The Calgary Flames are the new players in the Western Conference playoffs, a field stacked with Stanley Cup-contending teams such as the San Jose Sharks, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights.
It doesn’t appear to be safe to count any of the eight teams out.
Predators general manager David Poile knows the NHL as well as anyone on the planet, with three-plus decades of experience leading teams. And he would not wager a dollar on this
“I can’t see betting on anybody in these playoffs,” Poile said. “I think it’s going to be that close and there could be all sorts of upsets.”
The Pacific Division champion Flames certainly hope that’s not the case.
Calgary earned top seeding in the West with 107 points after not making the playoffs last year and earning a bid just twice in a nine-year stretch.
The Flames’ total trailed just the 117 they had when they won the Stanley Cup in 1989.
It will be tough for the current team to duplicate that deep run.
Can the Flames Reach the Third Round?
Calgary is expected to get past Colorado, the second wild-card team in the West, but the winner of the San Jose-Vegas series may be
San Jose and Vegas have the most intriguing series in the conference’s opening round and perhaps in the entire league. The talented teams met in the second round last year with the expansion Golden Knights moving on before losing to Washington in the Stanley Cup Final.
On the other half of the bracket, the Central Division champion Nashville Predators face the wild-card Dallas Stars with the winner advancing to face Winnipeg or St. Louis.
Here’s a closer look at each of the first-round series in the Western Conference:
Flames vs. Avalanche (Game 1 at Calgary on Thursday)
Calgary has one of the NHL’s top scorers, diminutive dynamo Johnny Gaudreau, and one of the best
The Avalanche are led offensively by Nathan MacKinnon, who had 99 points this season as did Gaudreau, and Mikko Rantanen, who had a career-high 87 points. Tyson Barrie ranked among the highest-scoring NHL
Sharks vs. Golden Knights (Game 1 at San Jose on Wednesday)
The Sharks went all in last summer in the hopes of winning their first Stanley Cup, trading for Erik Karlsson even though he is playing on the last year of his contract. The two-time Norris Trophy-winning
Like San Jose, the Golden Knights made major moves to try to win it all after coming just short last year against the Capitals. They acquired Mark Stone at the trade deadline from Ottawa after adding Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty in the
Predators vs. Stars (Game 1 at Nashville on Wednesday)
Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne gives Nashville a great chance to win any game, or series. The Predators also have plenty of help up front, with players such as
The Stars are back in the playoffs with coach Jim Montgomery after missing out the previous two years with Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff behind the bench. They have a trio of top-flight scorers — Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn — and Vezina Trophy candidate Ben Bishop in net.
Jets vs. Blues (Game 1 at Winnipeg on Wednesday)
Winnipeg moved on in the
The Blues, who won eight of their last 10 games, are the first team in two-plus decades to rally for a spot in the playoffs after being last in the league after at least 20 games were played. The franchise fired coach Mike Yeo early in the season with a 7-9-3 record and gave Craig Berube another chance to lead a team after he won 75 games in two years with the Philadelphia Flyers, and he made the most of it. Berube’s players seemed to respond, with 28-year-old
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Larry Lage, The Associated Press