1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 8. Chicago Blackhawks
How The Canucks Win: With their arch-rivals having been gutted by the salary cap, the Canucks find themselves in a great position to exact revenge on the team which has likely been at the forefront of their nightmares for the last two years. The Canucks are simply a better team in every area of game and if Luongo and company stay on track they should be able to move on without much trouble. Their biggest enemy/hurdle in this series is themselves and how they handle the pressure of being a President’s trophy winning team.
Bonus question: Does it still count as revenge if half the opposition has left town?
How The Blackhawks Win: The Blackhawks have backed into the playoffs and are only here due to the Dallas Stars’ inability to beat Minnesota on the last day of the regular season. Many role players are gone and the team is
a skeleton of what they were last season. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will need to have the series of their
lives in order to do any damage at all to the powerhouse Canucks. If, however, they can get to Luongo early on, they may have a chance of capitalizing on the pressure which will follow.
Prediction: Canucks in 5.
2. San Jose Sharks vs. 7. Los Angeles Kings
How The Sharks Win: The Sharks have long been the posterboys for playoff disappointment and perhaps that’s the reason they come into this post-season with hardly any fanfare despite a 2nd place finish in a tough Western Conference. The Sharks have a much improved bottom-six forward group than in years past and are all around a far gritter and tougher-to-play-against team. Niemi will need to hold up as he did last year and not allow the momentum-sapping goals that became the norm for Evgeni Nabokov.
How The Kings Win: After qualifying for the post-season last year with a team full of young players, many picked the Kings at the outset of this season as a team with the potential to make an extended playoff run. Inconsistencies and injuries have hobbled them severely though and they now find themselves facing heavily-favoured opposition while their own best player (Anze Kopitar) is unavailable. In order for the Kings to mount an upset they will need a returning Justin Williams to be at his best and Dustin Penner (their “big” trade-deadline acquisition) has to find a way to make an impact. The Sharks one weakness is that after Dan Boyle their D is largely immobile and can sometimes be exposed by speedy forwards. If the Kings can get pucks behind the D and create races, they’ll find they win those races more often than not.
Prediction: Sharks in 6
3. Detroit Red Wings vs. 6. Phoenix Coyotes
How The Wings Win: With their 20th consecutive post-season appearance the Detroit Red Wings once again look like Stanley Cup contenders. Zetterberg’s injury is certainly a concern but this only gives a talented player like Jiri Hudler more ice-time in an offensive role. The Wings greatest strength is simply their execution. When they are on top of their game they move through the neutral zone with ease and are able to create offense from quick transitions. Alternatively, they have the gritty players (such as Cleary, Abdelkader, etc.) required to play an effective cycle game and run the clock in the opposition’s end.
How The Coyotes Win: Beating the Red Wings in a seven game series is certainly a daunting task for any team to undertake. The Coyotes can rest their hats on the fact that they pushed the Wings all the way to 7 games just last season before the Wings experience in must-win situations took over as Phoenix was outclassed 6-1 in that deciding game. For the Coyotes to win their first series since relocating they’ll have to learn from that experience. The powerplay will be counted on to be as effective as it was a year ago and Bryzgalov will have to outperform Howard significantly. The Wings are very stingy defensively so it’s imperative the Coyotes better offensive players capitalize on the limited opportunities they are given.
Prediction: Red Wings in 6.
4. Anaheim Ducks vs. 5. Nashville Predators
How The Ducks Win: When your top line consists of the NHL goal scoring leader (Corey Perry), Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan your offense is pretty scary. When you toss in Teemu Selanne’s 80 points and Lubomir Visnovsky’s highest-among-defensemen 68, it’s downright terrifying. The Ducks will need to refrain from being frustrated by the Predators defensive system. They’ll also be relying on Dan Ellis in goal due to injuries, this situation puts their offense under even more pressure to perform as they’re likely to give up more goals than they are accustomed to. