Unless you’ve been living under a rock and/or are in Phoenix, you must be getting excited about the NHL Playoffs. The first round starts on Wednesday with some pretty exciting games.
Every series has a fascinating storyline or two coming through. How about DeBoer coaching his old team? How about Jonathan Quick’s potential to Halak a series win here? How about the Predators arriving on the big stage? And let’s not even get started on Philly-Pittsburgh, which will be the absolute main event of this round!
I’ll do my best to project every series in advance, and I’m pretty certain that I’ll be wrong. I’ll flip a 1 Jiao coin (0.1 Yuan) and see it no doubt beat me. This post will feature the Western Conference, tomorrow we can look at the East and the finals.
UPDATE – April 11: We’ve also been blessed to have the thoughts of our very good friend Troy. Followers of my old blog will certainly remember his hockey related thoughts.
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings
This series is not the mismatch that you may expect out of a 1-8 matchup. The Canucks are a two-time President’s Trophy Winner, and reigning Western Conference Champions. The Kings were fantastic down the stretch, save those two games with the Sharks and Ryan Clowe’s stick from the bench.
Most Interesting Story: This story will be all about three men, Jonathan Quick, Roberto Luongo, and Cory Schneider. If there is anyone out there who could pull a Halak, it’s Jonathan Quick. He’s long been overlooked and underrated, but it’s safe to say that he’s arrived this year. His 10 Shutouts and 1.95 GAA is borderline otherworldly. Luongo’s meltdowns against Chicago and Boston were eye opening and every bad goal he has is going to get everyone looking at the bench to see if Alain Vigneaut is going to bring out the hook. Nobody in the playoffs is under more pressure than Roberto and it’ll be fascinating to see how he preforms.
Most Interesting Statistic: The Canucks scored 54 more goals than the Kings this year, the biggest difference of any series. Of course, Jeff Carter is returning from an ankle injury and who knows anything about Daniel Sedin’s concussion.
Official Prediction: Canucks in 7 with Schneider winning games six and seven
Coin Says: Canucks in 6
Troy Says: This could be an interesting series. In my mind Vancouver isn’t as strong as they were last year, and LA is stronger than they were last year so this is hardly a typical 1 vs 8 matchup. Having said that though I believe Vancouver is stronger mentally and although LA is a team just waiting to explode, I don’t think this is their year just yet. Make no mistake though, Jonathan Quick is entirely capable of stealing this series. Luongo is going to have a short leash and if LA’s goaltending is better than Vancouver’s then this will not be a fun series for Canucks fans. Fortunately for Vancouver Luongo tends to choke later on in the playoffs so I’m sure for now he’ll be good enough.
Vancouver in 6.
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks
I scribbled down my playoff predictions at the start of the year, which was lost, and I do think that I had these two facing off in the 2-7 seed. Now before I pat myself on the back, it was the other way around, the powerhouse #2 Sharks against the upstart #7 Blues. Funny how things change. These two teams have been incredibly surprising, for insanely different reasons.
Most interesting story: It’s been said many, many times that life is managing your expectations. The expectations for this series are fascinating. Somewhere the Blues became a Cup Contender (or did they?) and the Sharks became the plucky underdog. The Sharks haven’t been a lower seed in the playoffs in years, and haven’t been a true underdog in even longer. Everyone who was watching hockey in the mid to late 90s remembers their huge upsets over the likes of the Detroit Red Wings, Calgary Flames, and yes even the St. Louis Blues. Can they do it again? On the other hand, the Blues have won a ton of games against teams that overlook them. How on earth will they perform as heavy favourites?
Most Interesting Statistic: Both teams has stellar home records. The Sharks were 26-12-3 at the Shark Tank this year, which has the fifth best home record in the Western Conference. One of those teams ahead of them? Why the St. Louis Blues who were a stunning 30-6-5 at home. The Sharks played 0.500 hockey on enemy soil and the Blues weren’t much better. The Sharks will need to pull out at least one road win in order to advance, and the Blues will be looking to the same to make this a quick series.
