The Match-Up: So if you don’t want to read this because I bombed the last Central Division Preview I totally understand. Or, if you want to take the opposite stance as me based on principle and past history, well, that is earned. At any rate, the first round was a huge proving ground for these two squads as they each expelled stronger regular-season teams. The Predators swept the Chicago Blackhawks and it felt. so. good. And the Blues dispatched the Wild nearly as quickly, in 5 games. As a result, both teams are well-rested heading into this match up, but the way the teams have been winning have had slightly different flavors, and expect that to carry into this series.
The Predators largely dominated the Blackhawks, especially with their top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson. They’ll need to continue punching above their weight against the Blues’ best defensemen. Also, expect Subban’s mobility and fluid play style to give St. Louis trouble just like it did against Chicago. The Predators are riding a ton of confidence right now, which will make it tremendously important for St. Louis to pick up a win in Game 1.
The Blues are going to need to gunk up Nashville’s transition game, especially amongst its top players, to stand up to the Preds in this one. While Nashville dominated the Hawks in the first round and got great goal tending, the Blues got brutally out-shot and out-chanced against the Wild and managed to win the series by waiting for their opponent to make a mistake, then counter-attacking. The same formula will have to be used to exploit Nashville.
Why Wings Fans Should Care: Subban continues to play great hockey, and the Predators are playing plucky underdog hockey that isn’t the lame kind of wait-and-exploit style that most underdogs utilize. They are playing physical and controlling the puck; it’s fun to watch, if you can get past the jerseys.
Also, the Blues are still trying to win that Cup, so if you’re looking for a narrative about paying dues, this series has it. Also, Tarasenko is always a treat, and Jake Allen is playing out of his gourde right now. This series could become a goal tending duel between two teams with chips on their shoulders. The edginess of this one could make it great.
Is it time to jump on the Predators band wagon?: Yeah, especially if you want to be on a band wagon that is easy to jump off when they run into a team with better depth than them. Or if you love Subban like a lot of Wings fans do.
Is it time to jump on the Blues band wagon?: No, not unless you want to doom the NHL to a decade of imitating the Blues’ boring brand of hockey against more skilled opponents.
Prediction: It looks like the Predators are pulling their best impression of the 2012 Kings, and the Blues are going to have a hard time handling the magic. Unless the Blues can kill the Preds’ momentum, the Blues could join the rest of the fallen Central teams in the short-series scrap heap. Predators in 5.
The Match-Up: Just like J.J. called it, the Anaheim Ducks overcame the Flames in the first round. And by “overcame,” I mean they replaced their sticks with brooms and Flying-V’d the Flames out of the zamboni entrance. And those plucky Edmonton Oilers upended the Sharks on the other side of the Pacific bracket in a six-game roller coaster, causing a lot of ink to be spilled over the Oilers being “More than just McDavid.”
Despite the ready-made narrative, it does seem like the Oilers are more than just Connor McDavid. Goaltender Cam Talbot played great in the first round, aside from that 7-0 game 4 bludgeoning, and he will have his work cut out for him against the Ducks’ depth at forward. Much has been made of Connor McDavid’s presence allowing other Oilers (like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) to slot in lower in the line up, drawing more preferable competition. This means that Oilers’ third line center Mark Letestu gets to match up against a line featuring... Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell. Yikes. That’s a dangerous third line.
The narrative at the end of the day will continue to surround McDavid and the Oilers, no matter who they play. Can the Oilers’ youth and energy outwork veteran swagger? They did it once against the Sharks. Can it work again against the Ducks? Ugh, I don’t care. Real questions: Can the Oilers’ forwards get the match ups they need to exploit the very vanilla Ducks blue line? Can the Ducks continue to roll four lines, steamroller style?
Why Wings fans should care: Every series in this round should be great, but this one could stand out. The arguably best player in the world is going up against a team that would have won a cup in recent memory had Chicago and LA decided they were better at sharing. But forget McDavid; if you’re like me, you have a Red Wings’ t-shirt you wear at least once a week with Patrick Eaves name and number 17 on the back. Look at it this way: the Ducks are like that band you hate, but they still have that one song you love. Time to listen to that one song on repeat, and skip all the rest.
Is it time to jump on the Ducks bandwagon?: Go take a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror. I can’t answer this one for you.
Is it time to jump on the Oilers bandwagon?: Depends. Either you’re already annoyed by Connor McDavid and want him to lose, or you’re not annoyed yet, but you know that becoming annoyed by him is an inevitability, so you want to watch him win one now before it gets worse.
Prediction: No, really, this time experience will triumph over youthful enthusiasm. As much as I’d like for the Oilers to win because my hatred of the Ducks still burns like a star, I think the Ducks are the best team remaining in the West. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Oilers flub a game in this series like they did against the Sharks, but I think the Ducks are too good to allow the Oilers to come back from a mistake like that. Ducks in 6.
All this being said, and given my track record, expect a Blues-Oilers Western Conference Finals.