2024-04-20 · 3 min read · NHL/Hockey
Connor McDavid, Cale Makar and Jonathan Marchessault

Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press | USA-TODAY Sports | Frank Franklin/AP

Dallas Stars Vs. Vegas Golden Knights
This matchup could easily be a conference final, which it was last year, but instead we get to see it in the first round. The Stars worked all season to earn the top seed in the Western Conference, and their reward is a date with the defending Stanley Cup champs and the team that eliminated them from the 2023 postseason. Once again Vegas appears to be getting healthy at the right time as Mark Stone has started practising after missing extended time with a lacerated spleen, and he joins a loaded lineup that has added the likes of Noah Hanifin and Tomas Hertl since last year's Stanley Cup run. Of course, this Dallas lineup also looks different from the one that fell to Vegas last summer. The signing of Matt Duchene has provided some extra pop to the Stars' forward group, and Chris Tanev only solidifies the team's blue line. As intimidating as the Golden Knights look on paper, the Stars are just as scary, and they have been the better team this season. I think Dallas is likely to get its revenge in a hard-fought series.
Pick - Stars in 6
Winnipeg Jets Vs. Colorado Avalanche
Much like the above series, this is a brutal first-round matchup for both sides. The Jets and Avalanche both had great regular seasons, and one will be going home early. The tough part is figuring out which team that will be. The Avalanche are led by Nathan MacKinnon, who just tallied 140 points and seems to be playing a different game than everyone else right now. Once you add Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar, then the Avs arguably have three top ten players, clearly giving them the edge at the top of the lineup. However the Avs Achilles heel may be Alexandar Georgiev as he has struggled this season and they don't have a reliable backup behind him. The Jets don't have that issue in net. Connor Hellebuyck will likely win the Vezina Trophy, and he gives his team a massive advantage at that position. On top of that, Winnipeg has some solid depth that only got better with the additions of Sean Monahan and Tyler Toffoli ahead of the trade deadline. Though the Avs won a Cup two years ago and are the pick of many people in this series matchup, it's worth noting the Jets went 3-0-0 against the Avalanche this season; outscoring the Avs 17-4 and Winnipeg has the better goaltender. This is going to be a very entertaining series, but with a matchup this close I'll go with the team that's been there before.
Pick - Avs in 7
Vancouver Canucks Vs. Nashville Predators
The Canucks have come a long way in a calendar year, to say the least. Since bringing in Rick Tocchet, the Canucks have been a juggernaut, and are a very deep team. Vancouver did get goaltender Thatcher Demko back in the lineup over the regular season's final week after missing time with a knee injury. Having Demko back in the crease is massive, and really makes life that much more difficult for the Predators. The Canucks certainly have more than enough offensive firepower to advance. That said no team generated expected goals at a higher rate than the Predators down the stretch. Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi and Ryan O’Reilly were driving that bus, but all four lines were chipping in on offence. This series might ultimately be decided by which goalie blinks first. Juuse Saros and Thatcher Demko are two of the best in the business, and they can erase a lot of mistakes. Given the way they played down the stretch, as well as the wealth of playoff experience on the roster, it seems the Predators are a good bet to give the Canucks more trouble than people think. Despite this I can't pick against them given Demko’s return and their high-end firepower.
Pick Canucks in 6
Edmonton Oilers Vs. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings nearly ended up facing the Stars, but were able to come back and defeat the Blackhawks in Game 82 to earn this matchup against the Oilers. While the Stars are a juggernaut, the Oilers are certainly no slouch. After dealing with a lower-body injury late in the regular season, Connor McDavid returned to the ice and even made some history in the process. The biggest question mark when it comes to Edmonton's postseason chances has always lied in between the pipes. However, Stuart Skinner played extremely well over the final two months of the regular season. As long as that continues to be the case, I just think that the Oilers have too much firepower for the Kings to handle. Los Angeles is content to drag the game into the mud, and it remains an elite defensive squad. They will get their chances and their goals. When Edmonton does light the lamp, whom can Los Angeles rely on to answer the bell? Simply put, Los Angeles is a middle-of-the-pack scoring team, and I believe that McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman and company will be a buzzsaw that the Kings aren't ready for.
Pick - Oilers in 5
West Winner
As always this was tough, but I'm very high on the Edmonton Oilers right now. McDavid seems to be back to full health and has a better supporting cast than in years past, especially if Zach Hyman and Stuart Skinner can maintain their play in the postseason. It just seems like we are due for McDavid and co getting hot to power the Oilers deep. The Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks are my runners up.
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By: Chase Howard


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