Official Prediction: Blues in 6 with Game 6 being their only road win of the series
Coin Says: Sharks in 4
Troy Says: St. Louis has been a monster of a team this year and in fact came very close to beating out Vancouver for the President’s Trophy. Their goaltending tandem of Elliot and Halak has been stellar and their young guns are extremely good. As for San Jose it’s really hard for me to see them going far in the playoffs because….well…let’s face it…they usually choke. I don’t think they’ll choke this year but unfortunately they’re up against a really strong team. San Jose was winless against the Blues in the season series and in fact only scored three goals in those games so it’s going to be a tough road for the Sharks.
St. Louis in 5
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks may be back. They won the Stanley Cup in 2010, were forced to dismantle and barely made the playoffs last year. They spent a very good portion of the fall and early winter near the top of the Conference before dropping down for a bit in February, before putting it on at the end. There were very low expectations for the Coyotes this year, but once again they surpassed them by a mile. The last two years the off-ice distractions got the better of them, will it happen again?
Most interesting story: For approximately the 412th straight year, the story is the same. Will this be the last time the Coyotes play in Phoenix? It seems all but set that they will be on the move. Don’t expect there to be any announcement until after they’ve been eliminated, the NHL needs those home dates after all.
Most Interesting Statistic: Both of these teams come in very hot! These two teams have a combined 13-2-5 in their last 10 games.
Official Prediction: Blackhawks in 7 with all four games in Phoenix as sellouts with crazy crowds
Coin Says: Blackhawks in 5
Troy Says: This is a bit of a pick em series for me. It’s 3 vs 6 series but Chicago finished the season with more points than Phoenix so it’s hard to say who the better team is. The big equalizer is Mike Smith. He’s been lights out this season but if Chicago were to get Toews back before the end of this series watch out. He makes them a better team and could be the difference. Chicago has some game breakers on their roster but if Mike Smith keeps to his regular season form this series will turn into a battle of attrition.
Phoenix in 7.
#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
This is the clear marquee match in the West, Weber vs. Lidstrom, Trotz vs. Babcock, Swedish vs. Russian forwards. This series is going to be a ton of fun and should flat out be a war.
Most interesting story: This series is clearly Old vs. New. Both teams are clearly very good, but also clearly heading in opposite directions on the trendline. The Predators are looking to make their maiden voyage to the promised land, while the Wings are looking to get there one last time. Other then ages, these two teams are very similar, great defense, phenomenal coaching, and scoring by committee, so the Master vs. Student vibe should carry over well.
Most Interesting Statistic: The Nashville Predators have played 40 playoff games as a franchise. Niklas Lidstrom has played over six times as much, clocking in at 258 heading into this postseason.
Official Prediction: Nashville in 6 with Rinne stealing at least one game, and three games heading to overtime
Coin Says: Detroit in 6
Troy Says: We’ve seen this series before but I don’t think Nashville has ever been the higher seed. When’s the last time Detroit went into a series as the underdog? It’s hard to think of Detroit in that way but that’s what they are. Especially after Radulov came back. He changes everything. He’s another major weapon that Nashville can use against the Wings. Nashville has been the more consistent team while Detroit – even though they won a record 23 games in a row at home – comes into the playoffs with a lot of questions. Having said that though, how hard is it to bet against Detroit in the playoffs? They’re the anti-San Jose Sharks! I believe this is Nashville’s series though. It may take them every home game, but I think they’ll get it done.
Nashville in 7
Quick Picks: The 2nd and 3rd Rounds
Vancouver Canucks over Chicago Blackhawks in seven emotional games
Nashville Predators over St. Louis Blues in seven hellacious games
Canucks defeat the Predators in six to advance to the finals
Vancouver over Nashville in 5
St. Louis over Phoenix in 7
Vancouver over San Jose in seven
Detroit over Chicago in six
Detroit over Vancouver in five
Tune in tomorrow for the East and the finals!