2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Fear The Fin's Western Conference Preview

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Picks, stats and analysis for the 2014 Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Continuing an annual tradition (that's now been running for two whole years!), we at Fear The Fin sat down and shared our picks for the three Western Conference Quarterfinals series that don't involve the Sharks (that preview comes on Thursday). Here are those picks, along with the requisite analysis and nerdstats to justify them for when St. Louis wins the Cup (*cringes*) and makes us all look silly.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

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Team H2H Record Score-Adj. Fenwick% 5v5 Goal Differential PP% PK% Usage Chart
Colorado 4-0-1 47.0% +19 19.8% (5th) 80.7% (24th) Link
Minnesota 1-2-2 48.9% +17 17.9% (16th) 78.8% (27th) Link

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Ann: Patrick Roy! Ryan Suter breaking the all-time record for minutes played in a game! Luck! Mediocrity!  This series has probably the greatest chance of an upset, but I don’t think it will happen, simply because Patrick Roy won’t let it. Avalanche in six.

Patrick: Wahoo! Go Go gadget Avalanche PDO! It's funny how part of the storyline of this series will be coaches Mike Yeo and Patrick Roy. I hope it's a drama-filled up and down series just so we get to see more explosions from the bench. In all seriousness, the Wild are marginally better. It might be worth watching America's wonderboy Zach Parise and Ryan "somebody help I can't feel my legs anymore" Suter work their game. With Duchene likely out the Avs will have to really ramp up the PDO machine for this one. Wild in seven.

Jon W.: Oh boy, what a nostalgic flashback to the good ol' days of the Northwest division! Am I alone here? Boy, what a stinker this is. I think I'd pick any of the other six Western Conference playoff teams in a matchup against either of these two. Both teams have pretty bad possession numbers, and both are dealing with some big injuries: Colorado looks to be without Matt Duchene, while Minnesota has more injured goalies than most teams have goalies. I trust Valarmov to stay hot more than I trust Bryzgalov. Avalanche in six.

Mike: The Avs have plenty of holes in them but they play hard and fast. Minnesota suffers from the Curse Of Dany Heatley, along with just not being that great. Avalanche in five.

Jake S.: This series might actually go seven games. The Avalanche have ridden Semyon Varlamov to this point and they'll need to lean on him some more to get past the Wild. In a toss-up series, I'll usually go with the better goaltender and right now that's Varlamov. Avalanche in seven.

Nick: This is the sort of match-up that can go any number of ways. On one hand, my expectation is that Minnesota will control puck possession against Colorado: the Avs are one of the NHL’s most porous defensive teams, while Minnesota is one of the stingiest. While few have forgotten his disastrous tenure in Philadelphia, I’m not especially concerned about Ilya Bryzgalov’s ability to succeed behind such a stout defense. On the other hand, the Wild’s offense has been utterly anemic this season: only five NHL teams scored fewer goals this season, and only the hapless Sabres recorded fewer shots on net than Minnesota. As such, it’s debatable whether they can score enough to outlast the Avalanche in this series, especially with likely Vezina nominee Semyon Varlamov in the crease for Colorado. Wild in six.

Jake B.: This is one playoff series I’m not super confident in predicting.  All due respect to the best players on each team (Duchene, O’Reilly for the Avs, Koivu and Parise for the Wild), as good as they are, the rest of their teams are simply not that good.  To be quite honest, they lucked out in drawing each other as opponents, because they likely would’ve been demolished by just about any other team that qualified for the playoffs in the West this year (other than Anaheim, of course).  All that being said, I’m gonna have to take the Wild in 6.  Last I heard, both John Mitchell and Matt Duchene might not be playing for the Avs in this series (the latter of course being a much bigger deal), and that’s a huge blow to them.  I’d expect Minnesota to be the better team in this series, but as we’ve seen a couple times this year, Semyon Varlamov has had a tendency to win the Avs games they don’t deserve, so I’ll give em a couple wins in this series. Wild in six.

