Our group of writers are not just avid Habs fans, but also dedicated hockey nuts. As such, most were eager to offer up predictions for the first round, even for the distant Western Conference. Below are our collective predictions and analyses of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks
Louis’ Key: Toews-Kane. Sans Ladd, Byfuglien and Versteeg, the Blackhawks do not possess the same deep, talented and physical group of forwards as last year. Vancouver now, essentially, must focus on shutting down the duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. If they do so, they will have given themselves every chance to win.
Prediction: Chicago plays like it can still overwhelm opponents with their depth and skill. They do not seem to have fully adjusted to the multiple departures and changes. This will hurt them greatly and allow the Canucks to get revenge for its last two playoff exits. Vancouver in 6.
Brian La Rose
Brian’s Analysis: Will the Canucks be able to exorcise their playoff demons? This is a far cry from the same Chicago squad that ousted Vancouver en route to the Stanley Cup last season, but several of the key pieces still remain. The Nucks’ defence is finally fully healthy as well, something they couldn’t really say at all this past season.
Prediction: Canucks in 6 – I can see the Hawks giving Vancouver a scare early on but the Canucks have the top end firepower and the better depth that will ultimately give them the edge in this series.
Prediction: I must admit that I’m happy to see the Hawks join the party… and to see them face the Canucks. I do not think that Vancouver fans are on good terms with the Minnesota Wild these days. The key for me will be Corey Crawford. If he can be reliable for the whole series, the chances to see one team or the other advance will be around 50-50. Is this the Canucks year or will they fall (again) against Chicago? From afar, this is the series that I’ll be following the most in the West. Just flipped a coin and Vancouver won it. In 7 games.
No. 2 San Jose Sharks vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Kings
Louis’ Key: Defense. Underrated and often neglected by those of us in the Eastern time zone, it should be noted that the Kings own some of the better defensive statistics in the league, sitting in the top 10 in goals against, shots against and penalty killing. With Anze Kopitar out and Justin Williams questionable, it will be imperative for the team to carry over its defensive acumen from the regular season.
Prediction: The Kings will put up a tough fight, but much like Washington in the East, you almost get the sense that San Jose is a changed team, especially after rebounding from an abysmal start to the year. Quick and the Kings defense will do their best, but in the end will prove unable to contain the Sharks. San Jose in 6.
Brian La Rose
Brian’s Analysis: On the one hand, you have the league’s perennial underachievers while on the other, a team with next to no playoff experience. I think the goaltending battle will be the most interesting; Jonathan Quick is one of the more underrated goalies in the league while Antti Niemi had an up-and-down year but did earn himself a Cup ring last season.
Prediction: Sharks in 5 – Injuries to Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams late season will really hurt a team without a whole lot of offensive depth. I’m not sold that this is San Jose’s year, but they should at least be able to get through this round.
Prediction: Bah. Kings needed Kopitar and will not have him. Also Justin Williams is questionable for game 1 and won’t be at 100% anyway. Same for Ryan Clowe, but with Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski and others, the advantage is on San Jose’s side. I’d be surprised to see the Kings even win one game. I bet every team wanted to face them. Sharks in 5.
No. 3 Detroit Red Wings vs. No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes
Louis’ Key: Balanced scoring. The Coyotes do not own the most intimidating offense, but it certainly is balanced. Ten players have scored over 10 goals, while eight have managed at least 30 points. If they continue to spread production like they did in the regular season, they will make matching up against them very difficult.
Prediction: To start the series, the Red Wings will be without Zetterberg and with some question marks in goal. Conversely, the Coyotes are fairly healthy and Bryzgalov has demonstrated an ability to steal games before. Phoenix in 6.
Brian La Rose
Brian’s Analysis: Phoenix has underrated all year and has a goalie capable of stealing a series by himself in Ilya Bryzgalov. Detroit, meanwhile, has virtually the same team that beat the Coyotes last season but will be without Henrik Zetterberg to start the series.
Prediction: Coyotes in 7 – The Wings seem more vulnerable this year and the fact that Phoenix nearly beat Detroit last year will give them that extra bit of motivation. Bryzgalov can steal games on the road; I think he’ll do just that in Game 7.
Prediction: Even if I do not see how Detroit could let this one slip, I think the ‘Yotes will be good opposition. Detroit is just superior in every aspect of the game though. Keith Yandle and company will have to create a major upset to survive round 1 this season, especially if Lidstrom and Datsyuk bring their A game again, as they should. I go with the Wings in 5.
No. 4 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 5 Nashville Predators
Louis’ Key: Nashville’s offense. The Nashville attack, which is the weakest in the post-season along with Montreal, need to quickly exploit Anaheim’s potential deficiency in goal, especially with Ray Emery returning from injury and Jonas Hiller still out. Should Ray Emery be allowed to get comfortable, it will spell trouble for the Music City squad.
Prediction: With Perry, Getzlaf, Ryan, Selanne, Koivu and Blake, Anaheim arguably boasts the best top-6 in the NHL. The Predators will have a hard time keeping up both offensively and defensively with the Ducks. Barry Trotz’s first series win will have to wait. Anaheim in 6.
Brian La Rose
Brian’s Analysis: The Ducks were on a roll at the end of the year, moving from being just inside a playoff spot to having home ice advantage. The Preds also had a strong finish to the season and have a reputation for being a tough opponent every year.
Prediction: Ducks in 7 – Anaheim has the firepower but Nashville the better goaltending, especially with the questions surrounding Jonas Hiller. In the end, I expect the big name guys to outperform the ‘scoring by committee squad’ when it matters most.
Prediction: This is where the fantasy playoffs pools will be won. The person who has any clue on how this series will go is, in my humble opinion, a real genius and deserves all the praise in the world. I go with toughness as the key to this series, even though that alone will not be enough to win it. My prediction: 7 intense hockey games.