The Vancouver Canucks suffered one of the worst collapses in Stanley Cup Final history when the Boston Bruins made a mockery of them down the stretch in 2011. This year is ‘cup or bust’ as the Canucks won the President’s Trophy for the leagues top team for the second year in a row. The key to the Canucks’ playoff run will be for their stars to not disappear when it matters. Daniel Sedin will not be in the lineup for game 1 due to a concussion, but their roster is deep with offensive weapons. No one knows when Sedin will be back but Canucks fans are looking for another long run. The deadline deal adding Zach Kassian to the roster for some grit could prove to be what the Canucks were missing from last year when they were bullied off of pucks in the final. Goaltender Roberto Luongo will also be on a tight leash as Cory Schneider has emerged as a great 2nd option for the Canucks.
The Los Angeles Kings were one of the worst teams in the league offensively, even after reuniting Jeff Carter with Mike Richards, former line mates and best friends from their days in Philadelphia. Jonathon Quick may have been good enough to win the Vezina this year and will need to be outstanding if the Kings want to give Vancouver a run for their money. If the Kings’ stars can wake-up and score some goals, Vancouver could be in trouble. Kopitar, Brown, Carter and Richards need to score goals to beat the Canucks powerhouse, but if the regular season is any indicator, it probably won’t happen.
Prediction: Vancouver wins in 6
St Louis Blues (2nd) vs San Jose Sharks (7th)
The St Louis Blues had an incredible turn around this season after Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench. Although this shouldn’t come as a surprise., this team is the definition of complete All 4 lines are offensively talented and have bought into the Hitchcock team defense style of play. They also have the best goalie duo in the league with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot. The only thing this team is missing is top end star power and game breakers. Although all 4 lines are strong, none of them have an absolute superstar. But this shouldn’t be a problem in this series.
The San Jose Sharks find themselves as underdogs in the first round for the first time in many years. Aging stars and lack of high end young players in their system has the team declining in the standings and an early bounce from the playoffs may have the city crying for a rebuild. Logan Couture is a rising star in the league but Joe Thornton is known for disappearing in the playoffs. Dismal goaltending has plagued the team all year and, in my eyes, they just don’t stack up against the four full lines of the Blues. Getting Martin Havlat back late in the season was a huge plus, and he will be key if the Sharks are to make an upset.
Prediction: Blues win in 5 games
Phoenix Coyotes (3rd) vs Chicago Blackhawks (6th)
The Phoenix Coyotes won their division based on tight play, surprisingly good goaltending from Mike Smith and team defense. They don’t play a flashy type of hockey, but they seem to get the job done in the regular season. However, they have had trouble converting season success to playoff success. When other teams are bringing it to the next level, the Coyotes seem to be left in the dust. Without any star power other than Keith Yandle on the back end, there doesn’t seem to be another gear for the Coyotes to elevate their game and win a playoff series.
The Chicago Blackhawks are 2 years removed from their Stanley Cup victory and were favorites in the off-season to win the cup this year. A dismal season resulting from less than stellar goaltending and injuries has them finishing in 6th place. However don’t count these Blackhawks out. Getting captain Jonathon Toews back in the lineup for the playoffs is a huge bonus. This highly talented team has the experience and depth to give any team a run over a 7 game series. Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane elevate their games in the playoffs and the star power may prove to be too much for the Coyotes to handle.
My Prediciton: Chicago wins in 6
Nashville Predators (4th) vs Detroit Red Wings (5th)
Like in the east, I am most looking forward to the 4 and 5 matchup in the west. The Predators told the world, and pending UFA defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, that they are serious. They’ve bolstered their lineup with a seasoned D-man (Hal Gill) and a talented tough guy (Paul Gaustad), and brought back their best offensive weapon (Alex Radulov) from the KHL. With Pekka Rinne in net, one of the leagues best goalies, this star-studded lineup is great from top to bottom. The Kostytsin brothers can elevate their game if interested and this Nashville team can run up the score, even though they are a defense first team under the coaching of Barry Trotz.
The problem is the Detroit Red Wings are the Detroit Red Wings. Top end talent in Datsyuk and Zetterberg, a world class future first ballot Hall Of Famer Nick Lidstrom, and every line is filled with home grown talent that is the product of one of the best farm systems in sports. The Red Wings are always in the mix and they don’t take any nights off. Jimmy Howard has grown into a great starting goalie and this team, like the Predators, doesn’t have many, if any, weaknesses. This series is going to be a long battle and is sure to be one of the better series of the Playoffs, if not just the opening round.
My Prediction: Red Wings in 7