The Western Conference playoff race was shaping up to be a dandy before the NHL halted due to COVID-19.
But with the return-to-play format that’s in place, we’re going to see some teams that otherwise might’ve missed the postseason have the opportunity to instead make a deep Cup run.
So, here’s everything you need to know about the West’s qualifying round matchups.
Edmonton Oilers (5) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (12)
Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 3 p.m. ET, NBC
Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, TBD (if necessary)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, TBD (if necessary)
Goals/Game: Edmonton 3.14 (14th) | Chicago 2.97 (18th)
Goals Allowed/Game: Edmonton 3.03 (15th) | Chicago 3.06 (17th)
Power play: Edmonton 29.5 percent (1st) | Chicago 15.2 percent (28th)
Penalty kill: Edmonton 84.4 percent (2nd) | Chicago 82.1 percent (9th)
— Blackhawks won the season series 2-1
Oct. 14: Chicago 3-1
Feb. 11: Edmonton 5-3
March 5: Chicago 4-3
A couple of things help the Blackhawks here. They played Edmonton pretty well this season, and weird stuff is going to happen this summer. With that out of the way, there’s no reason the Oilers, while technically also on home ice, should lose this series or even let it go to five games. They have the star power in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Not having Mike Green hurts at the blue line, but he really hadn’t been around that long at the time of the pause.
The Blackhawks have experience on their side, and they have some gifted forwards between longtime stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, to up-and-comers Dominik Kubalik and Alex Debrincat. Maybe the uncertainty in net for the Oilers will allow Chicago to win a few high-scoring affairs, but again, it’s hard to see the Blackhawks giving the Oilers much of a challenge.
However, given Edmonton’s recent history, that probably means the Blackhawks winning in a sweep is on the horizon. Again, weird stuff is coming.
Nashville Predator (6) vs. Arizona Coyotes (11)
Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m. ET, USA
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes, TBD (if necessary)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators, TBD (if necessary)
Goals/Game: Nashville 3.07 (16th) | Arizona 2.71 (23rd)
Goals Allowed/Game: Nashville 3.10 (20th) | Arizona 2.61 (3rd)
Power play: Nashville 217.3 percent (25th) | Arizona 19.2 percent (18th)
Penalty kill: Nashville 76.1 percent (29th) | Arizona 82.7 percent (5th)
— Season series finished tied 1-1
Oct. 17: Arizona 5-2
Dec. 23: Nashville 3-2
For a while, we’ve felt that the nonstop chaos surrounding the Preds this season would sink them against the Coyotes. They got off to a bumpy start, their coach got canned and their franchise goaltender stumbled. But now, just days before the start of the playoffs, the Coyotes are the ones embroiled in drama thanks to the abrupt departure of president of hockey operations John Chayka.
In terms of the on-ice product alone, these two sides are a fascinating match for each other. For all their shortcomings, Nashville boasts an experienced group that knows what it takes to win in the playoffs, even if they’ve been a largely mediocre group this season. But Arizona was a defensive powerhouse all season, and both goalies, Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, are healthy. Plus, they have some offensive upside with Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel, in addition to youngsters like Clayton Keller.
This one could go five, and hopefully, it does. It should be fun.
Vancouver Canucks (7) vs. Minnesota Wild (11)
Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET, USA
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD (if necessary)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks, TBD (if necessary)
Goals/Game: Vancouver 3.25 (8th) | Minnesota 3.16 (12th)
Goals Allowed/Game: Vancouver 3.10 (21st) | Minnesota 3.14 (24th)
Power play: Vancouver 24.2 percent (4th) | Minnesota 21.3 percent (11th)
Penalty kill: Vancouver 80.5 percent (16th) | Minnesota 77.2 percent (25th)
— Flames won the season series 2-1
Jan. 12: Vancouver 4-1
Feb. 6: Minnesota 4-2
Feb: 19: Minnesota 4-3 (SO)
It’s tough to make any long-term decisions based on what happens this postseason, but that’s kind of the position both teams find themselves in. Vancouver is tight up against the salary cap and will have to determine how much (or if) they want to invest in Tyler Toffoli and Jacob Markstrom. If they try to sign both, that means money is going to have to be moved out. Either way, changes could be coming soon, which might give some an extra jolt in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Minnesota got off to a horrid start and is under the direction of a new general manager in Bill Guerin. He’s already made big moves, and the Wild’s youngsters haven’t been that reliable. If they go dark in the postseason, changes also could be coming soon in the Twin Cities.
But storylines aside, both teams are similar. They have scoring ability but tend to struggle in their own end relative to other teams around the league. The Canucks have far more high-end talent, so one this is a big moment for Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes to push Vancouver through.
Calgary Flames (8) vs. Winnipeg Jets (9)
Saturday, Aug. 1: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets, 4:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets, TBD (if necessary)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames, TBD (if necessary)
Goals/Game: Calgary 2.91 (20th) | Winnipeg 3.00 (17th)
Goals Allowed/Game: Calgary 3.06 (16th) | Winnipeg 2.83 (10th)
Power play: Calgary 21.2 percent (12th) | Winnipeg 20.5 percent (15th)
Penalty kill: Calgary 82.1 percent (8th) | Winnipeg 77.6 percent (22nd)
— Jets won the season series 1-0
Oct. 26: Winnipeg 2-1 (OT)
The Flames are in a similar situation to the Canucks and Wild in that this could be the end of the road for their current group as it’s built. It’s tough to count out Calgary considering the way that group played during the 2018-19 regular season, but at the same time, it’s tough to be optimistic. They’ve underachieved this season.
It doesn’t help that the Flames, who were 20th in goal scoring this season, have to face Connor Hellebuyck in this round. The Jets have their issues on defense, but Hellebuyck has been the most stabilizing presence in net anywhere in the league, and he’ll enter this postseason fresh as a daisy. This projects to be a compelling series.
Thumbnail photo via Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports Images