kings defensive edge might be too much for the Sharks to overcome. Once again, the possibility of a decent hedging opportunity could be there depending on the outcome of the first few games.