The West takes center stage as the second round of the playoffs begins

The Blues will host the Predators while the Oilers take on the Ducks

Paul Hamilton
April 25, 2017 - 2:43 pm

Photo: Jeff Curry - USA TODAY Sports

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(WGR 550) - The second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs begins Wednesday with two Western Conference series.

I’ll get to the format in a moment, but why is the NHL having games and 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Thursday? Wouldn’t it make more sense to move one of the Eastern Conference matchups to Wednesday, and the Nashville Predators-St. Louis Blues game as the second game on Thursday?

The first round of the playoffs showed how flawed the current system is. The second ranked team eliminated the fourth rated team, while the 12th-seeded team beat the 13th rated team and the eighth seed beat the eleventh seed.

Thanks to this format, we have seeds one, two, six, eight, nine, 10, 12 and 16 left to play for the Stanley Cup.

St. Louis is the 10th seed in the playoffs who hosts the 16th ranked Predators in the first Western Conference matchup on Wednesday. The Blues took care of business in the opening round, eliminating the fifth seeded Minnesota Wild in five games.

I don’t think the series was that lopsided, but the Blues got phenomenal goaltending from Jake Allen. Allen had a .956 save percentage to go along with a 1.47 goals against average. Allen struggled this season until Jim Corsi was fired, then Martin Brodeur took over and Allen has been great ever since.

Allen saw an average of 36.4 shots per game against the Wild, while the Blues were dead last in the league averaging 26.8. Despite all the shots against, I liked a lot of what I saw from defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko.

St. Louis was able to win in five games despite getting only one goal from superstar forward Vladimir Tarasenko. What they did get from the Russian winger was a guy who was selling out to block shots and do anything he could to win a hockey game.

The offense came from all over the lineup. Jaden Schwartz was one of those contributors, registering five points in five games.

The Blues' powerplay is dead last in the playoffs and 6.7 percent, however the penalty kill has been good at 83.3 percent.

Nashville not only upset third-seeded Chicago, but the Predators swept the Blackhawks in four games. If you want to talk goaltending, the only goalie that was better than Allen in the first round was Pekka Rinne.

Rinne has always cracked under presure in the playoffs and I expected him to do it against the Hawks, but it was the exact opposite. Rinne had a .976 save percentage with a 0.70 goals against average. Rinne faced 31.5 shots per game against Chicago, and gave up just three goals in four games with two shutouts.

Nashville combined the best defense with the third best offense of the playoffs, averaging 3.25 goals per game led by Ryan Johansen who has six points in four games. Johansen was the forward Nashville got from Columbus in a trade for defenseman, Seth Jones.

Five different players scored two goals in the series and the Predators were great playing at even strength. However, the powerplay only operated at a 12.5 percent efficiency.

To beat St. Louis, I think the Predators will have to be better on the penalty kill. They can’t give, what right now is the playoffs' worst powerplay any momentum.

Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban all played well back on the blue line, and I wonder if the Blues will be able to handle their mobility.

I think this will be a long series, but I think the Predators advance.

The late game features the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers in Anaheim to play the sixth ranked Ducks at Honda Center. The Oilers are finally back in the playoffs, and beat the defending Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks in six games.

Cam Talbot played all but 27:08 of the series and despite giving up five goals in Game 4, he had decent numbers for the series. In fact, Talbot was very good with a .927 save percentage, and a 2.03 goals against average with seven goals against in the other five games.

Talbot has a young team in front of him, yet they only gave up an average of 28.8 shots per game.

Connor McDavid is playing in his first Stanley Cup playoff and he had two goals and two assists in six games.

Former Buffalo Sabres first round pick Zack Kassian has turned his life around, which has saved his career. Kassian had two huge goals early in that series and was a physical force throughout.

Another former Sabre is doing quite well for the Oilers on defense. When he was here, I always thought Andrej Sekera was good. He’s getting over 23 minutes per night for the Oilers and I think he deserves the time.

This is another team where nobody is taking the offense on his shoulders alone. Edmonton is only averaging two goals per game and to beat Anaheim, I think that has to change.

The Ducks are second in the NHL with 3.50 goals per game, and are coming off of a four-game sweep of the 15th ranked Calgary Flames.

Goaltender John Gibson did his job in goal stopping 92.6 percent of the shots he faced. He only got three of the wins as Jonathan Bernier had to come in during one game and stop 16 shots in 32:57 of work to get the comeback win.

Anaheim’s powerplay was very good against Calgary and is fourth in the playoffs, but the penalty killing is a league worst at 62.5 percent.

The Ducks have five players averaging a point per game or better in Ryan Getzlaf, Shea Theodore, Rickard Rakell, Nate Thompson and Kevin Bieksa. Getzlaf is more of an assists man and usually isn’t a goal scorer, but he has three goals in four games.

I think two-way center Ryan Kesler is going to be key in this series. He will likely see a lot of McDavid and he can’t let the kid go off. I’ve seen Kesler frustrate Jack Eichel, but the Sabres' star adjusted and had the better of the play in the last game against Kesler in Anaheim.

The Ducks come into this series with much more experience, and I think that should help them to the Western Conference Final.

On Thursday, I’ll take a look at the Thursday games which both are from the Eastern Conference.

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