The 2023 NHL playoffs have just kicked off, and ice hockey fans around the globe are gearing up for what promises to be an exciting and thrilling postseason. A total of 16 teams are battling it out in the first round, trying to make their way closer to the prestigious Stanley Cup. What are the teams, and who are the favorites? Let’s have a closer look at the Western Conference.
Colorado Avalanche vs Seattle Kraken
The Kraken have made it to the NHL playoffs for the first time just a year after their inaugural season. This impressive achievement has been rewarded with a rendezvous with the defending champions. Quite unenviable, isn’t it?
Lucky for the Kraken, it’s been an injury-riddled season for the Avalanche. There’s no denying just how good the reigning champs, with their talented roster, are when at full strength. However, due to injuries, multiple of their key players, including Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar, were forced to miss extensive playing time, making the team vulnerable during the regular season.
Despite that, Mikko Rantanen and even MacKinnon himself both managed to register 100+ points this season, helping the Avalanche to get back to the postseason for the sixth consecutive season.
As for the Kraken, only a few teams have risen as quickly and unexpectedly as this Seattle club. After finishing 30th in the 32-team league last season, the two-year-old club has improved immensely and is now debuting in the playoffs. The team’s offense is sparked by Jared McCann, who put up 40 goals during the season, which helped the Kraken rank 5th in the league in goals scored.
Overall, the team is not built on star power but rather a depth at all positions, in a mix of proven performers and talented newcomers. Visibly, it has worked well for them this season. However, it still remains an intimidating challenge to face the all-mighty Avalanche.
OlyBetTV prediction: Avalanche in five
Edmonton Oilers vs Los Angeles Kings
Here are another two teams that face one another in the first round of the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Last year it took seven games for the Oilers to prevail against the Kings, coming back from a 2-3 series score. Surely the Kings have motivation from last season’s early exit and a desire for revenge this year. But is that enough when facing a team against the great Connor McDavid?
Arguably the best player in the entire league, endowed with extraordinary skills and an admirable work ethic, he has made the NHL look easy year in, year out. This season, McDavid recorded a whopping 153 points (64 goals + 89 assists), leading the league in both goals and assists and becoming only the sixth player in NHL history to score at least 150 points in a single season. When was the last time someone accomplished this feat? The 1995-96 season! It’s also the third year in a row he has scored the most points in the league.
To make things even worse for the Kings, McDavid is accompanied by Leon Draisaitl, who was second in the points scored this season with 128 (52 goals + 76 assists). How absurd is that? Two leading players of the NHL – on the same team! Sure, it took seven games last season for the Oilers to overcome the Kings, but things have changed since then. After a shaky first half of this season, Edmonton turned things around in the last few months, making much-needed improvements to their defense.
Yes, the Bruins ended the regular season as the team with the best record, but perhaps the best team since the turn of the new year has been the Oilers, who closed out the regular season on a nine-game winning streak. A scary offense is good, but add a solid defense to that, and you get a truly deadly powerhouse. Los Angeles is definitely in for a battle.
OlyBetTV prediction: Oilers in six
Winnipeg Jets vs Vegas Golden Knights
These two Western Conference clubs missed the postseason in 2022 but have bounced back this season and are back in the playoffs. Despite that, currently, neither club looks overly dangerous and able to make a deep playoff run. The Jets have been too inconsistent this season, while Vegas has struggled with player injuries during the entire 2022-23 campaign.
The Golden Knights might have the edge in the offense, however, the Jets boast a solid goaltender duo. Their number one choice is Connor Hellebuyck, one of the best goalies in the NHL, with David Rittich as the backup. Meanwhile, the situation is quite the opposite for the Golden Knights. They have used five different goalies this year, with varying results, and the club might have to juggle between Jonathan Quick and Laurent Brossoit in the playoffs if Logan Thompson hasn’t recovered from his injury.
The two teams have met three times this season, of which the Golden Knights won every time – certainly an encouraging stat for the Vegas club. Yet, their last encounter dates back to December, which is plenty of time to make adjustments.
OlyBetTV prediction: Golden Knights in seven
Dallas Stars vs Minnesota Wild
This could turn out to be a close one. Two competitive sides that rely on their star offensive players to provide a majority of the offense (Jason Robertson for the Stars and Kirill Kaprizov for the Wild) while letting an elite-level defense and goaltending take care of protecting their net.
Defensively both teams lead the Western Conference stats of allowed goals, with Dallas sitting first and Minnesota following right behind. Talking about each of the main goalies, both rank top 10 in the league. Minnesota’s Filip Gustavsson is 2nd in the NHL with a .931 save percentage (2.10 goals-against average), while Jake Oettinger from the Stars sit 6th with .919 (2.37 goals allowed per game).
The Stars and Wild have met four times during this regular season, and both have won twice. Their meeting in the first round makes for a perfect tiebreaker to settle this score. Both teams are also returning to the playoffs after first-round exits last year, and only one will advance this time.
OlyBetTV prediction: Wild in six