3 Best Western Conference NHL Hockey Events To Watch This Week

colorado-avalanche

 

The Western Conference playoffs in the NHL are notable for the fact that in each of them, the higher seed has won each of the first two games at home. That’s not very typical for the NHL playoffs.

 

NHL Western Conference Playoffs, First Round, Game 4:

St. Louis Blues @ Chicago Blackhawks (Wednesday)

 

The Blues lead the series, 2-0, but they will very likely be without David Backes, who was concussed when he absorbed a violent and illegal hit from Chicago’s Brent Seabrook in Game 2 of the series on Saturday. Seabrook won’t play this game because he has been suspended through Game 5 for the hit. It will be interesting to see which team suffers more without an important player. The Blues know that if they can win Game 4, they will be up 3-1 at worst and might even have a chance to sweep the defending champions out of the playoffs in the first round. That’s a big prize for St. Louis in this game on Wednesday.

 

NHL Western Conference Playoffs, First Round, Game 4:

Colorado Avalanche @ Minnesota Wild (Thursday)

 

The Avalanche lead the series 2-0, and they lead it because whenever they’ve fallen behind, they’ve immediately been able to respond with a tying goal. It gets to be very demoralizing when your own goals are promptly erased by an opponent’s quick-strike goal. Minnesota has to be more steadfast and resistant on defense. Otherwise, it won’t be able to extend this series against Colorado.

 

NHL Western Conference Playoffs, First Round, Game 4:

San Jose Sharks @ Los Angeles Kings (Thursday)

 

The Kings took a 2-0 lead in Game 2 on Sunday night, hoping to tie this series at 1-1 and send it back to Los Angeles in a good position. However, San Jose then scored seven unanswered goals to blow Los Angeles out of the water. It’s really hard to see how Los Angeles can engineer a turnaround in the series. The Kings have been so comprehensively outplayed, and when that happens, it’s hard to say that it’s a matter of one adjustment here or there. San Jose has firmly established itself as the favorite in the series.

Jeff’s 2013-14 NHL Hockey Spotlight Teams

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Jeff’s 2013-14 NHL Western Conference Spotlight Team: Dallas Stars

It will be hard to recognize the Dallas Stars in 2013-14 until they start playing. And that’s a good thing. New off-season additions (Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, Sergei Gonchar, Ray Whitney, Chris Mueller, and Shawn Horcoff), new uniforms, new logo, a new GM (Jim Nill) and a new coach (Lindy Ruff) are sure to help this team improve on last season’s 22-22-4 record. Lindy Ruff had a lot of success in Buffalo from 1997-2013, and won the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year in 2006. He went 571-432-78-84 (W/L/T/OL) in his time with the Sabres. Ruff’s team made the playoffs 8 out of the 15 seasons, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals back in 1998-99. He demands accountability and this is exactly what the Stars need right now.

The Stars are now very strong up the middle (which is typically a hallmark of deep playoff teams) and Gonchar will help on defense and the power play, where he skated 3:43 per game for Ottawa and led the team in power-play points (12) last season. Alex Chiasson was brought up at the tail end of last season. He had 6 goals in 7 games and adds nice depth at the end of the bench. This team will be much improved in all aspects of the game. If you’re a Dallas Stars fan, this will be a fun season for you. A team with playoff aspirations needs good goal-tending and the Stars have two good ones. Kari Lehtonen has a career 2.71 GAA and .914 save percentage and backup Dan Ellis has a 2.72 GAA and .908 save percentage in his career. You love Lehtonen’s size at 6’4, 220 lbs, and at 29 years young, he is in the prime of his career. The local beat writers were tough on Lehtonen last season and for good reason. He ranked last in GAA (2.66) and 19th in save percentage (.916). My eyes tell me he is much better than those stats and did play hurt more often than not last year. I expect his best season in goal as the team in front of him will be much improved.

The defense will be improved enough to win more close games this season. If the Stars suffer any major injury on their blue-line, they could be in trouble without much depth there. This will be a motivated team on a mission to make the playoffs in 2013-14. Expect the Stars to get their first playoff berth since losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings during the 2008-09 Western Conference finals.

Jeff’s 2013-14 Prediction: 43-29-10 (96 points, 8th seed out West)

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Jeff’s 2013-14 NHL Eastern Conference Spotlight Team: Columbus Blue Jackets

Led by Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets shook off a brutal start that cost general manager Scott Howson his job and produced their best winning percentage in franchise history (.573), turning in the second-best record in the NHL (19-5-4) over March and April. The late-season heroics saw them finish tied for eighth in the Western Conference, but it wasn’t enough as they lost a tiebreaker to the Minnesota Wild and once again finished out of the playoffs. With their move to the newly re-figured Eastern Conference, many fans in Columbus are overjoyed that nearly half of their games no longer start after 8:30 pm local time. The club’s near-miss of the postseason generated excitement in the city that has been missing for a few years. But with a strong historical record against Eastern Conference teams, the Blue Jackets are set up well to make the playoffs in 2013-14. Columbus is 44-26-12 since 2007 and have gone 20-8-1 against Eastern Conference teams with a winning record.

The defense is young but don’t let that fool you. Led by Fedor Tyutin, one of the team’s longest tenured players, he is expected to pair with fellow Russian Nikita Nikitin, who has quietly built a reputation for being a strong possession blue-liner. Sergei Bobrovsky had a terrific season in goal for the Blue Jackets last season going 21-11-6 with a 2.00 GAA and .932 save percentage. His career numbers are impressive too with a 63-34-16 record, 2.49 GAA and .917 save percentage. Behind Bobrovsky will be journeyman backup Curtis McElhinney, who spent last season as the starter for Columbus’ AHL affiliate Springfield Falcons, where he set several AHL and team records for shutouts and save percentage during the 2012-2013 season. I love this team’s defense as they tend to suffocate their opposition.

The Blue Jackets were 25th in goals scored per game last season and their power play ranked a miserable 28th. Improving the offense with the goal of taking pressure off Bobrovsky and defense will be a main priority during camp. To that end, Kekalainen is looking for a number of players to take a bigger bite of the offensive pie, including Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert, who combined for 18 goals last season. R.J. Umberger, is also being counted on to chip in more offensively. The addition of Nathan Horton promises to add a big bodied scorer who is willing to work into the “hard areas” of the ice, but the need for off season shoulder surgery means he will be unable to contribute until late November at the earliest. The games are slower in the East and that sets up very well for this team in 2013-14. Look for the offense to be much better than No. 25 and the defense to remain quite good.

Jeff’s 2013-14 Prediction: 42-32-8 (92 points, 7th seed in the EAST)

Written by Jeff Hochman of VegasTopDogs.com