Colorado Avalanche C Nathan MacKinnon

David Zalubowski - AP Photo

After diving into the most important player on each of the eight Eastern Conference teams left in the NHL Playoffs, we now turn our attention to the eight teams left in the Western Conference.

So far the action has been hot in Edmonton for the qualifying round, round robin play, and the early parts of the first round, and doesn't look to cool off anytime soon.


Las Vegas Golden Knights

Robin Lehner - G

Las Vegas unknowingly hit a jackpot when they acquired Robin Lehner. Not only did the Golden Knights acquire a goaltender with some playoff experience, but little did they know that they would be bringing in a player who had spent most of the season on the team that they would go up against in the first round of the playoffs. Lehner went 16-10-5 in 31 starts for Chicago this year, and the Swedish goalie has been even better for Las Vegas, winning all of his seven starts in the regular season and playoffs.

The Golden Knights entered the season with three-time Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury at goalie, but they knew they would have to upgrade the position if they wanted to make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals, like in their inaugural season in the NHL in 2018. Lehner doesn't have the titles that Fleury does, but the Golden Knights feel like Lehner is the best option to keep the opposition of the board. So far that decision has paid off with interest for Las Vegas.

Colorado Avalanche

Nathan MacKinnon - C

The first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft is essentially the offense of the Colorado Avalanche. Nathan MacKinnon finished the regular season with 35 goals and 93 points. By comparison, no other Colorado player totaled more than 50 points this season. MacKinnon's performance was so impressive, it earned him a spot as finalist in the race for the NHL MVP award. MacKinnon is the only one of the three finalists still left in the playoffs.

If the Avalanche didn't have MacKinnon on their roster, they certainly wouldn't be sitting in the position that they are currently in. MacKinnon opened the scoring in game 2 on Friday afternoon with his second goal of the playoffs. The Avalanche would go on to beat Arizona, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series. Last year MacKinnon totaled six goals and seven assists in 12 playoff games, and he looks primed to lead Colorado to an even deeper run in the playoffs this season.

St. Louis Blues

Vladimir Tarasenko - RW

St. Louis Blues RW Vladimir TarasenkoJeff Curry - USA TODAY Sports

One of the key members of the St. Louis Blues team that won the Stanley Cup was winger Vladimir Tarasenko. The Russian scored 11 goals in 26 playoff games last season, helping the Blues to their first title since 1970. The 16th pick in the 2010 draft has been incredibly balanced throughout his NHL career, scoring 214 goals and dishing out 214 assists in 507 games.

Tarasenko's regular season was cut short early on, with a shoulder injury sidelining the winger after just 10 games. Tarasenko might have returned for the playoffs had the NHL not had to pause the season, but there was no guarantee where Tarasenko's health would be. With a couple extra months to recover, Tarasenko was ready to hit the ice at full speed.

So far Tarasenko has been a bit rusty, failing to record a point in three playoff games. During the regular season, only three St. Louis players scored at least 20 goals, which makes Tarasenko's return to the lineup even more important, especially since they have to take on the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs. If Tarasenko can find his rhythm in the offense, the Blues could make another deep playoff run.

Vancouver Canucks

Bo Horvat - C

Vancouver Canucks C Bo HorvatDan Toulgoet - Vancouver Courier

Vancouver is an up-and-coming team, and they might have just found their leader in the playoffs. Canucks like Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes may get more attention, but there might not be a hotter hockey player out there right now than Bo Horvat. The center scored two goals and was credited with two assists in Vancouver's four qualifying round games against Minnesota. Horvat has been even better in the first two games against St. Louis, recording four goals, including the winner in overtime in game 2.

Horvat has always had a knack for finding the back of the net, scoring at least 20 goals in each of the last four seasons, but the Ontario native has really caught fire inside the bubble in Edmonton. Now with Vancouver just a couple wins away from the second round, it'll be interested to see if Horvat can keep his hot stretch of play going. If Horvat doesn't cool off, Vancouver will be a tougher out in the playoffs than some were expecting the Canucks to be.

Calgary Flames

Mark Giordano - D

Stat-wise, Giordano fell off a little bit during the regular season, but it doesn't mean the captain of the Flames became any less important to the team. After winning the Norris Trophy last year as the league's best defenseman, Giordano only recorded five goals and 31 points this year in 60 games, marking the first time since the 2012-13 season in which he failed to reach double digits in goal tallies.

Much like Eastern Conference blue line counterparts, Seth Jones and Dougie Hamilton, Giordano is the heart of the Flames. While youngsters Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Guadreau receive most of Calgary's headlines, Giordano is the calming force on defense that has propelled the Flames to a 2-1 series lead on Dallas in the first round.

