The Winnipeg Jets entered the season among the top Stanley Cup favorites, but they faltered a bit due to injuries. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues came back from the depths of the Western Conference basement, and they were one of the hottest teams in the second half of the season. Who will this first-round series? Let's break it down:
How they got here: The Blues were one of 2018-19's most compelling teams. After a summer of adding several talented forwards, St. Louis stumbled early. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong fired coach Mike Yeo before Thanksgiving, and by Jan. 2, the Blues had the NHL's worst record. Since then, St. Louis has accumulated more points (65) than any other team, thanks to a burst of production from Vladimir Tarasenko, improved defensive structure and breakout rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. No matter how the offseason unfolds, interim coach Craig Berube likely already earned himself an extension.
The Jets, meanwhile, began to flex their depth and talent in last season's long playoff run, and they brought back nearly the same exact roster. Even though they cruised at the top of the Central Division for most of the season, they never seemed to hit their full stride. A few reasons why: The Jets were without the team's top two defensemen, Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey, for extended periods. And while Finnish sniper Patrik Laine was chasing Alex Ovechkin for the goal-scoring title last season, the 20-year-old had a harder time finding the net in 2018-19, scoring only 30. This team is a Stanley Cup favorite when it's clicking; can it get it together in time?
First line: The Jets' trio of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor have been consistently productive, scoring a combined 241 points this season. The Blues' top three -- Tarasenko, Ryan O'Reilly and Brayden Schenn -- hit 199 points total. Tarasenko took a bit to get going after offseason shoulder surgery, but now he looks as dangerous as ever. Scheifele and O'Reilly are two of the league's elite two-way forwards. Advantage: tie
Depth: Though Laine didn't reach his projected goal totals this season, he's a streaky player, and if he gets hot, he can be one of the league's scariest scoring threats. The Jets picked up Kevin Hayes (who has plenty of playoff experience with the Rangers) to be the second-line center, and there are overachieving players on the third and fourth lines. The Blues have two solid scorers on the second line with David Perron and Jaden Schwartz, but overall they can't match Winnipeg's depth. Advantage: Jets
Defense: The Jets are a tall, physical team and their defensemen exemplify that. Byfuglien is healthy and once again imposing his strength on anyone who gets in his way (perhaps he'll be a gif star again this spring?). Being without Morrissey would be a bummer. Vince Dunn has progressed into a top defenseman for the Blues; captain Alex Pietrangelo didn't have his best season. St. Louis' other blueliners are capable, but not special. Advantage: Jets
Goaltending: The Blues struck gold with the rookie Binnington, who went 24-5-1 with five shutouts in 32 games, with a league-leading 1.89 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, giving him legit consideration for the Calder Trophy. The Blues can always call on Jake Allen (22 games of playoff experience) as backup. Last season, Connor Hellebuyck was in the Vezina Trophy conversation, but the young American regressed a bit with a .913 save percentage and 2.90 GAA. He has playoff experience, and has looked locked in lately. Advantage: tie
Coaching: St. Louis interim coach Craig Berube and assistant Steve Ott are receiving rave reviews for how they turned the Blues around; the two former NHL players especially improved the defense. However, Paul Maurice, now the NHL's second-longest-tenured coach, guided this team to the Western Conference finals last season. He's the youngest coach in NHL history to hit 1,500 wins. Advantage: Jets
Health: Brandon Tanev set career highs in goals (14) and points (29) while playing strong defensively and on special teams. He missed the final two regular-season games with a finger/hand injury. The Jets were happy to welcome Byfuglien back after his missed half the season; Morrissey, however, remains out. Colton Parayko and Tyler Bozak both missed the last regular-season game for the Blues; Bozak's absence was more precautionary. Advantage: Blues
Special teams: The Jets had the league's fourth-best power play this season, hitting at 24.8 percent. The Blues were at just over 21 percent for the season. St. Louis' penalty kill, since the Jan. 3 turnaround, is seventh best in the league at 84.8 percent. The Jets' penalty kill has struggled this season; they are one of the league's worst 10 teams in that area at 79.1 percent; Tanev kills a lot of penalties, so hopefully he is not out for long. Advantage: Blues
Prediction: Jets in seven