NHL Playoffs – West Preview (4/13/11)

Time for the West predictions and NO I didn’t watch any of the games tonight.  After nailing my predictions in the East, the West was a bit more difficult.  I missed one team … Chicago.  Out of the 16 teams in the playoffs, I missed one … not too bad.  So here we go!

 

#1 Vancouver vs #8 Chicago

Season Results:

CHI (2) – VAN (1)  (SO)

CHI (7) – VAN (1)

VAN (3) – CHI (0)

VAN (4) – CHI (3)

Special Teams Rankings:

PP: VAN (1); CHI (4)

PK: VAN (3); CHI (25)

The Matchup:

These teams know each other quite well, meeting in the playoffs the last 2 seasons with Chicago moving on both times.  Vancouver enters the playoffs as the top team in the NHL, where Chicago barely got in.

This is not the same Chicago Blackhawks team that won the Cup last season.  This team needed a minor miracle to get into the playoffs and they got one in the form of the Minnesota Wild.  When the Wild beat Dallas on the final game of the season, it allowed Chicago to take the 8th spot (and kept me from my perfect prediction record).  Offense isn’t the problem in Chicago as the team is stacked with forwards.  Chicago’s defense is mediocre and their goaltending is a real issue with Crawford making his playoff debut in net.  The Blackhawks’ Penalty kill ranks near the bottom of the NHL and going up against the league’s best Power Play could spell big problems.

Meanwhile, the Canucks zipped thru the regular season and took the President’s trophy with ease.  With the help of the Sedin twins, the team set franchise records with wins and points.  Defensively, the team gets great veteran play along the blue line and it shows; giving up the fewest goals in the league.  Between the pipes, when Luongo is on his game he’s almost impossible to beat.

The Bottom Line:

Is this Vancouver’s year to win the whole thing?  I think they’ll make a real go at it.  Chicago runs into the buzz saw this year.  I’m thinking sweep … Vancouver in 4.


#2 San Jose vs #7 Los Angeles

Season Results:

SJ (6) – LA (3)

LA(4) – SJ (0)

SJ (1) – LA(0)

LA (3) – SJ (2) (SO)

LA (4) – SJ (3) (SO)

SJ (6) – LA (1)

Special Teams Rankings:

PP: SJ (2); LA (21)

PK: SJ (24); LA (4)

The Matchup:

Interesting matchup of these 2 Cali teams.  San Jose seems to find a spot in the playoffs year after year.  The Kings are really banged up right now and could be in for a quick exit.

San Jose relies on their “Big 3” for their offense; Marleau, Thornton, and Heatley.  Heatley will always be a Senator to me and thus … I can’t stand him.  Rob Blake decided to hang up the skates this past summer but the Sharks got nice play from Dan Boyle to make up for the loss.  San Jose went out and signed Chicago’s cup winning net minder Antti Niemi during the offseason, shoring up their goaltending issues as Nabokov left the team via free agency.

The Kings are in big trouble here as injuries could keep them from winning this series.  Kopitar is out for the rest of the season (their leading scorer) and Justin Williams is dealing with a shoulder injury.  Offensively, I’m not sure how they’ll get goal scoring.  Defensively, Jack Johnson is a stud on the blue line and the Kings play very tight. I really like the Kings’ goalie Quick.

The Bottom Line:

This series is going to come down to two things: How will LA generate goals? Which will suck the least, the Kings PP or the Sharks PK?  I’m can’t see LA pulling this one out.  Sharks in 5.

 

#3 Detroit vs #6 Phoenix

Season Results:

DET (2) – PHX (1)  (OT)

PHX (4) – DET (2)

DET (3) – PHX (2) (OT)

PHX (5) – DET (4) (SO)

Special Teams Rankings:

PP: DET (5); PHX (23)

PK: DET (17); PHX (26)

The Matchup:

Last season, these 2 teams met in the first round of the playoffs and Detroit prevailed in 7 games.  This season, Phoenix is looking to settle the score.

Detroit didn’t exactly enter the playoffs on a high.  Winning only 4 games in their last 10, the team also suffered a huge loss with Zetterberg going down with a lower body injury.  He’s listed as day-to-day but the Red Wings are hoping to get him back as quickly as possible.  Lidstrom is still one of the best blue liners in the game, even at 41.  Rafalski is a great 2 way defenseman and like the Penguins’ Letang I really like his style of play.

Phoenix struggles on special teams, ranking near the bottom with both the Power Play and Penalty Kill.  They aren’t very flashy and they don’t have the prolific goal scorer relying on all 4 lines to put the puck in the net.  Ilya Bryzgalov has been rock solid in goal and with the team’s lack of offense; he needs to be great to win this series.

The Bottom Line:

Something tells me Detroit won’t need Zetterberg in this series.  Detroit’s offense will be too much for Phoenix to overcome.  Detroit in 5.

 

#4 Anaheim vs #5 Nashville

Season Results:

NSH (4) – ANA (1)

ANA (5) – NSH (4)

NSH (4) – ANA (1)

NSH (5) – ANA (4)

Special Teams Rankings:

PP: ANA (3); NSH (26)

PK: ANA (19); NSH (5)

The Matchup:

Unlike the 4 vs 5 series in the East, this will be the series to watch in the West.  Anaheim’s high scoring forwards versus Nashville’s shutdown defense and goaltending.

Anaheim’s Corey Perry is having a huge season, reaching the 50 goal plateau.  The team has two 30 goals scorers and 4 players over 70 points.  Yeah, they light it up.  The Ducks are very average on the blue line, but really struggle between the pipes.  They lack the #1 goaltender that most teams in the playoffs have.   Ray Emery?  Not a chance.

Nashville, on the other hand, has a Vezina caliber goalie with Rinne.  They will be placing the team on his back for this playoff run.  Defensively, Shea Weber is a monster.  He’s physical and he can score goals.  Up front, again another team without the flashy goal scoring.  They acquired Mr. Underwood (Mike Fisher) from the Senators at the deadline and he has helped with the team’s offensive output.  Typically, the Preds need just a goal or two and they go into shutdown mode.

The Bottom Line:

I think this is going to be a highly contested series.  If Nashville’s Rinne continues to shine and they get some offensive support, I think they can upset the Ducks.  I’m taking Nashville in 7.