Arizona Coyotes

Darcy Kuemper - G

Looking at the Arizona roster, it's probably a bit of a surprise that Kuemper is the Coyote identified as the most important player, especially with guys like Phil Kessel, Taylor Hall, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Dig a little deeper and it's easy to see why. Kessel is in the latter half of his career, and not producing quite like he did in Pittsburgh. Hall was traded from New Jersey earlier this year, so he is still trying to adjust to his new teammates and style of play.

With Arizona sneaking into the playoffs, they'll likely have to play some of the best teams in the conference if they want to make a deep run. Kuemper came up huge against Nashville in the qualifying round, recording at least 40 saves in each of Arizona's three wins in the series. The first round matchup against Colorado has proven a little tougher, with the Avalanche winning both games, but Kuemper is still performing at a high level. If the Coyotes are going to comeback against a very talented Colorado team, it will be because Kuemper stood on his head between the pipes.

Chicago Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews - C

Chicago Blackhawks C Jonathan ToewsJerome Miron - USA TODAY Sports

You name it on the ice, and Jonathan Toews has probably done it. The captain of the Blackhawks is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, was playoff MVP in 2010, and has made the All-Star Game on five separate occasions. Even though this is season 13 for Toews in the NHL, he has shown so far in the playoffs he is still one of the best in the league.

Coming into the qualifying round, it looked like Chicago's backs were against the wall, since the Blackhawks were matched up with Edmonton. With the NHL's Western Conference bubble being in Edmonton, the Oilers had a bit of a home-ice advantage. Add in the Oilers having young stars like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and it was hard to see Chicago advancing.

Toews showed that even though he has a few years on the Edmonton stars, that he is still dangerous, scoring two goals and recording three assists in the four-game series victory for the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane may light up the scoresheet more than Toews, but there is no doubt the captain is what makes Chicago tick. As long as Toews is on the ice, the Blackhawks are never truly out of it.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Tom Pennington, Getty Images

In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Bam Adebayo's 31-point and 10-rebound double-double led the Miami Heat to a 109-103 victory over the Celtics on the road. That was followed by a dominant second-half performance by Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins who led the Warriors to a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals.

Tonight, we'll get the first of these two matchups. Boston will look to come back in their second home game against a Heat team that is clearly not at 100% healthy. Tyler Herro has been ruled out for Game 4 while Kyle Lowry remains questionable. Here are some of the best bets for tonight's and tomorrow's big Game 4s.

Please note that all odds and lines are from FanDuel Sportsbook and were accurate at 3:30 PM EST. Be sure to check for line movement or odd changes.

ECF Game 4: Miami Heat at Boston Celtics -7 (MIA Leads 2-1)

In Game 4, the Celtics rallied back from double-digits to make things interesting in the fourth quarter. However, Boston conceded Game 3 to the Miami Heat 109-103. On Sunday, Bam Adebayo was getting everything he wanted down low. He finished with 31 points, 10 boards, six assists, four steals, and one block. Ime Udoka will need to boost the presence of his big men down low, perhaps by extending Daniel Theis’ minutes or having him share the floor more with Al Horford. The major reason for which the Heat are considered the seven-point underdogs for tonight’s game is injuries. Tyler Herro has already been ruled out for Game 4, and the Heat have four or five other players in their lineup currently listed as questionable. This includes Max Struss, Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, and P.J. Tucker. Butler is dealing with knee inflammation which sidelined him for the second half of Game 3.

Even if all of the players in the Heat’s rotation are good to go tonight (outside of Herro), Boston has not lost back-to-back home games since late October. Plus, Jaylen Brown is shooting much better than he did earlier in the postseason. In fact, he’s elevated his shooting to 50% from the field through the 2021-22 playoffs through 14 games played. Expect Boston to bounce back big in Game 4, with multiple players on the Miami Heat not at full strength.

The Pick: Boston Celtics -7 (-110)

WCF Game 4: Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks -1 (GSW Leads 3-0)

Well, it’s looking like the Golden State Warriors are returning to the NBA Finals. With the emergence of Jordan Poole late this season and into the postseason, Andrew Wiggins’ First-Team All-Star season, and Klay Thompson’s return to basketball, Golden State has been simply phenomenal. Golden State is simply that good this year, with anyone on the team capable of stepping up. Stephen Curry erupted in Game 3, while it was Andrew Wiggins that caught fire in the second half of Game 4. Any given night, the Warriors have one or two guys who they can count on for scoring approximately 25+ points. Considering the Mavericks' struggles this round, particularly behind the three-point line, bettors should go with the Warriors as the slight underdog. Teams get swept sometimes. Just ask the Brooklyn Nets. The Warriors will bring out the brooms and sweep the Mavericks as they punch their ticket to the NBA Finals Tuesday night.