Derek: The only thing I'm confident about with regards to predicting this series is that I won't be watching it. These are far and away the two weakest teams in the Western Conference playoffs so it's nice they had the courtesy to play each other and not ruin any of the exciting matchups. Particularly with Matt Duchene injured, there are very few things that make either of these teams watchable (Nathan MacKinnon being the only one I can think of). Colorado was the paperiest of paper tigers in the regular season; only the Oilers, Maple Leafs and Sabres controlled possession with the score close to a lesser extent than the Avs. They were carried by Semyon Varlamov, a hot power play and a crooked record in one-goal games. I'd predict a quick exit for them if they were facing any of the other six clubs in the West but Minnesota is a mediocre possession team in their own right and, more importantly, don't have a goalie. I think Colorado's edge in net and the fact that they have home-ice advantage mean they'll escape this series only to be clobbered by Chicago in round two but I can't say I'm all that certain about this pick. Avalanche in seven.

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

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Team H2H Record Score-Adj. Fenwick% 5v5 Goal Differential PP% PK% Usage Chart
St. Louis
3-2-0 54.2% +28 19.8% (7th) 85.7% (2nd) Link
Chicago 2-1-2 55.9% +34 19.5% (10th) 81.4% (19th) Link

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Ann: This series (along with the California series of death) is too good to be a first round matchup. Yet, here we are. Thanks, unsustainably high PDO/massive injuries. Prior to St. Louis giving their best impression of an emergency room, I would have thought seven games, easy, with Chicago ultimately prevailing. Now? With goaltending issues and injuries? Blackhawks in five.

Patrick: This will be an incredible series. Certainly as worth watching on "off days" as any other first round series. It's the second best FF% vs. the seventh in the first round. The only series featuring better possession teams is the Sharks and Kings. Look for a bruising 2-1-2 third man high forechecking system from the Blues that has been a staple of their game for years. They crash hard on opponents' D with their wingers and generate a lot of their Corsis that way. The Hawks' greatest strength has always been their speedy transition game. (Seriously, count how many times the opposition has time to setup a neutral zone forecheck). If the Hawks can successfully escape the Blues forecheck and feed their transition game, they move on. Blackhawks in seven.

Jon W.: Maybe the hockey gods are finally realizing that Steve Ott and Max Lapierre are on the same team, or maybe the Blues are just regressing on their own. But I don't think they're as bad as they've been in their six-game losing streak. On the other hand, they're about to face the defending champions who have a very similar roster, and are once again one of the best in the NHL. As long as Toews and Kane are anywhere near 100%, I see the Hawks taking this. Blackhawks in six.

Mike: St. Louis cracks under the pressure, and even though Kane/Toews aren't 100%, they play well enough to power through Round 1. Blackhawks in six.

Jake S.: The Blues might have worked all their way back around to being under rated by the blog community, but Chicago is my cup pick so I've got them besting the Blues in six games. Join the Humans Against Steve Ott Winning In The Playoffs cause. Blackhawks in six.

Nick: The Blues may come to regret the six-game skid at the end of the season that pushed them out of first place in the Central: instead of facing a Wild squad that they’d likely have beaten, they get a brutal match-up with the defending champion Blackhawks. Chicago and St. Louis probably have the two deepest bluelines in the NHL, and both are exceptional shot-prevention squads. As such, this is likely to be a very low-event series. After a shaky start, Corey Crawford has rebounded to have a solid season (0.927 Sv% at even strength). Ryan Miller’s performance this season has been a bit harder to read: after playing well in front of an abysmal defense in Buffalo, Miller has been fairly average since his trade to St. Louis. This series is a bit of a coin flip, but I’d have to guess that Chicago’s superior possession game gets them through. Blackhawks in six.

Jake B.: Despite all the talk of the mainstream media saying that this series will be super close and heated an’ all that, I just don’t see it.  With all the injuries the Blues are facing (both Oshie and Tarasenko, among others, potentially out for at least a little bit of this series), I just can’t see them keeping up with Chicago in this series, especially with Miller’s downturn as of late.  St. Louis does have home ice advantage, but Chicago is simply too good for that to be any type of obstacle for them. Blackhawks in five.

