Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Western Conference First Round Predictions

Got to bring back Hayden Panettiere
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks
Season series: Tied 2-2

Chicago Preview (Last ten: 5-4-1)
The Blackhawks are coming off a disappointing loss at home against the Red Wings where a win would have clinched a playoff spot. Obviously the Hawks aren't the same team that won the Cup last season. They're sans Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Brent Sopel, Nick Boyton, Kris Versteeg and Antti Niemi to name a few. The positive, though, is they still have now Stanley Cup winners Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa as well as Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell. The Hawks sit at No. 4 in the league on the man advantage, but are in the bottom third on the penalty kill. Goaltender Corey Crawford is also playing in his first playoff series. Will the pressure get to him?

Vancouver Preview (Last ten: 7-3-0)
The Canucks are the run-away best team in the NHL. They have talent all over the ice. Everyone knows the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, but don't forget 41-goal scorer Ryan Kesler. Vancouver led the league in goals with 262, there's no doubt they can put the puck in the net. The Canucks also sport a tough, experienced defensive core with Sami Salo, Keith Ballard, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieska and Christian Ehrhoff. Surprisingly though, the wild card here may be their ever-solid goaltender, Roberto Luongo. Luongo had a 3.22 GAA in last season's playoffs and was anything but sharp.

The Hawks have knocked the Canucks out of the playoffs each of the past two seasons, but if Luongo can be the regular season Luongo, the Canucks should see the second round for the third straight season.
Prediction: Vancouver wins the series in 6
#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 Los Angeles Kings
Season series: Tied 3-3

Los Angeles Preview (Last ten: 6-4-0)
The Kings, had Justin Williams not gone down, may have been many folks' sleeper pick to come out of the Western Conference. But even without the former-Flyer, the Kings still have Anze Kopitar, captain Dustin Brown and deadline acquisition Dustin Penner. Veterans Michael Handzus and Ryan Smith will also provide some leadership on the front line. A solid defensive corps led by youngsters Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson (the Kings were the No. 4 PK unit in the league) with Jonathan Quick to man the pipes should prove to be a tough matchup for the Sharks.

San Jose Preview (Last ten: 7-2-1)
And then there's the Sharks. San Jose has finished first in the Pacific Division each of the last four years and first in the Western Conference in two of the last three. But aside from an appearance in the Western Conference Finals last season where they got swept by the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Sharks haven't made much noise in the postseason. Everybody knows they have Joe Thorton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, but they also have Calder Trophy candidate Logan Coture on offense who managed 32 goals on the season. Aside from veteran Dan Boyle, the Sharks don't have too many names on the blue line. After a hot start from Antero Niittymaki, last season's Cup-winning goaltender Antti Niemi ended up starting 34 consecutive games down the stretch for the Sharks and reached 30 wins for the first time in his career.

I want to pick the Kings here with all the talent they have out there on the West Coast Flyers, but being without Justin Williams, the Kings will have to wait one more year to make a Cup run.
Prediction: San Jose wins the series in 7

#3 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes
Season series: Tied 2-2

Detroit Preview (Last ten: 4-4-2)
Well, here they are again. The Red Wings are back to where they've been basically as long as my hockey memory can go back. And it seems like every one of those years they've had Nick Lindstrom on the blue line, but they also have cup-winner Brian Rafalski, too. And who could forget Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen up front. And oh yeah, they have sophomore Jimmy Howard and his 37 wins in net. The Wings, as they have for a long time, boast one of the most talented teams in the Western Conference. Somewhat of a surprise though is the Wings' PK was near the middle of the pack at No. 17 in the league.

Phoenix Preview (Last ten: 5-3-2)
Can someone tell me who, besides Ilya Bryzgalov, is on the Coyotes? Please? Well they have captain Shane Doan who leads the team in scoring with only 20 goals (Detroit has 11 guys alone with double digit goals) and Norris Trophy candidate Keith Yandle on D. But to be honest, that's pretty much it as far as talent goes. The Coyotes seems to simply play well as a team, and that's why they find themselves in the playoffs.

The Wings ended the Coyotes' season last year in an exciting seven-game series. Can the 'Yotes return the favor this season? I doubt it.
Prediction: Detroit wins the series in 5

#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Nashville Predators
Season Series: 3-1 Nashville

Anaheim Preview (Last ten: 7-3-0)
After failing to qualify for the Playoffs last season, the Ducks are back and this time with MVP candidate Corey Perry. He's the league leader in goals with 50 and finished in the top-5 in scoring overall. Even after Perry, the Ducks still have big men Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan as well as the ageless wonder Teemu Selanne who had 31 goals and 80 points this season. The Anaheim defense doesn't have the same caliber of names the offense has (Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman lead the way), and they don't exactly know who their goaltender is going to be either (Jonas Hiller and Ray Emery are battling injuries, so Dan Ellis may be the Game 1 starter). The Ducks are going to look to slug their way to the second round, but against a Nashville team, that may be pretty tough.

Nashville Preview (Last ten: 7-2-1)
What can you really say about the Predators? They're a solid hockey team. They won't blow you away on the scoreboard, but they have six guys with at least 16 goals. Deadline acquisition Carrie Underwood...err...Mike Fisher is fitting in fairly well with an offense that already has Pat Hornqvist, Martin Erat, David Legwand and Sergei Kostitsyn. Nashville's defense is where they make their money, though. With one of the best defensemen in the league in Shea Weber along with Ryan Suter and Shane O'Brien, the Preds should be set on the back end. It also doesn't hurt that they have Veznia Trophy candidate, the 6-foot-5 monster, Pekka Rinne between the pipes. Rinne had 33 wins and a 2.12 GAA to go with the league's second best save percentage at .930.

I hate this matchup, but I love it at the same time. I think if either team played a different team in the first round, I'd pick them both to advance, but alas I can only choose one. It's a toss up, and I hope it's a classic.
Prediction: Anaheim wins the series in 7

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