2017 NHL Playoff Predictions: Western Conference

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SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 23: Chicago Blackhawks celebrate left wing Artemi Panarin's (72) goal during the second period of the regular season game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the San Jose Sharks held November 23, 2016 at the SAP Center in San Jose.Final score: Sharks 2, Blackhawks 1. (Photo by Allan Hamilton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the season has entered its final month we take a look at the situation surrounding the teams sitting in playoff positions as well as the teams hoping to make a last push to get in. In this second edition we’ll look at the Western Conference.

2017 NHL Playoff Predictions: Western Conference

Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks

Current Position: First in Central Division

Games Remaining: 11 – five home, six away

Crucial Match-Ups: None

The Chicago Blackhawks are doing what they do best, winning. It’s no surprise to see them again leading the Western Conference by over two wins. They’re a team that has been a dominant force in the NHL over the past decade. They’re proving to be a lot more productive in the last stretch of the season as well. They’ve won six of their eight games since the start of March. The wins helped them overcome the Minnesota Wild for the lead in the Conference. They now sit comfortably five points ahead of the Wild, and six points ahead of the San Jose Sharks in the Conference.

Prediction: Being led by their star-duo of Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks should easily win the Conference title. The playoffs should be a breeze for them as well, per usual for the team. Some doubters have the Hawks losing to the Wild or Sharks in the second or third round respectively, but with the recent burst of success that isn’t looking very likely. It would be no surprise to see them making another run for the Stanley Cup this season.

Minnesota Wild

Current Position: Second in Central Division

Games Remaining: 12 – seven home, five away

Crucial Match-Ups: San Jose Sharks, Nashville Predators

The Minnesota Wild have been consistently making the playoffs, but they’ve kicked into overdrive this season. On the back of recently acquired coach Bruce Bodreau, they’ve led the Western Conference for most of the season. Now that the Blackhawks took over their top spot, they’re more concerned on who’s going to win the Division and Conference final, compared to losing their spot at second in the Division. They currently sit one point above the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference, but are 11 points ahead of the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues in the Central Division. They’re also only five points behind the Hawks.

Prediction: The Wild will easily make the playoffs, and have the potential to go on a run. They’ll most-likely end up facing Nashville in the first round; a team that they have only lost to once this season, in four matchups. They play the Predators one more time before the season ends, and that game will be the best outlook on how the first round of the playoffs will go for Minnesota. Currently going through a rough patch, the Wild will have to pull it together quickly if they want to have a chance at the Division and Conference titles.

St. Louis Blues

Current Position: Third in Central Division

Games Remaining: 11 – six home, five away

Crucial Match-Ups: Every game

The firing of Ken Hitchcock on February 1 was a blessing in disguise for the St. Louis Blues. While he can’t be blamed for most of the team’s problems, the firing lit a fire underneath the team. They’re currently 14-7-0 under new coach Mike Yeo, allowing 29 even strength goals total in the games he’s coached, the fewest in the NHL. They’re hoping to carry this hot streak into the playoffs.

St. Louis took over the Predators’ spot at third in the division Saturday night with a shutout win against the Arizona Coyotes. Now they are even in points with the Predators, but they need to assure they can keep that spot. Every game needs to produce at least one point. If the Blues can manage to do this, they’re almost guaranteed to beat the Predators for third place race. This will give them a lot better of a match-up in the first round of the playoffs, likely playing the Minnesota Wild. They also have to keep an eye on the Los Angeles Kings, who are only four points behind them and closing in quick. With the way they’ve been playing, it shouldn’t be a worry; but the Blues has proven their unpredictibility this season.

Prediction: With the loss of Robby Fabbri, it’s not too likely that the Blues make a playoff run. This will follow the pattern of first or second round exits that they’ve forged for themselves in recent years. Riding on the success of AHL call-ups has worked very well for the Blues this season, but will likely end come playoff time. Mixed with the uncertainty in their lineup, the Blues could very well be one of the first teams out this year.

Nashville Predators

Current Position: Second Wild Card spot

Games Remaining: 11 – six home, five away

Crucial Match-Ups: St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild

The Predators have stayed in third most of the season, but with their loss Saturday they dropped to the second Wild Card spot. They’re now tied with the Blues in points, and need to regain that third place spot for the best playoff odds. They’ve had a good spread of producton from their top nine forwards so far this season, but still most of the production is coming at the hands of their top three players. Similarly, their defense has had a good season points-wise, but the bottom four have struggled to put up points this season. In order to make a playoff push, something that seems unlikely for the Preds, their entire lineup will have to start consistently scoriing.

Prediction: If the Predators are able to regain hold of the spot as third in the Central Division, they’ll have a lot better odds in the playoffs than if otherwise. While they haven’t faired well against the Minnesota Wild, their likely opponets, the odds are much higher than if they faced the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s still very unlikely that the Predators mount a playoff run, and will most likely be shown a quick exit by the Wild.