Derek: Even before the St. Louis Blues turned into a MASH unit, I was skeptical of their chances to make the kind of noise people were predicting they would in the playoffs. Selling a 25-goal scorer at the deadline for a minor (if that) upgrade in net suggests the Blues are in denial about the lack of offensive firepower that spelled their early exit from the postseason each of the past two springs. Yes, St. Louis finished sixth in the league in goals but they did so courtesy the third-highest shooting percentage in the league. This isn't a team that generates enough shots or has enough high-end offensive talent to be able to outscore a club like the Blackhawks; the fact that Vladimir Tarasenko and T.J. Oshie's health statuses for this series are questionable only exacerbates their underlying issues. Chicago is the superior possession team, is lethal in transition and has oodles of depth at every position (except center, where the rotting corpse of Michal Handzus is somehow on their second line). I haven't picked against them in a playoff series since 2009 and I don't intend to start now. Blackhawks in five.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

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Team H2H Record Score-Adj. Fenwick% 5v5 Goal Differential PP% PK% Usage Chart
Anaheim
1-2-0 50.9% +54 16.0% (22nd) 82.2% (13th) Link
Dallas 2-1-0 51.3% +11 15.9% (23rd) 81.4% (22nd) Link

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Ann: This series is like Sophie’s Choice for a Sharks fan, except Meryl Streep wants to kill both her children. On one hand, you have a team that’s been incredibly lucky for the past two seasons that needs to regress to the mean at some point. On the other hand, you have a team that’s supposed to be rebuilding, but Western Canada decided they are a strong, confident region who don’t need no playoffs. Also, Boston decided to give up on a #19 that was a high first round draft pick, because that never backfired on them. Honestly, I have no idea what is going to happen. Stars in seven (or four).

Patrick: I think this series will be closer than most think. Dallas' young roster might have people fooled. They feature one of the best top lines in the league. A Getz/Perry vs. Benn/Seguin would be a phenomenal matchup that I hope both Boudreau and Ruff are comfortable rolling out against each other.  Unfortunately it's very unlikely as both teams drop considerably in talent after their respective top lines. The third line that survives will survive the series. Stars in seven.

Jon W.: The Dallas Stars finally make it to playoffs after leaving the Pacific division, and here they are... back in the Pacific division for the playoffs. Luckily for them, they got the easiest draw of the California teams. With the Ducks relatively poor possession numbers, and unsustainably high shooting percentage, this is the trendy pick for an upset. I think these two end up very evenly matched, but it's not like the Stars are without their own flaws. The Ducks luck holds out, and they survive to get embarrassed in round two. Ducks in six.

Mike: The only true upset of the first round, the Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin pair pace the Stars to a surprise win powered by this year's spiffy new Stars jerseys (seriously, those are some sharp duds). Stars in seven.

Jake S.: Someone is going to unmask the Ducks as percentage-driven frauds this postseason, and I'd love it to be the Dallas Stars. It's a blast to watch Tyler Seguin (and the rest of this Stars team) play hockey, and every success Seguin has is an affront to the Boston media. How can you root against that? I've got the Stars in six.

Nick: As a match-up between two high-event teams, each featuring a dynamic scoring duo (Seguin/Benn in Dallas, Getzlaf/Perry in Anaheim), this series should make for good television. Neither squad is particularly good defensively, so I don’t expect the Stars to have much (if any) possession advantage. Kari Lehtonen and Jonas Hiller are both capable goaltenders that could steal this series if they can find a run of hot play. It’s impossible to say whether Anaheim’s 9.8% shooting will show up in these games, though they’ve kept up a high Sh% for so long I’d be reluctant to bet against it. Ducks in five.

Jake B.: This is a series I’m really excited for.  I’m sure everyone here can understand my desire for seeing the Ducks fall on their face, especially after winning the Pacific Division, as well as the Western Conference, and receiving accolades from just about everyone who isn’t an advanced statistics fan this year.  Dallas, on the other hand, has legitimately been really good this year.  Sure, they’re location in the standings hasn’t been great, but they’ve definitely worked their way through some adversities.  One of those adversities being a major injury to Stephane Robidas near the beginning of the season; taking away the best defender on an already-sketchy-looking blue line.  Still, Dallas got through that, and excelled, even with their blue line (lol Aaron Rome).  For all the talk of how good Perry-Getzlaf-warm body has been this year, Benn-Seguin-Nichushkin has been fantastic as well, I’d argue one of the most fun top lines to watch in the NHL.  Dallas is the real deal, and Anaheim most certainly is not.  It’s certainly possible that Hiller will carry them through this series (not that that has ever happened before, right?), but I don’t seem them lasting long.  Stars in five.

Derek: This is essentially a rerun of last year's series between the Ducks and Red Wings. Anaheim rides the percentages to a division title and high playoff seed before running into a superior possession team in the first round that was forced to squeak into the playoffs in the regular season's final week. I've seen this movie before and it ends with the team that employs Jim Nill beating the Ducks in the deciding contest. Stars in seven.

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