If the East is a bit top heavy, the best is the exact opposite. The top three seeds are faced with some very tough matchups, and the 4/5 tilt is equally compelling as Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia. One could argue that Dallas, the ninth best team in the West could likely get out of the first round on either side of the league. That’s an indication to how good and deep the West is.
Just like in boxing, styles make fights, not records. So don’t surprised when the favorites get knocked down during the first round.
#1 vs #8
Vancouver Canucks vs Los Angeles Kings
Last year, a less talented Bruins team pushed around the Canucks, and relied on their superior goaltending to win the cup. The Bruins were bigger, nastier, and had forwards who just picked their spots on Roberto Luongo. They were tougher, and the Canucks had no answer. Sound a little familiar? I’ve been on the Kings bandwagon since the Jeff Carter trade, and looks like he’ll be healthy enough to be a factor of some sort. And this series has the chance to shock the world. Jonathan Quick has carried the load this year, and don’t see why that will stop now. Kings in 6, and you can book it.
That felt really good.
#2 vs #7
St. Louis Blues vs San Jose Sharks
Similar styles, complete opposite mentalities. The Sharks were the perennial underachiever, accused of not having the heart needed for postseason success. The simple fact that other than Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle, no one on that team has given us an example proving the contrary. The Blues are tough, and grind teams to bits playing Hitchcock Hockey. The Blues are built similarly to the Sharks, just younger, quicker, deeper, and with better goaltending. Sharks will give them a fight though, taking it longer than necessary. Blues in 6.
#3 vs #6
Phoenix Coyotes vs Chicago Blackhawks
Amid the chaos that is the future of Glendale and the Coyotes’ lease, this team still gets it done. Mike Smith is having the year no one would’ve believed he was capable of (especially Steve Yzerman), and the team has gotten tougher and wiser in the offseason. Ray Whitney, Shane Doan, Derrick Morris, Keith Yandle, and Radim Vrbata lead a very potent team against a team that’s finally putting it together in Chicago. Viktor Stalberg has been a pleasant surprise, but if Chicago is going to win this, it will be because Jonathan Toews comes back healthy and effective. The Coyotes have given the Blackhawks fits the last two years, and Vrbata is public enemy #1 in Illinois. Expect a fun series, with some great goals. Upstaging the Panthers for the feel-good story of the year, this time the Coyotes get it done. Phoenix takes this in six.
#4 vs #5
Nashville Predators vs Detroit Red Wings
Expect a full playoff preview later on, but here’s a snippet/morsel of goodness to nourish your craving for opinionated hockey banter.
If Nashville is going to win this convincingly, it will be to get chippy, and physical. Detroit’s power play isn’t near the force you would think it to be, only a pedestrian 13% on the road. That’s the sign of a team without significant depth. Nashville can make most any game a battle, and has the depth to do it. It’s likely some of the better secondary weapons the Preds have might not see the ice during the series unless injuries happen. Nashville needs to make each game a test of strength and grit, and not a skills competition. You would have to believe the Preds would prefer to take the Wings to the grindstone for 60 minute sessions instead of each game becoming a goal-scoring bonanza.
To be continued…