First of all, let me just say I don’t think anybody expected this as a second round match-up. Without a doubt, Minnesota/Chicago seemed like they were destined to meet in the Western Semis and incredibly enough, both teams were absolutely dominated by their opponent. Now here we are looking at a Blues-Predators matchup that will send one team to the Western Conference Finals.
Right off the bat, it is probably pretty obvious to guess what they key will be in this series. Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne have played lights out in net and have showed no signs of slowing down. Here’s a quick comparison of these two thus far:
Pretty impressive, no? Ultimately, this series will come down to who can stay hot for the duration of the series. Thus far, Jake Allen has faced significantly more shots while stopping high quality chances. Pekka Rinne was hardly challenged against Chicago, but was still able to stop all that he was faced with. It’s safe to assume that with the lines that St. Louis is able to roll out, Rinne will certainly be challenged. Lines 1-4 have dangerous guys who can win battles in the corner and keep the puck around the net to make Rinne uncomfortable, opening the door for great chances for guys like Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny etc. Rinne has shown in the past he can be sort of a headcase in the playoffs and will let in the occasional soft goal, so there should be no shortage of SOG from the Blues.
Nashville needs to keep up strong play on the blue line that we saw in the first round. That top pair of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis absolutely shut down areas where Kane and Panarin like to have the puck, making them non-factors. And the big bodies on the 2nd pair in PK Subban and Matthias Ekholm were absolutely bullying guys throughout the entire series. Not to mention, the Preds got a lot of production on the other end out of their blue-liners, which is obviously advantageous. With the depth at forward in St. Louis, the play of the Nashville defense will be critical.
Like I said, no one really expected this series, so it’s really difficult to know what to expect. However both teams have proven they want to win and absolutely deserve to be here, only losing one game so far between the two. Because Jake Allen seems like he is going to keep up his elite level of goaltending, as well as the Blues having home-ice, I’m going to take St. Louis in 7. After a disappointing WCF showing last year against San Jose, one can only think that they are poised for better outcome against a very beatable team in either Edmonton or Anaheim.