NHL Playoff Primer 2021: West Division
Hola everyone! Today we're (finally) back with the second installment of our 2021 NHL Playoff Primer series. Here's a breakdown of your four Honda West division playoff teams:
Colorado is one heck of a hockey team and it all starts with Nathan MacKinnon. Nate MacKinnon is dominant in every facet of the game- goal-scoring, playmaking, defensive play, physicality, battling along the boards- you name it, Mac can do it. No disrespect to McDavid or Crosby, but there is no player who can take over a game like MacKinnon. I remember Vegas vs Colorado a couple weeks back, just watching the game and thinking, "Oh my goodness, this guy (MacKinnon) is going to steal Colorado the game!" Its hard enough to contain Mac... now throw in Mikko Rantanen, who would be on pace for 50 goals in an 82-game season! Gabe Landeskog, a Swiss-army knife power forward with 49 points in 51 games! AND THEN THREE OTHER SOLID, PRODUCTIVE LINES BEHIND THEM!
On defense, the Avs look even better... Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, Devon Toews and Ryan Graves. In my eyes, Makar and Girard are both Norris-calibre D-men. And if you've ever seen Devon Toews, this guy eats pucks (blocks shots) like a madman! As long as they don't get bit by the injury bug, its definitely a possibility Colorado goes all the way.
The Minnesota Wild have been surprisingly good this season and that has everything to do with the emergence of rookie phenom, Kirill Kaprizov. Kirill the Thrill has been a human highlight reel all season long and I'm sure he will continue to tear it up in the playoffs. That being said, I cannot see Minnesota going through Vegas or 'Rado, at least not this year. While their D-core is outstanding, I just don't think the Wild have enough firepower up front to compete. Championship-calibre teams are built down the middle. Just look at last year's Tampa Bay Lightning from the bubble:
Top Line Center= Steven Stamkos (potential Hall of Famer)
Second Line Center= Brayden Point (33 points/23 playoff games, 66.4 playoff CF%)
Third Line Center= Anthony Cirelli (Selke Trophy candidate)
Fourth Line Center= Carter Verhaeghe (currently enjoying a breakout season)
Minnesota WILL NOT beat juggernaut teams such the Golden Knights or Avalanche with Joel Eriksson-Ek playing top-line center. They won't! But if in some alternate universe they do, feel free to chirp me in the comment section below 😎
St. Louis Blues
I wouldn't sleep on St. Louis if I were you... After owning a rocky 14-9-5 record at the halfway point of the season, the Blues managed to find their game just in time to steal the fourth West playoff spot from Arizona. St. Louis has always had the pieces to contend; I just think that between injuries and COVID shutdowns, they never were able to fully hit their stride. The Blues playoff aspirations are all going to come down to whether or not guys can step up. Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz haven't lived up to the hype this season. How will they elevate their games in the playoffs? Vladmir Tarasenko has been in-and-out of the lineup with injuries. Will he be able to grab some momentum and regain his scoring touch? Sure, there are a lot of questions... but if any team can pull off a Cinderella story, its St. Louis!
Vegas Golden Knights
Since entering the league in 2017, the Vegas Golden Knights have been perennial Stanley Cup contenders. This season has been no different. Based on regular season play, the Golden Knights are easily a top-three team in the National Hockey League. I'm not even being biased! With two games left to play, Vegas is the best defensive team in the NHL, has the best penalty killing unit, and leads the league in both point percentage and goal differential. But none of that matters without a Stanley Cup to show for it. I say, "Fourth time's a charm" this year for the Golden Knights! I wholeheartedly believe that Vegas can get it done right here, right now with this exact group. Led by Captain Mark Stone, feisty winger Jonathan Marchessault and elite young defenseman Shea Theodore, these Golden Knights are the deepest team in the NHL... deeper than Colorado and deeper than Tampa. They play a fast-paced, relentless brand of hockey and run a deadly transition game.
Yet, what I believe truly sets this team apart, is the chemistry and leadership in their locker room. Part of what makes hockey so special is that it is a team game. A team could have all the talent in the world and still lose if they aren't playing for each other. The Golden Knights have an extremely tight-knit, loyal group and its part of what makes them such a great team on the ice. As long as Vegas can continue to play Golden Misfits style hockey, I have no doubt in my mind they will bring home Lord Stanley this year :)
Once again, I hope you enjoyed this article and that it provided you with some insights about the playoff teams! Be sure to check back Thursday for information on the North Division playoff teams- Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Montreal! I'll also be setting up The Next Great Hockey Blog's Bracket Challenge in our "Community" section after playoff seeding is finalized :)