CARLTON PEAK – I don’t know about you, but starting Tuesday eve-ning I’ll be watching some NHL ex-hibition games in preparation for the start of the Stanley Cup tourney on Saturday. To say I’m pumped up would be a vast understatement.
This afternoon the 24 competing teams assembled in  the hub cities they will be competing in, Toronto for the Eastern Conference and Edmon-ton for the West and that mostly went off without any major glitches. They all did so with 30 of their rostered players available, 17 forwards, 9 defensemen and 4 goaltenders.

Without further ado, the West Q Round qualifying matchups are as follows; the Edmonton Oilers will meet the Chicago Blackhawks. The Nashville Predators will face off against the Arizona Coyotes. The Vancouver Canucks will do battle with our Minnesota Wild and the Calgary Flames will hook it up with the Winnipeg Jets.

For the Oiler-Hawk series, Chicago is unsettled in net after trading Robin Lehner before the deadline, and Corey Crawford has been in quarantine fol-lowing a positive COVID test. He’s out now, but hasn’t got enough work in to be ready IMO. The Hawks are thin on D, but strong up front. The Oilers have two of the best forwards in the world with McDavid and Draisaitl, adequate but not overpowering defense and Koskinen and Mike Smith sharing the net. I think offense wins this series and it will be the Oil.

For the Coyotes and Preds, they split 2 games in the shortened regular season with no one holding power over the other here. Both clubs have some star power up front with Hall, Kessel, Keller and Schmaltz for the Yotes, Arvidsson, Duchene, Forsberg and our old friend Granny for NASH, ARI sends Ekman-Larsson, Hjalmarsson and Goligoski out on the blueline, and the Preds feature Josi, Ellis and Ekholm on the backend. It is possible the netminding could be a standoff here with the ARI tandem of Kuemper and Raanta going against Saros and Rinne for the Preds. Give me the Desert Dogs in this one.

With VAN and the WILD, most “experts” are leaning Canucks here. Not me. Sure the Canucks feature some young players with world-class skill. They also have no playoff experience in this league. Boeser, Pettersson and Horvat are great players. They are supported by Edler, Hughes and Tanev on the backend and with Jacob Markstrom in goal, if all fell right for VAN they could prevail. But the Wild aren’t chopped liver and were playing a very good team game prior to the shutdown. Fiala, Parise and Zuccarello up front with Suter, Spurgeon and Dumba on the blueline and I’m pre-suming Dubnyk and Stalock in goal will be a pretty tough out for VAN. The Wild experience and defensive game will stifle the Canucks in the end and the Wild win this series.

For the Flames and Jets, this battle between two Canadian teams will be of high interest. Both have star power up front and on the blueline. The Jest can send out Wheeler, Laine and Schiefle up front and CAL can match it with Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Monahan. CAL features Giordano, Brodie and Hanifin on the blueline while the Jets can send Dahlstrom, Kulikov and Pionk over the boards. I believe this series gets settled between the pipes though. The Flames have David Rittich and Cam Talbot to battle Connor Hellebuyck and Lauren Brossoit. Overall I’ve not been as im-pressed by “Big Save Dave” as I have been by Hellebuyck. I give the nod to the Jets in goal and behind the bench with Paul Maurice. Jets advance here.

IN THE ROUND ROBIN portion of the first part of the tourney, there isn’t a whole lot of picking one can do here since these aren’t “series” – the teams are playing for seeding position. How could this play out if a RR team wanted to insure meeting a certain opponent in the first round?

Will some teams play “up” or “down” depending on how the ‘Q’ round is going?
Well, that could get interesting as the tourney moves forward. The challenge here is to contemplate how any team, veteran or younger will play after a 4 ½ month layoff. The one exhibition game the teams will participate in this week will hardly get a team up to “game speed.” They will help, but…

What I can say though based on my knowledge of each team and what I think they will do is to predict an order of finish in this part of the tourney.

Again, in the East you will have Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia. BOS has some vet star power but they have a lot of hockey miles on them. How do they do here? TAM has a good mix and a slightly stronger D corp in my book and maybe the best goaltending of the 4. WAS has Ovi and J-Carl, but to me, their goaltending has been erratic and the rookie Samsonov is not available. PHI has been a surprise to some but not to me. They ARE good. If their young netminder Hart comes through they will surprise. In the East; 1. TAM 2. PHI 3. BOS 4. WAS.

In the West; the clubs are STL, COL, VGK and DAL. The Blues are the defending Cup Champ and could repeat. Their win last year was not a fluke and they are still that good. The Av’s can put a power game on the ice that flat out wins games, I have questions about their netminding overall. Vegas could get far in the tourney too.

They have a rounded game and between Fleury and Lehner, maybe one of the best 3 goalie tandems in the tourney. The Stars have an array of talent and an inability this year to consistently put it all together. When they are running on all cylinders you will have problems beating them. They don’t always do that though, making them one of the more enigmatic teams in the tourney. For the West; 1. COL 2. VGK 3. STL 4. DAL

The WILD will have their first tilt on Sunday, Aug. 2, at 9:30 pm. This game will air on NBCSN or FSN in the State of Hockey. The team has removed the interim tag from Head Coach Dean Evason and extended his contract through the end of the 2021-2022 season.

They also signed Russian star, Kirill Kaprizov to a two-year deal and are hoping he can make it to Edmonton to join the team in the playoff “bubble.” He will be ineligible to play though due to league rules. How good he will be remains to be seen. There are high hopes based on skill level, on the other hand he hasn’t consistently played against NHL-level talent and he was a 5th round pick, 135th overall. Many proponents of this player seem to forget that. I do think this guy could be a “sleeper” though. And if he is, look out!! PEACE

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