NHL: Western Conference Finals Preview

Written By Griffin Dowd (@griffindowd98)

Last night, the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs kicked off in BEAUTIFUL Tampa, Florida. The Capitals delivered the first punch, chasing Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy out of his net after a rough 2 periods. Tonight, the lone remaining Canadian team will square off against the Cinderella story of the season. It’s Winnipeg vs Vegas and once again Griffin Dowd was kind enough to donate his thoughts prior to puck drop in the Western Conference final.

 

Winnipeg Jets (52-20-10,114pts)      V.S.    Vegas Golden Knights (51-24-7,109pts)

 

Screen Shot 2018-05-12 at 12.45.41 PMHere we are, the third round in the better NHL conference (in my opinion). I have said it for years, Western Conference hockey is awesome, it’s faster, more physical and overall more entertaining. Throughout the 2017-2018 season I said, whoever wins the west will win the Stanley Cup. On one side we have the Winnipeg Jets, the hockey hot-bed in Canada right now, and what looks to be the best street party in North America. I mean these Manitobans finally have a reason to party and they are definitely making the most of it. The Jets will matchup with a franchise who has been building young talent, drafting well in recent years, and finally went on a playoff run…IS WHAT WE ALL THOUGHT but nope it’s first-year franchise the Vegas Golden Knights. No one ever thought this team would be here, I thought this team was destined to win a maximum of 25 games, and be a basement team. But wow was I wrong, you were wrong, we were all proved wrong this season. Billy Karlsson puts up 43 goals just one year after scoring 6 in Columbus, Marc-Andre Fleury is playing the best hockey of his career, and they just CRUISED to the Western Conference Finals! This team is good!

Winnipeg enters this series as the only remaining Canadian team (R.I.P Leafs) in these playoffs and the top team remaining from the Western Conference, based off the regular season of course. Mark Scheifele has become an elite player in this league scoring 60 points in 60 games, Patrik Laine grew an ugly beard and said “what sophomore slump?” and put up 44 gino’s this year. They are led by their 68 assist man Blake Wheeler, a guy that has stuck with this team since Atlanta, also is it not weird looking back and remembering NHL hockey in Hotlanta!? Guys like Kyle Connor, Nik Ehlers, Mat Perreault…and Mr.Clutch Paul Stastny help to strike fear up and down this entire line up  with plenty of goal scoring. A solid defensive group with the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot (Shoutout to the Hammer). But we can’t forget one of the main reasons this team is in this position… Connor Hellebuyck. In just one season, this guy has been put on a pedestal with names like Price, Rinne and Vaselevskiy as one of the NHLs best. We also can’t forget that this Jets team is one of the NHL’s best on home-ice and the white-out is a tough environment for any team to win in.

 

vegasfansIn the other corner, Vegas is the NHL’s newest franchise and is a team full of players comparable to those living on the “island of misfit toys.” When George McPhee drafted this team last year, we all thought they would suck. But, they don’t, and they’re one of the best teams in the league. I love watching Vegas, their games are absolutely electric, they play defined west coast hockey (FAST), and have been able to create new stars in the league like William Karlsson. I highly recommend watching the start of Game 3, because your adrenaline will be absolutely pumping before this team even steps on the ice, VEGAS IS A HOCKEY TOWN. Enough banter, this team is good and they have five players who scored over 20 goals this season. They have a solid D core, young talents like Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt provide shut down defending with some offensive abilities and contributions. They showed domination in round one, said “Sup?” to the Los Angeles Kings then dumped them like a one-night stand, San Jose took some games from them as they were a more playoff ready team, but Vegas proved they really are a playoff ready team too. Again… this team is good!

Look at the numbers:

  • Vegas took 2 of the 3 games these teams played in the regular season, giving them a slight advantage in confidence, but the Jets just knocked off the best team in the league in their own barn.
  • Mark Scheifele leads the Jets with 11 goals, 5 assists. While Marchessault and Smith each have 11 points to lead the Golden Knights.
  • Vegas has struggled on the power play since the playoffs began (17.5%), dropping nearly nine percentage points from their regular season success. While that has faltered their PK has been outstanding (85%). This will be crucial in stopping a hot Jets PP that scores on 25% of their chances.

 

Griffin’s Takes: Home-ice is crucial in this series, both these teams have loud and intense playoff atmospheres, luckily the Jets have the home-ice advantage and will be hoping to take both games at home from the Knights. This series is an absolute toss-up, picking a team to win in this series is tough and hopefully it goes all seven games. I am going to pick the Jets in this series, they are, in my opinion, the best complete team left in these playoffs. There is no weak link or uncertainty to this team, hoping they stay healthy. There are uncertainties with the Golden Knights, however, those uncertainties have been there all season long, as they are an unproven franchise. I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t count Vegas out because they have all the necessary firepower to shock the hockey world.

Final Prediction: 4-3 Jets, they are my Stanley Cup pick and they fully possess the tools to get it done, but like I said don’t count Vegas out. (Don’t bet on this series, it’s not worth it.)

 

Griffin Dowd is currently a Sport Management student at Brock University. He spends his evenings yelling at the Boston Red Sox and soaking in NHL hockey with an ice cold PBR in his hand. He’s known for crying like a baby (in a good way) when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, formerly having a mullet, being a college hockey advocate (Go Sioux) and only having one solo Fortnite win. Hailing from the Hammer, his favourite phrase is “Oskee Wee Wee” and won’t talk to you if you like the Argos…or the Yankees. 

 

 

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