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xGames  The countdown

The Predators have the Presidents’ Trophy Len Dawson Jersey , and the NHL-expansion Golden Knights carry the buzz entering the Western Conference playoffs, which have the potential of resembling nothing from the past.

So step aside Chicago, which missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and say bye to the Blues, whose six-year playoff run is over.

The changing of the West’s guard begins at the top, where Nashville clinched its first Central Division title by running away with the league’s best record. And then there’s Vegas, which broke every measureable NHL expansion record for success by going 51-24-7 to win the Pacific Division.

Add in the talent-laden Winnipeg Jets, making their franchise’s third playoff appearance, and youth-filled Colorado Avalanche, who clinched their second berth in eight years, and it results in three of four first-time postseason matchups: Nashville versus Colorado, Vegas versus Los Angeles and Winnipeg facing Minnesota.

The fourth matchup has Anaheim facing San Jose for only the second time after the Ducks eliminated the Sharks in six games during a 2009 first-round series.

Of the eight teams, only three have won the Stanley Cup (Colorado, Anaheim and Los Angeles) Jack Crawford Jersey , while two have never won a playoff game (Vegas and Winnipeg, formerly Atlanta).

The weight of expectations falls mostly on the Predators , who won’t be underestimated a year after the eighth-seeded team’s surge to the Final ended in a six-game loss to Pittsburgh. It was a run Nashville began against Chicago in becoming the first team to sweep a No. 1 seed in the opening round since the current playoff format was set in 1994.

”I think our guys are well aware of what went on last year,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. ”For me, this group is looking down the tunnel at something, and all that other stuff is noise.”

That’s not to say Laviolette didn’t play the ”everyone’s picking Chicago” card as motivation a year ago.

”I might have used it,” he said with a wink.

The Avalanche know their history, with forward Gabriel Landeskog listing how several No. 8 seeds have made deep playoff runs, including the 2012 Cup champion Kings.

”Anything can happen in the playoffs. That’s kind of the mindset we’ve had,” Landeskog said of the Avalanche , who enjoyed a 47-point turnaround after finishing last a year ago. ”This is a big accomplishment to make after such a tough season. We’re not done.”

PREDATORS vs AVALANCHE

Nashville finished seventh in the league with 261 goals without any player scoring 30. The Predators’ balanced attack is fueled by a group of speedy, playmaking defensemen who combined for a league-best 206 points (56 goals, 150 assists). Pekka Rinne went 42-13-4 to finish third in victories, and his 2.31 goals-against average was third among goalies playing 40 or more games.

Though Nashville has won 10 straight against Colorado Brian Poole Jersey , beware of the Presidents’ Trophy curse. Of the 31 teams to finish first since 1986 when the trophy was established, only eight have won the Cup, the last being Chicago in 2013.

Nathan MacKinnon entered the MVP discussion by leading Colorado with 97 points, including a league-leading 12 game-winning goals. Colorado tied with Arizona with the youngest roster at 25.8 years old.

GOLDEN KNIGHTS vs KINGS

A Golden Knights team put together with other teams’ discards spent the season using a ”why not us?” mantra in setting expansion-team records for most wins (51), home wins (29), road wins (22) and longest point streak (10-0-2). Vegas features six 20-goal-scorers, including trade-deadline addition Tomas Tatar.

The Golden Knights closed the season 6-3-2, with the regulation losses coming against non-playoff teams: Arizona, Edmonton and Calgary. Marc Andre-Fleury went 29-13-4, but allowed six goals on 18 shots in a season-ending 7-1 loss at Calgary.

The defensive-minded Kings allowed a league-low 202 goals and had the league’s best penalty-killing unit. Jonathan Quick’s 2.40 goals-against average was sixth among goalies appearing in 40 games.

JETS vs WILD

The Jets closed their most successful season in both victories and points on a 20-5-1 run, including winning the final nine home games. Winnipeg is still searching for its first playoff victory after being swept in two previous appearances: by Anaheim in 2015, and by the Rangers in 2007, when Jets were based in Atlanta.

Paul Stastny’s trade-deadline addition provided the NHL’s second-best offense with six 50-plus point producers. Third-year goalie Connor Hellebuyck went 44-11-9, and broke the single-season record for victories by U.S.-born goalies set by Tom Barrasso.

The Wild limp into their sixth straight playoff appearance with defensemen Ryan Suter (broken right ankle) and Jared Spurgeon (torn right hamstring) sidelined Johnny Townsend Jersey , though Spurgeon is expected back from a 17-game absence in this series. Eric Staal’s 76 points (42 goals, 34 assists) were third-most in team history.

DUCKS vs SHARKS

The Ducks earned home-ice advantage with a 3-0 season-ending win over Arizona, coupled with the Sharks’ season-ending 6-3 loss to Minnesota. Anaheim went 25-10-4 since the bye break, and is 14-1-2 at home since Jan. 23. Goalie John Gibson went 21-7-3 in his final 31 decisions, but missed the final week and is listed day to day with an upper body injury.

The Sharks went 19-13-3 over their final 35 games since Joe Thornton was sidelined with a knee injury. Martin Jones allowed five goals on 19 shots against Minnesota, and is 1-4 in his past five while allowing 17 g Jacksonville's success last season gave owner Shad Khan hope for the future and increased faith in the team's leadership.

Khan gave two-year extensions to coach Doug Marrone, executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell on Friday. All three had two years remaining on their deals, which now will run through the 2021 season.

"The decision to extend the contracts of Tom, Dave and Doug isn't so much a reward for last season, which no doubt was impressive, as it is to recognize their importance to our football team this coming season and for years to follow," Khan said in a statement. "We're past celebrating the accomplishments of our division title and playoff run, and now it's time to take the next step.

"We need the right leadership firmly in place to make that happen, and it's good to know we'll have that with Tom Hayes Pullard Jersey , Dave and Doug secure in their roles with the Jacksonville Jaguars."

The Jaguars won the AFC South for the first time in franchise history, made the playoffs for the first time in a decade and advanced to the AFC title game for the first time since 2000.

Khan hired Coughlin and Marrone in January 2017. Coughlin returned to the franchise he helped build from a trailer in the early 1990s and gave him full control over all football matters. That meant fewer decisions for Caldwell.

But Khan credits Caldwell for drafting and assembling much of the roster that turn a laughingstock into a contender, earning the team's first home playoff game since 2000.

Jacksonville won thanks mostly to one of the league's best defenses. Caldwell drafted many of those defenders, including All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue and linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack. Coughlin, Caldwell and Marrone also landed the best free-agent class in franchise history by signing defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church.

The defense nearly led the Jaguars to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. They held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter at New England before Tom Brady and the Patriots scored twice late and won 24-20.

"The success we had last season was due to the efforts of many people, but Doug and Dave certainly played key leadership roles in guiding our team," Coughlin said in a statement. "They set the tone and managed the process on a daily basis, and we look forward to building on that process throughout this offseason and the coming season."

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11.09.2018 10:05
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