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NHL playoff preview: Weighing up the West

While the Eastern Conference playoff battle may not be as competitive as prior years, the West is shaping up to be a grueling gauntlet. With a handful of contenders, even the first round series are likely to provide some scares for the higher seeds. We walk through each series, weigh the storylines and make our picks.

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars

With their defense and physicality, the Predators are built for the postseason. But they are running into a Stars team with many of the same traits. Get ready for a gritty, low-scoring slugfest and some overtime periods.

Dallas were right there in all of the regular season meetings with Nashville despite failing to register a win. Look for them to slow down Viktor Arvidsson take this the distance, especially with the Predators’ power play struggles. A fired up P.K. Subban could make all the difference.

The pick: Predators in 7

Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues

This is a tough draw for the Jets, facing a Blues team that has been electric in the latter part of the season (and has won nine of their last 12 games). Winnipeg gained valuable experience during their 2018 run to the Western Conference Finals but will need to find a way past St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington, one of the catalysts for his team’s revival.

That said, the Jets had the upper hand in the regular season showdowns (3-1-0) and may be able to flip the switch to shake off a lacklustre end to the regular season. If you are a believer in momentum, the Blues are worth a flutter, but Winnipeg’s star power (Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler) is undeniable.

The pick: Jets in 7

Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche

The Flames emerged as a true contender this year (107 points) and this is a favourable matchup, having won all three games against the Avalanche this season. Led by Mark Giordano, Calgary have made defense their calling card which bodes well for a deep playoff run.

For Colorado, much rests on the shoulders of Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. There is optimism that Mikko Rantanen can be a factor in the series despite missing time with a lower body injury, but it is asking a lot for him to be back to his best immediately.

The pick: Flames in 5

San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights proved that last season’s fairytale run was no fluke by clinching a playoff spot again – and they return with more talent, including deadline pick-up Mark Stone, who is poised to have a big impact in the playoffs.

The Sharks should be motivated by the chance to avenge last season’s postseason loss to Vegas, but they wobbled down the stretch. This is the stage where the addition of Erik Karlsson should really be felt, assuming he is close to 100% after a groin injury.

The pick: Golden Knights in 6

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