The Western Conference race came down to the last game on the last day of the season with the Wild playing spoilers knocking the Dallas Stars out, giving the Blackhawks the eighth and final spot in the West. Crazy season in the NHL this year and here is the second installment in SITB’s NHL Playoff preview. Fasten your seatbelts people, playoff hockey has arrived.
1 vs. 8: Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks
The Canucks have been the most dominant and consistent team in the NHL this season. They finished with 117 points, easily taking home the Presidents Trophy. The Sedin brothers have been absolute animals, feeding off each other and combining for 198 points. They are backed by a veteran goalie in Roberto Luongo who looks to have re-found his consistency. The Canucks have always been solid during the regular season, but seem to hit some road bumps in the playoffs. I do not see that happening this year, especially not in the first round. The Blackhawks stumbled into the playoffs the last day of the season, almost missing the postseason the season after winning the Cup just last season. They had to part ways with some of last seasons stars in defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and goaltender Antti Niemi due to financial restraints after bringing back young guns Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The loss of those two has shown as the defense and goaltending has been quite inconsistent all season and it is a question mark of the goaltending combo of Marty Turco and Corey Crawford can lead the Blackhawks to some victories. They can still score with Kane, Toews, Sharp and Hossa, but I don’t think they can contend with the Canucks. Prediction: Canucks in 5
2 vs. 7: San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
This series looks extremely intriguing and the Kings present quite a difficult foe in the 7 seed. The Sharks have been a perennial regular season powerhouse who never seems to bring all of their talent together for the playoffs. Year in and year out, they collapse much earlier than anticipated in the postseason. Will that trend continue this year against the Kings? It just might. The Kings bring one of the most talented young goaltenders in Jonathan Quick and can rely on him to keep them in almost any game. They have a ton of power offensively led by Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Ryan Smyth and Dustin Penner. Penner has been having a great season and will need to step up in this series, but look for some big time production from Kopitar and Williams. With six 20+ goal scorers on the Kings, production can come from anyone on any given night, presenting some trouble for the Sharks defense. This is not to say that the Sharks are not a deep, talented team either. They are led by Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Dany Heatley on the offensive end and play a nice mix of physical and finesse hockey. They have plenty of production too and look for Devin Setoguchi to play an X-Factor type role with a lot of the Kings attention on Thornton and Marleau. Their goaltending is led by last years Chicago playoff standout Antti Niemi and he has proven he can play on the big stage. This series is setting up to be a long one that will test the wills of both of these talented teams. Prediction: Kings in 7
3 vs. 6: Detroit Red Wings vs. Phoenix Coyotes
This is a rematch from last years first round playoff matchup in which the Coyotes took Detroit to a 7 game series before the Red Wings Prevailed. Look for the Coyotes to come out hungry to prove themselves again, which means tough, hard nosed hockey to start this series. The Red Wings are firing on all cylinders this season and are a deep, strong team. They are led by Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklaus Lidstrom, but their production does not stop there. Franzen, Cleary, Bertuzzi, Filippula, and Holmstrom can all score from anywhere and nobody on this team is afraid to get their hands dirty. Their goaltending is just as strong, backed by Jimmy Howard. The 27 year old has been a rock all season, finishing 3rd in the league with 37 wins. His stats aren’t pretty but he is more than serviceable for a team like Detroit who never seems to falter on the offensive end. Phoenix is coming in as a very balanced offensive team with only one 20 goal scorer, Shane Doan, who finished with 20 goals on the dot. This presents a problem for the Detroit defense because they can’t really key on a certain star because the Coyotes offense does not rely on only one or two guys. The big goal can come from any of their lines and that cannot be said about every playoff team. Their stud is goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov who has quietly become one of the best in the league. He got 36 wins for his team this year with an impressive .921 save percentage and will need to be play at his top level for the Coyotes to win this series. Again, look for a battle but I think Phoenix comes up short against the deeper, more experienced Detroit club. Prediction: Red Wings in 6
4 vs. 5: Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators
Anaheim missed the playoffs last season so look for them to be out to prove something. They have a great core with a nice mix of youth and veteran leadership. Led by Corey Perry’s potential MVP season (50 goals, 48 assists), the Ducks looked consistent from the start and present some troubles for a surging Predators team. After Perry, the Ducks look to the ageless Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Saku Koivu for offense and they have all provided strong seasons. They sort of have a committee of goalies who can contribute and Jonas Hiller, Dan Ellis, and Ray Emery have all played strong and posted winning records for the Ducks. If one guy starts crumbling, they have two others who can more than hold their own. The Predators on the other hand have relied heavily on Pekka Rinne, and the young Finland native has performed. His .930 save percentage was good for second in the league and he can carry the team if he is on his game. They also are a balanced offensive team, with only Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist being their only two 20 goal scorers. Look for Rinne to be the difference in this series and if he plays well, the Predators may be moving on to the 2nd round of the playoffs. I think the Ducks depth, talent and experience will be too much for the Predators to handle. Prediction: Ducks in 7.
So there you have it boys and girls (hopefully you enjoyed the predictions as much as the lovely ladies of the NHL). The 1st Annual SITB NHL Playoff Preview is complete. What do you think, do you agree with our expert opinions or think differently? Let us know and enjoy the Playoffs! Go Sabres! (and I’ll give Tommy Bootz a shoutout, Go Rangers.)