The bracket is set. The most entertaining playoffs out of the four major sports in America is ready to take place.
Round one is ready to go and here are my predictions for each matchup, starting in the West.
Central Division Winner Dallas Stars vs. Wild Card number 2 Minnesota Wild:
The Wild backed into the playoffs and the Stars are back in after missing the postseason in 2014-15. The Stars look better than ever, scoring at will and playing better defense. Jamie Benn leads the Stars with 89 points, but is far from the only scoring threat on the team.
Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza will be huge contributors this postseason, along with John Klingberg on the blue line. The Wild have not been successful against the Stars, going 1-1-3. They will have to play a lot better than how they finished if they want to get past the best offense in the NHL.
Prediction: Stars in 6
Central Division 2 seed St. Louis Blues vs. Central Division 3 seed Chicago Blackhawks:
The Blues have had a lot of trouble with injuries this season, but it hasn’t stopped them. They were in contention to be the top seed in the Western Conference until the last few days of the season. Led by Valdamir Tarasenko (40 goals, 74 points) on the offensive side, the Blues play a very heavy hitting game and are looking to get passed the first round of the playoffs. Brain Elliot (23-8-6) has been stellar in net, stopping .930 percent of shots faced and allowing just over two goals a game.
The Blackhawks are led by Patrick Kane (46 goals, 106 points) and his line mates, Artemi Panarin and Artem Anismov, and will lean on the experience of several players in the playoffs. Everyone knows how comfortable they are in big situations, and have picked up their game as of late, going 5-2-3 in the final 10 games of the season.
The Blues are playing some of their best hockey, but I just cannot bet against Patrick Kane, especially in the United Center.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 7
Pacific Division Winner Anaheim Ducks vs. Wild Card number 1 Nashville Predators
The Ducks started out slower than anyone else in the NHL, but proved that it is not how you start, but how you finish. The Ducks climbed all the way from the basement of the West, to winning their division and don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
Led by the duo of Ryan Getzlaf (13 goals, 63 points) and Corey Perry (34 goals, 62 points) the Ducks play a heavy game as well. They have to solid goaltenders in Frederik Andersen and John Gibson and both could start for the playoffs. They also allow a league best 2.29 goals per game. They had the taste last season, falling to the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals last season, they will be itching to get back.
The Predators made a huge acquisition for Ryan Johansen, trading away Seth Jones in the process. Johansen has been big for the Predators, scoring eight goals and tailing up 26 assist in 42 games, but the biggest player has been Filip Forseberg (33 goals, 64 points). With Forseberg and a very talented blue line led by Shea Weber and Roman Josi the Predetors have a tough task in attempting to slow down the hottest team in the NHL.
I like the Predators game, but my gut tells me to go with the Ducks. Getzlaf and Perry are just too much in this one.
Prediction: Ducks in 6
Pacific Division 2 seed Los Angeles Kings vs. Pacific Division 3 seed San Jose Sharks:
The Kings thought to be the leader out of the Pacific, but the surging Ducks but them back into a familiar position, battling the Sharks in the first round of the playoffs.
Two seasons ago, when the Kings won the cup, they battled back from being down 3-0 and took down the Sharks in the first round of the playoffs.
The Kings are led by Anze Kopitar (25 goals, 74 points), one of the best two way players in the NHL. Kopitar leads a balanced and heavy offensive attack. They like to push and shove their way to the net and they are very good at it. Drew Doughty lead the blue line that does not surrender many goals (third in the NHL with 2.34). They do this with Jonathan Quick in net.
Quick went 40-23-5 in the regular season, stopping .918 percent of the shots faced and allowing 2.22 goals per game. Quick is one of the few goalies in the West that can steal a playoff series. Heck, he is the only goalie in the West that can steal a playoff series.
The Sharks are led by big Joe Thornton (19 goals, 82 points), who was fourth in the NHL in points this season, is flanked by several talented scorers in Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl. The Sharks can score, and they can score often from many different places on the ice.
Thornton does a fantastic job of setting up his teammates, while Pavelski, Marleau and Norris Trophy candidate Brent Burns do a fantastic job of putting the puck in the net. The Sharks were fourth in the NHL in scoring, putting in 2.89 goals per game. They will have to get to Quick early to move on to the next round.
The Kings are very talented and have more depth to their lineup. Having Quick does not hurt, either. The Kings should be able to come out of this series with a win.
Prediction: Kings in 6