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2017 NHL Playoffs Preview: Pacific Division 1st Round

2017 NHL Playoffs Preview: Pacific Division 1st Round Dinur/via Flickr

NHL

The greatest time of the year for hockey fans is just a few hours away. Playoff hockey gets underway tonight! The Eastern Conference will get things going with three of their series starting this evening. The West will have two start tonight, as well. In this article, I’ll be previewing two of the four Western Conference series, specifically those from the Pacific Division.

ANAHEIM DUCKS vs CALGARY FLAMES

The Anaheim Ducks clinched their fifth straight division title Sunday night when they defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in overtime. The Ducks enter the postseason as one of the NHL’s hottest teams. They finished the regular season with an 11-0-3 record in their last 14 games.

Anaheim’s late season surge was spearheaded by captain Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf ended the season with 11 points in the last seven games. Pre-deadline acquisition Patrick Eaves also had a big part in the Ducks’ hot streak. Eaves scored 11 goals with Anaheim after being acquired from the Dallas Stars.

Goaltending also had a big part in the Ducks’ strong finish. Both John Gibson and Jonathan Bernier had strong finishes to the season and proved that the team can win with either one in goal. That solid net minding helped Anaheim finish third in goals against average.

The Calgary Flames, on the other hand, struggled a bit going into the playoffs. After a 10-game winning streak from mid-February to mid-March, the Flames finished the regular season going 4-6-0 in their last 10 games. Two of those six losses came in a home-and-home series against the Ducks last week.

On the offensive side, it all starts with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan for Calgary. They led the Flames in scoring during the season with 61 and 58 points, respectively. However, the Flames showed this season they have some scoring depth with 12 players having 10 or more goals.

Defensively, the Flames weren’t as solid as Anaheim. Calgary finished 14th in goals against average. One thing that does favor the Flames in this match up, though, is their shutdown ability when playing with a lead. Calgary had the third-best record when leading after the first period. They were also an NHL-best 33-0-1 when leading after the second period.

In net, goalie Brian Elliott struggled at the start of the season. He was able to find his footing, however, and finish the season with 26 wins. Backup Chad Johnson had a solid season himself, keeping the Flames’ afloat while Elliott found his game in the middle of the year.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Things got very nasty between these two teams in the second game of their home-and-home series last week after Calgary captain Mark Giordano kneed Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler. That may still be in the back of the minds of Anaheim’s players. However, with a playoff series on the line, don’t expect the Ducks to try and get revenge outside of the scoreboard.

Anaheim is the more experienced team between the two and that gives them an edge. Also, throw in the fact that the Flames have not won a game, regular season or playoff, in Anaheim in almost 11 years and it’s hard to not pick the Ducks in this series. It’s especially hard to pick against them when they had the best home record in the division (29-8-4).

Anaheim is also looking to bury the playoff demons from the last four postseasons, so I expect them to come out with a purpose from the opening puck drop of Game 1.

PREDICTION: Ducks in 5

EDMONTON OILERS vs SAN JOSE SHARKS

For the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers have made it back to the postseason party. And they were led by their 20-year-old captain, Connor McDavid. McDavid led the NHL in scoring this past season, being the only player to reach the 100-point plateau. He did it in just his second season in the league.

His linemates, Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon, also had big seasons for Edmonton. Draisaitl had career highs in goals (29), assists (48), points (77), and games played (82). Maroon set career highs in goals (27), points (42), and games played (81).

Their improvement on defense also played an important role in their return to the playoffs. Last season, the Oilers were minus-43 in goal differential. This season, they were plus-36 in that department. They went from giving up 242 goals last year to just 207 this year, helping them finish second in the Pacific Division.

And that defensive effort was backed up by starting goalie Cam Talbot. Talbot had 73 starts this season, going 42-22-8 with a 2.39 goals against average, a .919 save percentage, and seven shutouts. His 42 wins broke the franchise record held by Edmonton great Grant Fuhr.

The San Jose Sharks enter the playoffs limping, figuratively and literally. While the Sharks finished third in the Pacific Division, they went 4-6-0 in their last 10 games. They also had two key centers get injured in the last few games of the season.

Logan Couture and Joe Thornton missed the last seven and three games, respectively, of the season with different injuries. Couture was hit in the face by a puck on March 25, while Thornton suffered a knee injury on April 2. Their statuses for tonight’s Game 1 is still unknown.

Despite being a bit banged up, San Jose is still a threat to make a run. They are deep up front and have probably the next Norris Trophy winner anchoring their blue line. Brent Burns showed what he is capable of in helping lead the Sharks to their first Stanley Cup Final last spring. His ability to join the rush at any time makes San Jose a tough team to try and contain.

Behind the Sharks defense is starting goalie Martin Jones. Jones had a solid season, going 35-23-6 in 65 starts. He had a 2.40 GAA, .912 SV%, and two shutouts. He also played a big part in San Jose’s run last spring and gained some valuable experience in the process.

WHAT TO EXPECT

On paper, the offensive numbers favor the Oilers. The defensive numbers favor the Sharks. However, stats usually go out the window once a series starts. This series will basically come down to one thing: can San Jose contain McDavid?

While the Sharks don’t have home-ice advantage in the series, they do have the experience. The San Jose has a combined 1,169 games of playoff experience. Edmonton only has 342 games of playoff experience. That experience, I believe, will come in handy in helping the Sharks contain the potential league MVP.

It’s rare that a young superstar takes his team to the championship at such a young age like McDavid’s. Usually, they have to suffer some tough losses to gain that experience. All the greats had to go through it. I don’t see McDavid being any different.

PREDICTION: Sharks in 6