The Pick: Golden State Warriors ML -104

NBA Player Props

Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks -1 (GSW Leads 3-0)

Prop #1: Stephen Curry, Over 27.5 Points

Stephen Curry has scored 31 points and 32 points over the last two games. He’s done so by converting at least 50% from the field in each contest. It makes sense that he would score at least 28 points in a series-clinching victory tomorrow night. Curry is averaging 27.1 PPG on 45.9% this postseason but has certainly put up more points and done so more efficiently over the last few games.

Prop #2: Luka Doncic, Over 3.5 Threes

Luka has drained nine three-pointers over the last two games. He’s knocked down at least four threes in three of his last four contests. Facing elimination and hoping to not let down the home crowd in back-to-back home playoff games, Doncic will convert at least four baskets from downtown in Game 4.

Tyler Herro (Left), Bam Adebayo (Right), Miami Heat

Getty Images

Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, and the Miami Heat held their own against the Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Likewise, Andrew Wiggins and Stephen Curry led the Warriors to a 112-87 blowout over Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Tonight, the Celtics play their second game on the road against the Heat. On Friday night, the Mavericks will look to bounce back after shooting horrifically in Game 1.

Let’s take a look at the best bets for the two NBA Conference Final Game 2 matchups set for 8:30 PM EST. tonight and 9:00 PM EST. tomorrow night.

Please note that all odds and lines are from FanDuel Sportsbook and were accurate at 4:30 PM EST. Be sure to check for line movement or odd changes.

Best Bets of the Night

Game: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat -2 (MIA Leads 1-0)

After a nail-biting series with the Milwaukee Bucks that the Celtics won in grandiose fashion, Boston conceded Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat. Tonight, they play Game 2 of the series at the FTX Arena and hope to bounce back from Tuesday’s 11-point loss. One of the principal reasons for their defeat in Game 1 was the absence of Marcus Smart (foot sprain) and Al Horford (health & safety protocols). It remained a relatively close game until the third quarter in which the Celtics were outscored 14-3 to begin the second half. Derrick White filled in for Marcus Smart and was terribly inefficient from the field. He scored three points (1-4 FG) and had four assists in 29 minutes filling in for the Defensive Player of the Year. In contrast, Max Struss and Gabe Vincent did a terrific job of filling in for Kyle Lowry, combining for 28 points on 9-of-19 shooting. In addition, Tyler Herro had a good night with a pivotal 18 points (7-15 FG) off the bench. Fortunately for the Celtics, both Smart and Horford are expected to return tonight.

Head Coach Ime Udoka indicated to reporters today that Smart was probable to play this evening. Horford was cleared of health and safety protocols today making him available for tonight’s contest. For those of you who have watched the Celtics this postseason, Horford and Smart have upped their play and have been absolutely integral to the team’s success. Tonight, let’s take the Boston Celtics to take a game on the road in the same fashion that they took two road games from the Bucks in the last series.

The Pick: Boston Celtics ML +108

Tonight's Best NBA Player Props

Game: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat -2 (MIA Leads 1-0)

Prop#1: Gabe Vincent Over 9.5 Points
In Game 1 without Kyle Lowry, Gabe Vincent scored 17 points in 34 minutes on 50% shooting from the field. As Kyle Lowry is out again for Game 2 tonight, expect Vincent to score at least 10 points. Vincent has performed admirably while filling in for the veteran. Even when Lowry returns, it's quite possible that Erik Spoelstra will give some of Lowry's minutes to Vincent.
Prop#2: Al Horford Over 9.5 Points
After five straight double-digit scoring performances, Al Horford scored eight points or fewer in the last three games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Bucks. He missed Game 1 of the Celtics' series against the Miami Heat after entering Health & Safety protocols. Since he was only out for one game, he shouldn't face any minute restrictions tonight. Horford should score at least 10 points in 30+ minutes on the floor.

Tomorrow Night's Best NBA Bet

Game: Dallas Mavericks at Golden State -6 (GSW Leads 1-0)

Dallas was annihilated by Golden State in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. This comes after the Mavs blew out the Phoenix Suns on the road in impressive fashion, punching their ticket to the next round of the playoffs for a series against the Warriors. Golden State shot an impressive 56.1% from the field in the opening game and finished with 112 points. Just as important as the offensive production, Golden State clamped down on defense. The Warriors contained Luka Doncic, who converted just six of his 18 field goals on his way to 20 points. Andrew Wiggins did an excellent job guarding the young playmaker. Luka's teammates didn't help out much either as the Mavericks shot 36% from the field in Game 1, and 22.9% from downtown (11-48 3PT FG) for just 87 points on the night.