Pacific Division

San Jose Sharks

Current Position: First in the Pacific Division

Games Remaining: 11 – four home, seven away

Crucial Match-Ups: Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers twice, Calgary Flames twice

The San Jose Sharks have led the Pacific Division almost all season, and rightfully so. They’ve banded together as a team to provide very good offense and defense. Not good enough to beat out the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks though, two teams who will give the Sharks the most trouble in the playoffs. They’re four points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks, who place second in the Division. San Jose is in the same battle that the Blackhawks and Wild are in, and that’s for the Conference title. They don’t have a great chance at winning it, but only four points seperates them and the Hawks; who are first in the Conference.

Prediction: After fighting their way to their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final last season, the Sharks have shown the same fire this year. They’ll have the same challenges this post-season though. The Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild will both be hard competition for the Sharks, but either series will be very close. If San Jose can carry the strength they’ve showed all season, they could manage to get past either team and advance to the finals once again. With the level of competition that the Eastern Conference has proved this year, it’s not likely that the Sharks are able to top their opposition.

Anaheim Ducks

Current Position: Second in the Pacific Division

Games Remaining: 10 – six home, four away

Crucial Match-Ups: Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames twice

The Anaheim Ducks not too far behind the San Jose Sharks, but they’re in a lot of competition with the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. Only two points ahead of the Oilers, and three ahead of Flames, the Ducks are in for a lot of possible standing switching. Every game is significant for the team, but beating the Oilers and Flames in their matchups for the rest of the season would significantly improve the team’s odds at holding onto their spot in second place. Although it isn’t much of a worry, considering the fact that lowering to third place in the division wouldn’t change their matchup.

Prediction: The Ducks will face either the Calgary Flames or Edmonton Oilers in the first round, provided both teams don’t pass them in the standings. Although both matchups could cause some troubles for the Ducks, they’d have better chances against the Flames. They’ve won two out of three games this season against the Flames, but have lost both of their games against the Oilers. So if the Ducks want the best chances, they should hope that they not only keep ahold of their second place spot, but Calgary keeps their spot in third. The second round would most likely be the round the Ducks get booted out in, though. They’ll play the Sharks or Oilers, and either team would give the Ducks a run for their money. Similar to previous years, the Ducks aren’t expected to go too far.

Edmonton Oilers

Current Position: Third Place in Pacific Division

Games Remaining: 12 – seven home, five away

Crucial Match-Ups: Every game

The Oilers lost their third place spot to the Flames, and now are in a race for that spot. The Flames are currently one point ahead of the Oilers. Both teams also have to try and catch up to the Anaheim Ducks who are only two points above the Oilers. The team has had a lot of production from their offense this year, with guys like Patrick Maroon stepping up and eclipsing the 20-goal mark as well as Mark Letestu tying his career high in goals (14). Having 80 points out of leading scorer Connor McDavid doesn’t hurt either. If this production can hold up through the end of the season, they’ll easily surpass both the Flames and Ducks. It’d also help them in the playoffs, where they should make it into the second round.

Prediction: If the Oilers are able to hold onto a spot in the division they’re expected to get past the first round without too much trouble. If they end up in a wild card spot, they could face a lot of trouble against the San Jose Sharks or Chicago Blackhawks. Of course, they’d likely only be able to avoid that trouble for one round, then face the same trouble in the second round. Because of this, they aren’t likely to go on much of a run.

Calgary Flames

Current Position: First Wild Card spot

Games Remaining: 11 – five home, six away

Crucial Match-Ups: Anaheim Ducks twice, Los Angeles Kings three times, St. Louis Blues

The Calgary Flames have made an impressive push in the past couple of months. This included a ten-game win streak, this was their first double-digit win streak since the team was in Atlanta in the late 70’s. Because of the streak, they were able to catch up to the Edmonton Oilers, and are now in heavy competition for the third place spot. If they manage to keep up the hot streak, they’ll be able to face the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs. There’s only one point seperating them from the Oilers, so every game should produce points for the Flames.

Prediction: The Flames would be the underdogs of the Western Conference this year. They’ve made an impressive comeback at the end of this season, and will be rewarded for it in the playoffs. They’d face challenges in every round though, and aren’t likely to get past the first round. If they manage to avoid a wildcard spot, they’ll face the Ducks in the first round. This would give them the best opportunity to get past the first round, as playing against San Jose Sharks could earn them one of the earliest exits.

Los Angeles Kings

Current Position: Six points behind Second Wild Card Spot

Games Remaining: 12 – six home, six away

Crucial Match-Ups: Every game

The Kings are making a run for the Wild Card spot as the season is coming to an end. They’ve won three out of their last five games, and are looking like they’ll be making a push with all the experience they have. The problem that the team has faced so far has been their lack of production from everyone but Jeff Carter. There are 17 points separating Carter from the second point scorer on the team. The production has slowly picked up as the seasons progressed, but they’ll have to band together towards the end of the season if they hope to get the second Wild Card spot.

Prediction: The Kings don’t have the best odds at even reaching the playoffs. With the St. Louis Blues going on an end of the season tear, and the Predators likely to put up a few more wins in their last 11, the Kings would have to win most of their remaining games in order to beat one of them out for the spot. If they did manage to, they’d face even harder competition in the first round, likely playing the Blackhawks, a familiar foe of playoff past. Ultimately, they aren’t likely to make the playoffs; and if they do manage to they would be an early exit due to their lack of offensive production.

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