The mighty Chicago Blackhawks have been eliminated from the 2017 NHL Playoffs after dropping four straight to the younger more aggressive Nashville Predators. The Minnesota Wild extended their series against the St. Louis Blues to a Game 5 with a 2-0 shutout in St. Louis. Anaheim put out the Flames Wednesday night, but after the Flames blew a 4-1 lead in Game 3, the series was really lost right there. Edmonton took a brutal pounding in Game 4 to even their series at two apiece. Then, last night, Edmonton pulled up their leggings and came back from a 3-1 hole to win in overtime to take a 3-2 lead in that Pacific Division titans clash. So, let’s break down the Western Conference here.
Nashville put the Blackhawks away at home last night in Game 4 of their series. I’ve seen the Hawks come back from a 3-0 deficit to my Wings and will never count them out until the last whistle blows, but they are done this season. Lack of secondary scoring was a huge issue for Chicago. They have their superstars, but the rookies and role players didn’t show up, and their stars did not show up either. This 2017 Nashville team is not the Red Wings team that Chicago came back against, and most teams would kill to just have one or two of the Preds top four defensemen.
Trading Shea Weber made the Predators younger all around, while his presence in Montreal coincides with Carey Price's prime years, so it was a win/win for both teams, as we are now seeing. Now think that Nashville has let walk or traded away Ryan Suter, Seth Jones and Shea Weber and they still dominate on the back end. That along with timely goals and watertight defense that has allowed only two goals to the second-best scoring differential team in the Western Conference. It will destroy all my brackets if the Hawks lose, but I had them going down to the Blues in the Conference Finals anyway, so we will see tonight what happens. Be assured though P.K Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and junior super scorer Ryan Ellis will be in the middle of the action in the next round as they were everywhere in this sweep of Chicago. Kudos to Nashville.
St. Louis is in a prime spot to take the Wild out of the playoffs as well, but Minnesota showed their teeth Wednesday night, finally. The Wild played the way they did throughout the season with shut down defense, lots of goals along with awesome net minding by should be Vezina winner Devan Dubnyk. Minnesota snuck only two goals behind St. Louis goalie Jake Allen, who has played excellent this series, and has been the Blues best player so far. He is the reason St. Louis is in position to put the Wild away for the season. I hope you’re seeing the theme here, great net minding and very solid defensive play, which isn’t the case in the East. St. Louis has depth and experience on the back end even after losing Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline. Alex Pietrangelo, the ageless defender, the swift-skating Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko make for some tough sledding for the Wild forwards.
Anaheim took care of business last night up in Calgary and now awaits the winner of the San Jose/Edmonton matchup, which appears to be headed for seven games. The question on my mind is whether the Anaheim Ducks are the best team in the Western Conference. With superb goaltending from John Gibson and a stellar win in relief for Jonathan Bernier, the Ducks get to rest now, which is good for their older players up front. The defense for Anaheim is again playing tight and not allowing any second chances on rebounds. Eight times out of ten last night the Ducks cleared the front of the net so well that an elephant could have walked up to Gibson for a head of lettuce. Captain Ryan Getzlaf led the Ducks on the offensive side with Rickard Rakell and young defenseman Shea Theodore registering five points each. Now with at least a week’s rest ahead, Anaheim can focus on their next assignment, and prepare for battle, but I still hate them.
The Edmonton/San Jose series has been an absolute slugfest and a joy to watch. We have the salty dogs from last year's finals against the kids who are being led by Art Ross trophy winner Connor McDavid, who will undoubtedly be the number one pick in fantasy hockey drafts for the next decade. Now things shift back to San Jose for Game 6, where the Oilers hope to keep rolling in this excellent series. Game 4 was a wake-up call for both teams. It let Edmonton know that there’s plenty of game left in the Sharks, while also letting the Oilers know that there are no games off in the playoffs. It will be fun to watch more this weekend, when this old fart doesn’t have bedtime for work the next day.
Be sure to talk hockey with me @PolkaPat and read about the Eastern Conference at Fighting Chance Sports.