#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Colorado Avalanche
Season Series: 3-1 San Jose
Colorado is 3-5-2 in their last ten games and San Jose is 8-1-1 and winners of three straight. The Sharks have the always solid Evgeni Nabokov in net while the Avs have career journeyman Craig Anderson.
The Avalanche are an up-and-coming team with a ton of young, skilled players such as Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene. Plus, they also have the veteran presence a team needs in the playoffs in Milan Hejduk. The Sharks on the other hand, seem to have a never-ending supply of talent. They have the perennial top tier guys in Joe Thorton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau. But they also have 20+ goal scorers in Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi. The Sharks have been a playoff disappointment for the past couple of years and they think this year will be different.Will it?
Prediction: San Jose wins the series in 4
#2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Nashville Predators
Season Series: 4-2 Chicago
Both teams are 6-3-1 in their last ten games. The Blackhawks have won six out of their last seven, their only loss coming in their most recent game against Red Wings in overtime. Nashville will have Pekka Rinne to man the pipes while Chicago will be sending out the relatively young Antti Niemi over the veteran Cristobal Huet.
The Hawks were many scout's and analyst's pick to win the Cup this year. They have the offensive talent to compete with any club in the league. Led by third year forward Patrick Kane, Chicago has captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa all with 24+ goals. Nashville has five forwards with more than 15 goals, but only two exceeding 20 with sophomore Patrick Hornqvist leading the team with 30. Assistant captain Shea Weber (yes, the same Shea Weber who shot the puck through the net in the Olympics) and Ryan Suter are the team's top d-men and are looking to take the Preds past the quarterfinal round for the first time in franchise history. Defense is Nashville's unquestioned strength, but will it be enough to power the Predators past the high-flying Chicago offense?
Prediction: Chicago wins the series in 5
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 Los Angeles Kings
Season Series: 3-1 Vancouver
Neither team has been playing particularly well lately. The Canucks are 5-4-1 in their last ten and Los Angeles is 4-3-3 over the same span. Neither team's goaltender has been lighting it up either. Roberto Luongo has struggled since the Olympic break and after starting off great at the beginning of the season, Jonathan Quick hasn't won since March 22nd.
Vancouver has the league's Art Ross Trophy winner for most points in the season in the form of Henrik Sedin. He's a crazy-good assist man, notching 83 helpers this season. The Canucks have six forwards with 25+ goals and two who have over 30, with Alexandre Burrows leading the pack with 35. Vancouver has a solid defensive core led by silent killers Christian Ehrhoff and Alexander Edler. The Kings may have them topped though. They have Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty, the team's second leading scorer with 59 points, and they have one of last year's Stanley Cup winners, Rob Scuderi, to round out the D. The King's offense ain't too shabby either. Anze Kopitar and youngster Dustin Brown led the team in goals netting 34 and 24 respectively. They have a talented veteran presence as well with Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus and another Stanley Cup winner in Justin Williams rounding out the troops. But can that experience and skill be enough for LA to complete the upset?
Prediction: Los Angeles wins the series in 6
#4 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Phoenix is 5-3-2 over their last ten games and Detroit is 8-1-1 and winners of three straight. The Red Wings will start rookie netminder Jimmy Howard who won 37 games this year. And the Coyotes will have MVP-candidate Ilya Bryzgalov with his 42 wins, 2.20 GAA and .920 save percentage in goal.
Phoenix was quite possibly the league's biggest surprise. Few expected the Yotes to be where they are, especially amidst all of the rumors of the team relocating to Winnipeg. They don't have the league's most potent offense; their leading scorer Radim Vrbata has only 24 goals. And Phoenix lost one of their best wingers when Scottie Upshall went down with an injury in January. Their defense is nothing to write home about either, but they've managed to get it done. The Wings on the other hand struggled early on in the season and many wondered if they would even make the postseason. But they have completely turned things around, getting hot at the right time and becoming the team no one wanted to face. They're 17-3-2 over their last 22 games and coach Mike Babcock has Detroit playing with a vengeance. The Wings have a very formidable offensive attack with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom; all of whom were in Detroit when the team won the cup in 2008 (and lost in 2009). They have one of the most experienced blue lines in the entire NHL. Captain Nicklas Lindstrom and Brian Rafalski have both won multiple Stanley Cups in their careers and are looking to win it again this year. It's going to be nearly impossible to root against the Coyotes with the way they have exceeded expectations this year. But rooting for a team and picking them to win is a different story.
Prediction: Detroit wins the series in 5