The teams in the Western Conference have each played three games, and unfortunately for Winnipeg, only one team looks like they have their first round victory in the bag. The Ducks own a commanding 3-0 series lead after spoiling Winnipeg’s homecoming, while the Flames, Hawks, and Wild head into their fourth games with 2-1 leads.
Who’s going to move on? Let’s take a look.
Calgary Flames vs. Vancouver Canucks
This has been a wild one. The Flames took game one in Vancouver, then the Canucks answered back and tied the series two nights later before the Flames took a 2-1 series lead at home. I think the best statistic to describe this series is the fact the Flames and Canucks are first and second respectively in penalty minutes with 131 and 112 due in part to some rough stuff at the end of game three.
This has probably been the tightest, most evenly contested series of them all, and as a result, looks like it’ll take seven game to find a winner. The Flames have given themselves a slight edge with their superior special teams. As previously mentioned, this series has seen a lot of penalty minutes handed out. The Canucks have had 10 power play opportunities so far, but they’ve only managed to capitalize on one of them. The Flames, on the other hand, have only had seven power play opportunities but they’ve scored two goals. Vancouver has had the advantage in the series in both shots and Corsi For percentage, but not by much. They’re also pretty much even in terms of scoring chance percentage. When a series is as tight as this one, you take any advantage you can get, and the Flames have done that so far with a slightly better conversion rate on power plays and a strong penalty kill.
Obviously that’s a really small sample size, but if the Flames can keep up the special teams advantage, or better yet, stay out of the penalty box, they’ll likely win this series.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators
This has been a really weird series. One of the best goaltenders in the league, Pekka Rinne, is being vastly outplayed by some guy who has played more games for the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL than he has for the Blackhawks. Scott Darling has come in relief of Corey Crawford after the former Stanley Cup winner allowed nine goals on 47 shots over the first two games of the series, helping the Hawks to a 2-1 series lead.
If not for Darling, Nashville could easily be winning this series 3-0.
The Predators are heavily outshooting the Hawks so far in the series overall, but there’s a different story at even strength. The Hawks have a positive Corsi, Fenwick, and Scoring Chances For percentage even though the Preds are outshooting them 126-98 overall. The key for the Predators winning this series will be either solving Scott Darling, which they’ve had a hell of a time doing so far (0.975 save percentage), or Pekka Rinne is going to have to up his game, because his 0.898 save percentage and Chicago’s 10.2 team shooting percentage isn’t indicative of Vezina caliber goaltending.
Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues
At the beginning of the playoffs, if I had to pick one top seeded team to be knocked out in the first round, it would have been St. Louis. Not because they aren’t a good team, but because the Minnesota Wild are exactly the type of team you don’t want to play in the playoffs — and they’re proving why with their 2-1 series lead.
Through three games, Minnesota is averaging 26.0 shots per game, and they’re managing to smother St. Louis’ offence, keeping them to just 21.7 shots per game, which is better than only Detroit. A large reason for Minnesota’s success has been their overall team discipline. This is really important, because the Blues are lethal on the power play. Throughout the regular season, St. Louis had the fourth best power play in the league, converting on 22.3 per cent of its opportunities. Through three games, Minnesota has only given them five power play opportunities, in which they’ve only converted on one.
You don’t need to have a good penalty kill if you aren’t going to take penalties. The Wild are shutting the Blues down by not giving them a chance with the man advantage.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Winnipeg Jets
Looking at the goals scored in the third period by the Ducks and Jets can perfectly paint a picture of how this series has gone. The Ducks have gone into the third period of all three games against the Jets behind in the score, but all three times, they came back and won.
In fact, the Jets have not scored a single goal in the third period yet this series, while the Ducks have scored six. The teams have each scored two goals in the first period, Winnipeg is outscoring Anaheim 5-2 in the second, but the Ducks have absolutely dominated the third. The Ducks are also outscoring the Jets 1-0 in overtime periods, obviously.
It looks like the Ducks have this one in the bag, but anything can happen. If the Jets can manage to play a 60 minute game for once, they could come back and make this thing interesting. Or, they could at least win their first playoff game in Jets/Thrashers history.
Thanks to Hockey Reference, NHL.com, and War-On-Ice for the stats.