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Playoffs wide open in Western Conference

NHL.com makes case for each of eight teams to win Stanley Cup

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Senior Director of Editorial

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are special because each of the 16 teams has a shot to get hot for two months and win the title. Optimism rules the day. Don't believe us? Here is a reason why each team in the Western Conference could be carrying the Cup around the ice in mid-June.

 

[RELATED: Stanley Cup Playoffs bracket & schedule]

 

Calgary Flames

Unrelenting offensive depth -- It is almost impossible to neutralize these Flames. They have three players among the top 30 goal-scorers in the NHL this season; forwards Johnny Gaudreau (36 goals), Sean Monahan (34) and Matthew Tkachuk (34). Forward Elias Lindholm scored 27, forward Mikael Backlund had 21 and defenseman Mark Giordano finished with 17. Calgary scored at least six goals 15 times, including seven games against playoff-bound teams.

Video: Gaudreau scores off a nifty feed from Tkachuk

 

Colorado Avalanche

They have a road map to the championship -- The 2012 Los Angeles Kings navigated from the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference to a Stanley Cup championship. The 2006 Edmonton Oilers, also a No. 8 seed in the West, reached Game 7 of the Cup Final before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes. In this season's final month, the Avalanche went 9-4-2 to earn the second wild card in the West, suggesting they have found a form that could get them through four rounds of the playoffs.

 

Dallas Stars

Ben Bishop -- He is the goalie who has the best chance to steal headlines and games this postseason. Since Feb. 1, Bishop is 10-3-0 and leads the NHL with a .959 save percentage and 1.24 goals-against average. He also had four shutouts in his final 14 appearances. He finished the season 27-15-2 with a .934 save percentage, the best of any goalie to play at least half of his team's games and .013 better than his NHL career average, a 1.98 GAA and seven shutouts.

 

Nashville Predators

Defense wins championships -- This is so in every sport and will be so this year in the playoffs. Nobody has a better defense, top to bottom, than the Predators. P.K. Subban was a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL last year, and he won the won the award in 2013. On the Predators, Subban is fourth in ice time among defenseman behind Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. None of the four are new to this playoff thing. Josi has played in 65 postseason games, Ellis 58 and Ekholm 55. Subban is the newbie at 35 with the Predators but has 90 NHL postseason appearances.

Video: Previewing the Stars vs. Predators First Round series

 

St. Louis Blues

They've forgotten the past -- The Blues were awful for much of the first three months of the season. But as bad as they were then, they are that good now. Since Jan. 1, the Blues had the most points in the NHL (65), one more than the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning and allowed the third-fewest goals against (98). Goalie Jordan Binnington had an NHL-best .817 winning percentage (24-5-1) since Jan. 1 and his 1.83 goals-against average during that span was second to Bishop (1.61). Simply, they were the West's best team since the New Year.

 

San Jose Sharks

Joe Thornton -- The 39-year-old forward has played 1,566 NHL games in a career that started with the Boston Bruins in 1997-98. He's done virtually all there is to do on the ice and has overcome injuries that would spell the end for many players. The one thing he hasn't done is win the Stanley Cup. Eleven players in NHL history have played more regular-season games than Thornton, but Toronto Maple Leafs forward Patrick Marleau, a longtime teammate of Thornton, is the only other one who hasn't won the Stanley Cup.

Video: SJS@VAN: Pavelski nets PPG, Thornton ties Yzerman

 

Vegas Golden Knights

They learned their lessons well -- Virtually every Stanley Cup champion has experienced heartbreak first. The Washington Capitals lost in the second round for three straight seasons before winning it all by defeating the Golden Knights last year. This Pittsburgh Penguins core lost in the 2008 Cup Final before winning the next season. The Edmonton Oilers were swept by the New York Islanders in the 1983 Final before winning four of the next five Stanley Cup titles. Can the Golden Knights follow the same formula after a five-game loss in the 2018 Final? Why not?

 

Winnipeg Jets

They are built for the postseason -- It has been a slow and steady roster build, but the Jets' trip to the Western Conference Final last season showed they are ready for the biggest stage. They have an elite goalie in Connor Hellebuyck, a physically intimidating defenseman in Dustin Byfuglien, a world-class playmaker in forward Blake Wheeler and a pure scorer in forward Patrik Laine. The Jets have speed and size throughout their lineup, and they may have the best home-ice advantage of any team in the playoffs. That's not a bad combo.

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Listen: NHL Fantasy on Ice playoff previews: Eastern Conference | Western Conference

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