While I think the Warriors will win again on Friday night, expect the Mavericks to keep things more interesting after such an abysmal night shooting from the field. Dallas will make the adjustments needed to make this a competitive Game 2 in the Bay area.

The Pick: Dallas Mavericks +6 (-110)

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Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Klay Thompson is coming off one of his signature Game 6 performances. Thompson dropped his second-highest point total of the postseason, punching Golden State's ticket to the Western Conference Finals after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in six games. In the elimination game, Thompson led the team with 30 points (11-22 from the field and 8-14 from beyond the arc), eight boards, two assists, and three blocks. Considering the multitude of injuries he has fought back from and the adversity he has faced, it's quite amazing that the five-time All-Star has converted at least 50% of his three-point shots in three of his last four outings. He seems to be in great form entering this pivotal series with the Mavericks.

Dallas stunned the top-seeded Phoenix Suns and reigning Western Conference champs on the road in Game 7, 123-90, and earned a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Let's see if Thompson can remain scorching hot as Stephen Curry and the Dubs host Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals tonight. Now, let's take a look at some of the best bets and player props to consider for tonight’s big matchup!

Please note that all odds and lines are from FanDuel Sportsbook and were accurate at 3:30 PM EST. Be sure to check for line movement or odd changes.

Best Bets of the Night

Bet #1: Golden State Warriors -5 (-110)

Following a tough loss in Game 5 to the Grizzlies despite Ja Morant’s absence from the lineup, the Warriors bounced back and closed the series at home in Game 6. They take on the Dallas Mavericks, who’ve been absolutely unbelievable on defense. Changes made to the Mavs’ rotation by Jason Kidd worked flawlessly against Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and the Suns in the previous round. One surprise for Dallas this postseason has been former New York Knicks lottery pick, Frank Ntilikina. He's a player who has stepped up immensely this postseason, especially on defense. Throughout the series, Ntilikina held Chris Paul and Devin Booker to a combined 3-of-40 shooting from the field when he guarded them.

It will be interesting to see if Jason Kidd keeps his minutes up, or perhaps increases them after what was truly an astonishing defensive performance against the Suns. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, the Golden State Warriors have four efficient scorers who will need to be contained. The Warriors will cover the spread tonight and win by more than five points on their home floor.

Bet #2: Over 214.5 Total Points (-110)

Dallas scored an impressive 123 points in Game 7, and they did so on the road. I expect them to reach at least 110 points in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors shot on and off throughout their series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Nonetheless, they averaged 111 PPG in their series against Memphis (666 total points scored by the Warriors over six games). Both teams play a style of basketball that stresses ball movement to find an open man beyond the arc. When Dallas or Golden State shoot 40%-45% from the field, they can score in the hundreds because of the high volume of shots they take. Dallas started taking more shots and playing at a faster pace in the second half of their series against Phoenix. By the half in Game 7, Dallas was up 57-27. In the game, the Mavericks went 19-of-39 from downtown (48.9%). Even more impressive was Dallas’ 56.8% shooting from the field. Although the Warriors are one of the best defensive teams in the league, a 214.5-point Over / Under for tonight’s game is quite low. Smash the Over.

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NBA Player Props of the Night

Prop #1: Jordan Poole Over 1.5 Threes (-174)

Jordan Poole has finally cooled down after a stretch of three 20-point games against the Grizzlies. Over the last three contests, Poole has only hit two or more three-pointers in one contest. Over those last three games, he shot a combined 3-of-17 from downtown. While Poole has been highly inefficient over the last few games, he’ll hit at least two three-pointers in Game 1 tonight. The odds of this prop reflect how likely it is to happen. Although Poole isn't seeing as high a usage rate as when Curry and Thompson were injured during the regular season, Poole should still see plenty of open looks in the 25+ minutes he should log tonight. Given that Dallas will most likely try to stop Curry and Thompson from beating them, Poole should see a few wide-open looks. He will knock down at least two from deep range tonight.

Prop #2: Klay Thompson Over 20.5 Points (-112)

Klay Thompson has averaged just about 20.5 points since he came back this regular season. Throughout the postseason, he’s played strong and for the most part, been efficient from the field. Through 11 games in this postseason, Thompson is averaging 20.4 PPG on 45% shooting from the field. I like him to hit the over here in his first Western Conference Final matchup in three years. After getting his swagger back and dropping 30 points to eliminate the Grizzlies last round, Thompson should have all. the confidence in the world heading into Game 1 in the bay.

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