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First Round Playoff Preview: Central Division

DALLAS STARS VS. MINNESOTA WILD

The Dallas Stars had a fantastic regular season capping it off by winning the Central Division, and it’s hard not to look at them as a deep playoff threat. While Jamie Benn led the team in goals (41) and points (89), Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza were not far behind.  The Stars are a team that has the ability to score at will and I expect them to test the Minnesota Wild during their match-up.  While the front end looks good the back end is a little more of a question mark.  All season, the Stars have used a 1a and 1b system in net with Antti Niemi starting more of the team’s games, while Kari Lehtonen has also seen plenty of work.  With these two netminders, Dallas finished tied for 19th in goals allowed per game, so it will be interesting to see how this platoon works in the playoffs.  The biggest question this team faces is how long Seguin be on the shelf with a partially torn Achilles tendon.  It seems like he could be back soon, and he may be held out to play in later rounds.

The Minnesota Wild have had an average season and got into the final playoff spot with less than a week left in the regular season.  With a player like Zach Parise, you expect a bit more than 25 goals for the season from him.  The Wild’s biggest issue will be scoring, as there was not a lot of it from them during the regular season, where they were tied for 18th in goals-per-game.  Defensively, Ryan Suter will shoulder most of the weight, and Devan Dubnyk is the type of goaltender that can steal games from the opposing team.  Unfortunately for the Wild, the Stars had the 4th best power play, and also beat the Wild in 4 of their 5 meetings in the regular season.  Dallas will take the series in five games.

ST. LOUIS BLUES VS. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

I’m not sure what more can be said about the Chicago Blackhawks.  They seem to have winning Cups and unloading their team down pat.  Usually this process means a drop in performance, but apparently the Blackhawks are the exception to the rule.  Patrick Kane is coming off of a monster season, becoming the first American to win the Art Ross Trophy.  The veteran players know what to expect in the playoffs, and this is a team that knows what it takes to win.  They’ve been more reliant on goaltender Corey Crawford than in the past, and he was having a big season until he got hurt.  He returned in the season finale, his first start in almost a month, so getting him back in time for the playoffs is big.

The St. Louis Blues have the ability to give Chicago a run for their money, as long as nothing happens to Vladimir Tarasenko.  Tarasenko led the team in goals (40) and points (74), but there was quite a drop off from his teammates, as the Blues were ravaged by injuries and still managed to finish in second place in the Central Division.  I would not be surprised to see really good things from Robby Fabbri in the postseason, he is someone that will be a big part of the Blues for years to come.  However, the goaltending combination of Brian Elliot and Jake Allen will not match the ability of Crawford.  The Chicago Blackhawks will win this series in six games.

PREDICTIONS FOR THE REST OF THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

Eastern Conference Sleeper Pick: Florida Panthers

Western Conference Sleeper Pick: Nashville Predators

Eastern Conference Bust Pick: Tampa Bay Lightning

Western Conference Bust Pick: Minnesota Wild

Eastern Conference Champs: Washington Capitals

Western Conference Champs: Dallas Stars

Conn Smythe Winner: Braden Holtby

2016 Stanley Cup Champions: Washington Capitals

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