The Predators have the Presidents’ Trophy, and the NHL-expansion Golden Knights carry the buzz entering the Western Conference playoffs, which have the potential of resembling nothing from the past.
So step aside Chicago, which missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and say bye to the Blues, whose six-year playoff run is over.
The changing of the West’s guard begins at the top, where Nashville clinched its first Central Division title by running away with the league’s best record. And then there’s Vegas, which broke every measureable NHL expansion record for success by going 51-24-7 to claim the Pacific Division.
Add in the talent-laden Winnipeg Jets, making their franchise’s third playoff appearance, and youth-filled Colorado Avalanche, who clinched their second berth in eight years, and it results in three of four first-time post-season matchups: Nashville versus Colorado, Vegas versus Los Angeles and Winnipeg facing Minnesota.
The fourth matchup has Anaheim facing San Jose for only the second time after the Ducks eliminated the Sharks in six games during a 2009 first-round series.
Of the eight teams, only three have won the Stanley Cup (Colorado, Anaheim and Los Angeles), while two have never won a playoff game (Vegas and Winnipeg, formerly Atlanta).
The weight of expectations falls mostly on the Predators , who won’t be under-estimated a year after the eighth-seeded team’s surge to the Final ended in a six-game loss to Pittsburgh. It was a run Nashville began against Chicago in becoming the first team to sweep a No. 1 seed in the opening round since the current playoff format was set in 1994.
“I think our guys are well aware of what went on last year,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “For me, this group is looking down the tunnel at something, and all that other stuff is noise.”
That’s not to say Laviolette didn’t play the “everyone’s picking Chicago” card as motivation a year ago.
“I might have used it,” he said with a wink.
The Avalanche know their history, with forward Gabriel Landeskog listing how several No. 8 seeds have made deep playoff runs, including the 2012 Cup-champion Kings.
“Anything can happen in the playoffs. That’s kind of the mindset we’ve had,” Landeskog said of the Avalanche , who enjoyed a 47-point turnaround after finishing last a year ago. “This is a big accomplishment to make after such a tough season. We’re not done.”
PREDATORS vs AVALANCHE
Nashville finished seventh in the league with 261 goals without any player scoring 30. The Predators’ ultra-balanced attack is fueled by a group of speedy, play-making defencemen who combined for a league-best 206 points (56 goals, 150 assists). Pekka Rinne went 42-13-4 to finish third in victories, and his 2.31 goals-against average was third among goalies playing 40 or more games.
Though Nashville has won 10 straight against Colorado, beware of the Presidents’ Trophy curse. Of the 31 teams to finish first since 1986 when the trophy was established, only eight have won the Cup, the last being Chicago in 2013.
Nathan McKinnon entered the MVP discussion by leading Colorado with 97 …read more