The Western Conference is certainly the less-flashy of the two conferences. Most of the time the top point-getters are in the East, and the more complete and dominant teams are in the West. I mean, this year the Central Division has 4 teams with 102+ points, completely absurd.
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings
The Kings had another lack luster year, especially when you look at the talented roster they have. This is a team that cannot seem to put together a complete season. They have serious hot streaks and can be very dangerous, but it really just depends on which team decides to show up. I’ve watched games they have played at Joe Louis against the Wings where the Kings will win 5-0 and goalie Jonathan Quick will have 50 saves, and later that year they will lose 8-2 and Quick will get yanked early. This is a team that needs consistency to be successful, and they need their players to step it up. Mike Richards did not play the way the team hoped when they acquired him, and Jeff Carter has been on and off again injured. The Canucks on the other hand, are still performing well even though one of their best players, Daniel Sedin, is dealing with a concussion. Roberto Luongo probably will not choke again in the first round, and even if Daniel Sedin doesn’t play, the Canucks have enough offense to get past the Kings. Canucks in 5.
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks
The Blues are probably the most dangerous team in the West currently. They’ve been built for the playoffs since Day 1, and have the best goalie tandem in the entire league. Both goalies are experienced in the post-season too. Jaroslav Halak is the only reason that the Canadiens had a shot to go to the Cup Finals in 2010, and Brian Elliot won a National Championship at Wisconsin. Both goalies had a goals against average under 2.00 and combined for 15 shutouts. They are also extremely deep on the blue line. This combination is going to be very detrimental for any team hoping to upset them. The Sharks meanwhile, have been struggling for most of the year and trading away Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi hurt their offense badly. The Sharks are a team that will always be on the cusp, but can’t quite get over the hump. Blues in 5.
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks
This series is extremely intriguing for me. If the Blackhawks get Jonathan Toews back, they will be extremely dangerous. Toews is one of the five best players in the entire NHL when he is healthy, and the Blackhawks will need his leadership to advance. The biggest problem for the Blackhawks lies in net. Neither Corey Crawford or Ray Emery are capable of stealing a series for the Blackhawks and goaltending is always important come playoff time. Crawford did well last year to bring the Canucks to a game 7, but I do not see him conjuring up the same magic. The Coyotes have been silently very productive this year. Ray Whitney led the team with 77 points and eclipsed the 1,000 point mark for his career, while goalie Mike Smith put up 8 shutouts. The Coyotes have not advanced to the 2nd round since moving to Phoenix, but look for that streak to break now. Coyotes in 6.
#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
The Wings have been pathetic since the All-Star break, there is no way around it. Nashville of course, boasts the second best goalie in the entire league, and probably the most talented defensive pairing with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Nashville unfortunately made major moves at the trade deadline adding Hal Gill, Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn. Kostitsyn joins his brother as a dangerous offensive threat, while Hal Gill will help bring balance to the blue line and Gaustad is a great penalty killer. Not to mention the fact that about a week ago they added Alexander Radulov from the KHL, because he had a clause in his contract that he could leave the KHL at any time and go back to Nashville. Nashville is a dangerous opponent, and the only way that the Wings will win is if they finally play like they did before the All-Star Break. They need Filppula and Hudler to add secondary scoring and for Jimmy Howard to play as well as Pekka Rinne. This was not a matchup that I wanted in the first round, and a cup contender will be going home early. I have faith that the Wings will get it together for the playoffs though, Wings in 6.
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
I’m trying to be as unbiased as possible when I’m going through these predictions, but I truly believe that the Red Wings, when playing well, are the most complete team in the NHL. I think defensive depth will be key in a matchup like this, and the Wings have the deepest blue line in the league. Adding Kyle Quincey at the deadline was a huge move for them; he adds size and grit on the blue line and can contribute offensively too. Luongo’s reputation for being a choke artist will become a factor here. Along with the fact that the Canucks are averaging giving up 30.8 shots per game, the Wings depth will allow them to be victorious. Wings in 6.
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #3 Phoenix Coyotes
This series will be hard-fought and gritty. Both teams are built for grinding it out and it will be a very physical series. The difference here will again, as always, be goaltending. Mike Smith has had an absolutely stellar year, and is playing like the goalie Tampa Bay thought he would be when they traded for him from Dallas. But he never emerged and they gave up on him. The Coyotes only scored 210 goals this year, and their only hope for advancing is if their secondary scoring steps it up a notch. The Blues have 7 players with 15+ goals, and this balanced attack, combined with their superior goaltending will help them advance. Blues in 6.
Here’s a quick break for those of you that made it this far…
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
As much as I want to pick the Red Wings here, I’m not sure that I can. If they can somehow play as they did the first half of the season, they will be unstoppable in the playoffs. I still consider the Wings to be my favorite to win the cup, but I think this is where the lack of home ice will come into play for Detroit. Their powerplay ranks 24th in the NHL on the road, and they are 4 games under .500 on the road. The Blues goaltending and home ice should be able to take them to the promise land. Blues in 7.
Stanley Cup Final
#1 New York Rangers vs. #2 St. Louis Blues
This is a hockey fans dream, and a casual fans nightmare. Goals will be hard to come by in this series, as the Rangers are averaging 2.22 goals against per game and the Blues are averaging 1.89 goals against per game. This series will truly be a toss-up. Both of these teams matchup well against each other and this series would go 7 games easily. I think the Blues pull it out simply because they have two goalies playing at an elite level, and neither one will be fatigued down the stretch, whereas Lundqvist will have to shoulder the load. Blues in 7. Conn Smythe Trophy Winner: David Backes.
Keep in mind that I’m a huge jinx, so both of these teams will probably lose in the first round of the playoffs now. Wednesday can’t come soon enough.