After a few days of thinking about it, I am ready to analyze the Western Conference Playoffs. We don't get to see the West as much as we might like here in the East. I often wish the networks would show the Western teams beyond Chicago and Detroit before the playoffs. We just don't get to see enough of these teams. Let's take a good look into the first round matchups that will go on while many of us are asleep.
#1 Versus #8
How They Got Here: The Canucks dominated the NHL regular season with world class play by the Sedin twins, Ryan Kessler, and Roberto Luongo. You want proof of the domination? Check out the key stat below. Chicago has suffered a bit from the dreaded Championship hangover and lost a number of the players that helped them win the Cup last season. Jon Towes was fantastic down the stretch and the Blackhawks earned the last spot in the playoffs when the Minnesota Wild defeated the Dallas Stars.
Key Player: The Canucks are loaded with key players as mentioned above and the Blackhawks have their own stable of key players. Ryan Kessler has emerged as the best American born player in the NHL. If the Blackhawks focus too much on the Sedin twins, Kessler could be the difference for the Canucks.
Key Stat: The Canucks are an incredible #1 in goals per game, #1 in goals allowed per game, #1 in power play percentage, and #3 in penalty kill. That is one hell of a season.
Prediction: The Blackhawks have eliminated the Canucks the last two seasons, but that trend should end this spring. I will take the Canucks in 6.
#2 Versus #7
How They Got Here: The Sharks did what the Sharks do and had one of the best seasons in the West. The Kings spent the season in a group of teams that went up and down in the standings by the week. The Sharks enter the playoffs 7-2-1 in the last 10 and the Kings enter the playoffs 6-4 in their last 10.
Key Player: The key player in this series is the guy who isn't going to be there, Anze Kopitar. The Kings star player injured his ankle late in the season and wont be a part of this series. That is too bad for the Kings who will now have to lean on their star defensemen Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty.
Key Stat: In 56 playoff games played for the Sharks, Joe Thornton has only 9 goals. That is a pitiful number for a guy as talented as Thornton. I know he is more of an assist guy than a goal scorer, but he has plenty of ability to score more than 9 goals in 56 playoffs games. Mike Grier for example, has scored 11 playoff goals in a comparable amount of games.
Prediction: If the Kings had Kopitar I would be tempted, but the Sharks should be motivated by the fact that this could be this group's last shot at a Cup. Remember how motivated Ricky Steamboat was at Wrestlemania III when he knew it was his last shot at Savage and the IC Belt? Exactly, Sharks in 6.
#3 Versus #6
How They Got Here: The Red Wings battled through injuries all season and played hard for coach, Mike Babcock. The Coyotes don't seem to have a soul on earth that wants to own them or a fan in Arizona that wants to go watch them. Despite community apathy and location instability, the Coyotes took advantage of the dry heat and made the playoffs for the second season in a row.
Key Player: Heading into the series, Henrik Zetterberg is DTD with knee issues. If his injury lingers deep into the series, the Red Wings will need a strong series from the Barry Sanders of hockey, Pavel Datsyuk.
Key Stat: Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lindstom finished the season a -2. In his 18 other NHL seasons his previous low was +7. He has put together six seasons of +3o 0r more. I guess at age 40 we can live with a -2 to go with his 62 points
Prediction: I just can invision any scenario that would result in they Coyotes beating the Wings four times out of seven. I will gladly put my money on the Red Wings in 5.
#4 versus #5
How They Got Here: The Ducks have rode the awesome play of Corey Perry and the ageless Temmu Seleanne to the top half of the Western Conference with 99 points. The Predators also finished with 99 points but had five less wins in regulation or overtime. Pekke Rinne had a Venznia Trophy type season with help from maybe the best defensive pair in hockey, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
Key Player: The Anaheim goalie. Give me a second to look up his name because after injuries to Ray Emery and Jonas Hiller I am not sure who is left. The Ducks may choose to go with Julie the Cat or the other fat goalie from the movie.
Key Stat: 50 goals. Corey Perry was the only NHL player to score 50 this season. Steven Stamkos seemed a likely 50-goal candidate early but seemed to hit a wall in the last third of the season. Perry scored most of his goals late getting 19 goals in the last 14 games of the season.
Prediction: This is a hard series to get a feel of, but since I am not sure who will be in goal for the Ducks I will pick the Predators in 7.
Enjoy the games, and remember that there will be special NHL Playoff reaction podcasts after every Buffalo Sabres playoff game. Look for them at, http://www.sports-casters.com
Say goodnight Brady & Brees...