Part 2 of my NHL Playoff preview takes a look at the Western conference matchups and explores who has the edge in each.
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings
Possibly the most interesting matchup in the NHL. Though most don’t expect the Kings to be able to hang with the Canucks…I beg to differ. The Kings showed guts down the stretch by hanging on to a playoff spot despite strong pushes from the Calgary Flames and the Dallas Stars, and in doing so may have gained the confidence they need to pull off quite an upset. However, it won’t come easy for the Kings as the Canucks really earned the league’s top record and they did it down the stretch without key scorer Daniel Sedin. Getting last year’s Hart Trophy winner back will provide instant offense and the duo of Daniel and Henrik Sedin is in my opinion the most formidable in the league today. Look for their twin chemistry to ignite Vancouver, despite a resilient effort by the Kings’ aggressive defense (ranked 2nd in the NHL in GA average with 2.18). The only way I see Vancouver losing this series is if Los Angeles can get in the head of Roberto Luongo and force the Canucks to bring in capable backup Cory Schneider. Doing so will rattle Vancouver and could spoil another very good regular season.
Prediction: Canucks 4 Kings 2
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks
San Jose was one of the most opportunistic teams as the season winded down. They rode a four game winning to the 7th seed and in doing so may have saved themselves an early exit from the playoffs. The Blues come into this matchup on somewhat of a lull as they traded wins and losses over the final ten games which cost themselves the top seed in the conference. That being said the Blues had the best defense in the NHL all season long, giving up a league low 165 goals (14 better then the 2nd best team – L.A. Kings). The Blues however have had trouble scoring at times and the Sharks have the firepower needed to win a playoff series. The key in this series will be the contributions from Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, because if those guys can get it going they can win games alone, but Jumbo Joe just doesn’t seem to be “that guy” anymore. I look for the Blues stingy defense and twin headed monster of a goalie unit (Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot) to thwart any hopes of a San Jose upset. Blues in 5.
Prediction: Blues 4 Sharks 1
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks
The Star Studded Blackhawks are the underdogs in this series, but this matchup will be very even. The goaltending play of Mike Smith for Phoenix has made fans forget all about that Ilya Bryzgalov chump (just kidding Philly fans). Smith was a man on a mission over the past month of the regular season as his play was the sole reason Phoenix won the Pacific Division. However they earned a matchup with the always dangerous Blackhawks, and with the return of Captain Jonathan Toews appearing to be imminent the Coyotes could have their hands full. I like for this one to go six or seven with the difference being the play of now veteran Patrick Kane and Toews proving to be the difference.
Prediction: Blackhawks 4 Coyotes 3
#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
The battle of offense versus defense is in full effect in the 4 vs. 5 matchup, and it should be a good one. The guy I’ll have my eye on in this series is Pekka Rinne, the gifted goalie for Nashville. Rinne is a special player capable of shutting a team out despite his team being outplayed, and with the amount of offense the Wings have he may have to do just that. If the Wings start playing their type of game and utilize those long tape to tape passes only they have the skill for, they could turn this into a high scoring affair, and Nashville simply can’t beat them at that game. For Nashville to pull this off they have to keep the scoring down and play smart and physical. Stud defenseman Shea Weber and fellow star defenseman Ryan Suter must play at the Norris Trophy level there capable of if they want their team to have a chance.
Prediction: Red Wings 4 Predators 2
Agree With Me? Am I Lost? Comments?