In assessing the condition of their Pacific Division champion Calgary Flames, coach Darryl Sutter took on the unpredictable situation of the entire Western Conference at the same time as the playoffs opened on Monday.
“We’re good. We’ve been consistent throughout the year,” Sutter said. “The key is getting healthy and knowing what we’re up against. There’s a big storm coming here this week.”
Sutter’s point was for the Flames not to take on their first-round rival, the Dallas Stars, who jumped from ninth to seventh during a frantic final week to become the last team in the NHL to earn a playoff berth.
As storms warn, the playoffs have traditionally wreaked havoc for the top seeds in the West, with only one division champion – Vegas in its first season of existence, 2018 – since the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks won Reached the Stanley Cup Finals. title in 2013. The Blues finished fifth in the West when they won the cup in 2019, with the 2014 Cup winners Los Angeles Kings in sixth, while Nashville were eighth when they lost the championship to Pittsburgh in 2017.
This year’s field does not include Vegas for the first time in franchise history, while Calgary and Colorado are the top two seeds, but with more recent history of early-round playoffs. The Kings made a return to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
And prepare yourself for the meeting of Central Division rivals Minnesota and St. Louis in a first-round matchup that has the merit of being a bruiser.
In Denver, central-division champion Avalanche is trying to put past frustrations a year later, when the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy was knocked out in the second round by Vegas. Colorado, which has not progressed beyond the second round since losing in the Western Conference Finals to Detroit in 2002, will open against eighth-seeded Nashville.
“It’s not something I’m thinking about anymore. It’s a new group this year. We have new opportunities and a new challenge,” said defenseman Kale Makar. “Obviously we know what has happened over the years and we are inspired to overcome the challenges that have hindered us in the past.”
The Flames’ playoff history is just as checkered. They have won only two playoff series out of 10 since losing the cup final to Tampa Bay in 2004.
And it’s no different for Edmonton, where the second-seeded Oilers reached the playoffs for the fourth time since the arrival of Conor McDavid in 2015, and were knocked out by the Dud in the first round of four games against Winnipeg a year earlier. Edmonton opens against the Kings.
“I think we’ve grown as a team and learned from it and found ways to make it a little better this year,” said center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on how the high-scoring Oilers scored just eight goals against Winnipeg. Did it “Obviously, it’s going to be a tough series, a hard-tested series, but we have to find a way to get that extra or just push a little harder.”
1 Colorado Vs. 4 Nashville
The Avalanche finished 22 points ahead of the Predators in the standings, and could have an even different lead if Nashville starter Jus Saros doesn’t come back after missing the final two regular season games with an undisclosed injury.
The Avalanche narrowed the stretch after a 9–0 winning streak, going 1–5–1. Nashville moved from seventh to eighth in the standings after losing 5–4 to Arizona in their season finale to lead 4–0.
After the loss, Roman Josie said, “I am proud of this team, how we fought, how we fought with a stretch.” “It’s a disappointing loss, but we have to turn the page, take some rest and get excited for the playoffs.”
In the matchup, Josie features two of the NHL’s top-scoring defenders, who led all Blueliners with 96 points, and Makar, who finished second with 86.
2 Minnesota Vs. 3 st. louis
The home-ice benefit could prove the difference in a series that was essentially determined a month ago.
The Wilds set a franchise record with 53 wins and 113 points, while finishing third in the NHL with a 31–8–2 home record. The Blues, who closed out their season on a 14-2-2 run, won 23 road games, finishing ninth in the NHL.
St. Louis has held a 12-1-1 lead over Minnesota in their last 14 meetings, including a 6-4 win at Target Field at this year’s Winter Classic. However, seven of those victories were decided by a goal, five involving overtime.
“You get overtime, it can go either way,” said Wilde defenseman Matt Dumba. “Yeah, we have to finish some things, and we’ll be more than ready.”
The Blues have a lineup that includes the NHL-leading nine 20-goal-scorers. The Wild addressed their goal on the trade deadline by getting playoff veteran Marc-André Fleury with Max Talbot. Fleury has a 9-2 record since joining Minnesota, while Talbot holds a 13-0-3 record in his last 17 appearances.
1 Calgary vs 4 Dallas
The teams will meet in the playoffs for the second time in three years.
The Stars opened their run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2020 – which they lost to Tampa Bay – by defeating the Flames in six matches of a first-round series played in the Edmonton COVID-19 bubble. This time the Flames will get the support of their fans and the benefit of Home-Ice.
“I’ve only played a game and a half of that series, so personally, I forget about it,” said Matthew Tkachuk, who finished second this season with a career-best 104 points.
While Dallas reached the post-season for the fifth straight year, Calgary is making only its fifth appearance since 2010.
“Going into this series, they’ve done that, we haven’t, which gives them a huge advantage,” Takachuk said of the Stars’ playoff test. “We have to prove it.”
The Stars are a veteran team led by Joe Pawelski, who became the 16th player aged 37 or over to top 80 points. He finished with 81 points, including 27 goals.
2 Edmonton vs 3 Los Angeles
Kings coach Todd McClellan faced his former team in the playoffs for the first time since being ousted by Edmonton during 2018-19. The Seasons and Oilers are now coached by McClellan’s former assistant, Jay Woodcroft, who took over in February after Dave Tippett was fired.
The Oilers led Woodcroft to a 26-9-3 lead with 49 wins, their most since 50 wins in 1986–87.
Oilers forward Derek Ryan credits Woodcroft for his ability to implement problem-solving solutions.
“I think we were discovering early in the year where things weren’t going our way and it felt like we were being asked to work harder and get better,” Ryan said. “We were just looking for more answers and I think Woody did a good job of bringing those answers.”
The King’s lineup includes three healthy remaining members of his 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup Championship teams, including forward Dustin Brown, who announced he would be retiring after this season.
Associated Press Sports Writers Pat Graham, Dave Campbell, Teresa M. Walker and Stephen Hawking contributed to this report.
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