The Western Conference of the National Hockey League might lack the star power and name recognition of it’s Eastern Conference counterparts, but still has some of the best teams that the NHL has to offer, and one of those teams could end up hoisting the Stanley Cup when it’s all said and done.
The marquee matchup will indeed be when the Las Vegas Golden Knights take on the San Jose Sharks, as the two teams are the favorites to win the conference outright. All the pieces appear to be in place for the Golden Knights, and they’ve left many skeptics in their path to date. Many people felt they were a great regular season story, but would wilt in a series when matched up against the experienced Los Angeles Kings. Clearly, that wasn’t the case, as the Golden Knights became the first expansion team in NHL history to sweep their opponents in the first round of the playoffs. Las Vegas’ team features great coaching, and sound defense. They’re going to have a tough matchup when they face Nashville, but if goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury can keep up his dominance in net, this team will be very hard to beat.
Of course, San Jose features their own stellar goaltending in net as well. Goalie Martin Jones held the poor Anaheim Ducks to only four goals in four games, and finishing the series with a 97% save percentage, en route to San Jose’s sweep of their opponents.
If the Sharks win one, they’ll be doing so for a core of veterans that currently guide this team, including captain Joe Pavelski, as well as veteran defensemen Brent Burns and Paul Martin. But, perhaps none of them more so than Joe Thornton, one of the longtime cornerstones of this franchise.
There are several Sharks eager for the team’s first Stanley Cup victory, including captain Joe Pavelski as well as veteran defensemen Brent Burns and Paul Martin. Of them all, Thornton has been fighting the longest. Over the past 20 NHL seasons, Thornton is second among active players with 1,733 regular-season games and fourth with 160 games in the playoffs. His 1,427 points in the regular season leads the league by 293 over Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks(1,134). Thornton is the only active player to score more than 120 points in a season, having scored 125 over a decade ago, when he won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. The following season, he joined Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as the third player to have 90 assists in back-to-back seasons.
Whoever emerges from this playoff matchup will surely be battle-tested enough to take on the Nashville Predators or Winnipeg Jets (or the Colorado Avalanche or Minnesota Wild, depending on how those series conclude). Neither one of the two aforementioned favorites will be easy to get through. And that’s what makes these Western Conference playoffs so intriguing. While many people around the NHL still expect to see a team from the East – like the Tampa Bay Lightning – win the championship, don’t count out the teams out West.
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