Playoffs are confirmed for seven out of eight teams in the NHL's Western Conference, including the Vegas Golden Knights. Soon, the only thing left to decide will be seeding and which teams will get home ice for the playoffs and for how long.
There are still so many different potential playoff matchups possible, with just three games remaining in the regular season schedule for the VGK. Whoever the Golden Knights face, their objective will stay the same, but which opponents do they match up against better than others?
No playoff series is going to be easy, but here are our picks for which teams Golden Knights fans should be rooting to play the VGK in the first round.
1) Nashville Predators
Current Spot– Out of playoffs with 88 points. Would not make playoffs if they started today.
It's awesome to see what the Nashville Predators are doing right now with their extremely young and inexperienced lineup. Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, and Matt Duchene are all hurt, but the team, who sold at the trade deadline, is still holding on for dear life for a playoff spot.
However, if the Cinderella run can get them to the first round, I think it ends there, no matter which team they play. The way things currently stand, they would be playing the VGK in the event they make it in as Wild Card no. 2. A determined team, yes, but not one built for the playoffs.
2) Calgary Flames
Current Spot– Out of playoffs with 89 points. Would not make playoffs if they started today.
Also grasping at straws are the Calgary Flames, who are tied with the Winnipeg Jets for the Wild Card spot, but the Flames don't have the tiebreaker. The thought of playing a Darryl Sutter-led team in the playoffs is a haunting one, but this year's Flames team has underachieved all around.
Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, and Jakob Markstrom are just some examples of key players underachieving for the Flames. On paper, the Golden Knights are a much more deep team at every position and would be our favorites in a seven-game series if they were to meet.
3) Winnipeg Jets
Current Spot– Second Wild Card spot with 89 points. Would play the Golden Knights if playoffs started today.
The Winnipeg Jets have been the scheduled opponent for the Golden Knights to play in the first round for a good couple of weeks now. They have a good team, led by Vezina-caliber goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, but haven't been able to crack into the top-3 in the central.
Even at third on our list, this is a tough matchup for the Golden Knights as the Jets have a ton of quality scorers in Kyle Connor, a darkhorse contender for the Norris in Josh Morrissey, and one of the best goaltenders in the league in Hellebuyck.
Still, we think this is a winnable series, but it will be decided most likely by goaltending.
4) Seattle Kraken
Current Spot- First Wild Card spot with 96 points (clinched). Would play the Colorado Avalanche if playoffs started today.
It's awesome to see the Seattle Kraken in the postseason for the first time in franchise history. A playoff matchup against their expansion brothers would also be great. While there aren't any superstar-level players on this team akin to someone like Jack Eichel, this year's Kraken team is eerily similar to the inaugural season Golden Knights, who went to the Stanley Cup Final.
5) Minnesota Wild
Current Spot- Third in the Central Division with 98 points (clinched). Would play the Dallas Stars if the playoffs started today.
Although unlikely, the Minnesota Wild and Golden Knights could still meet in the first round of the playoffs if the Wild (or Golden Knights) fall to a Wild Card position. The VGK are coming off two wins over the Wild just a week ago and have tons of connections on the team, from Marc-Andre Fleury to Ryan Reaves.
I believe I'm seeing right through the Wild's current facade, as I don't think they are a team capable of making it past the first round, no matter who they play. They have an extremely convoluted lineup with a strange mixture of veteran forwards and youngsters who they hope are the future.
I don't think a team with Ryan Hartman as their top-line center is a contending one, even when Kirill Kaprizov comes back. That being said, I think the Golden Knights can beat them and Fleury in a first-round playoff series if it somehow happens.
6) Los Angeles Kings
Current Spot- Third in the Pacific Division with 100 points (clinched). Would play the Edmonton Oilers if the playoffs started today.
Recency bias aside, this might be the series I'm rooting for to happen the most because I think it will be a close one. The VGK and Los Angeles Kings are similar, with strong offenses led by franchise centers, solid D-groups, and a mess of goaltending units. The Jonathan Quick storyline here would be amazing, even if he doesn't play. This one would likely go seven games, and I think the Golden Knights are the slightly better team. Hopefully, we get this one.
7) Dallas Stars
Current Spot- Second in the Central Division with 100 points (clinched). Would play the Minnesota Wild if the playoffs started today.
Playing Peter DeBoer in the playoffs might give some Golden Knights who played under him an advantage. But I view the Dallas Stars as a more complete version of the Winnipeg Jets in that they have an elite goaltender with Jake Oettinger. If Jason Robertson and the gang can contribute enough offense against whoever starts for the VGK and Oettinger can perform how he did in the playoffs last season, my faith in the Golden Knights will be low.
8) Colorado Avalanche
Current Spot- First in the Central Division with 100 points (clinched). Would play the Seattle Kraken if the playoffs started today.
Going up the Defending Stanley Cup Champions is a tall task, and one the Golden Knights will likely avoid if the Avalanche continue to win. But it could still happen. Similar to our next team on this list, my uncertainty with the Golden Knight's goaltending concerns me in a series that will feature Nathan Mackinnon and Cale Makar.
9) Edmonton Oilers
Current Spot- Second in the Pacific Division with 103 points (clinched). Would play the Los Angeles Kings if the playoffs started today.
I think this series begins and ends with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl against the Golden Knight's current goaltending mess. I do not have confidence in whoever the team puts in goal and think the Edmonton Oilers simply out-score the Golden Knights. The series could go the distance and may happen in the later rounds of the playoffs, but for right now, I think the Golden Knights should try and avoid the Oilers at all costs, at least for round one.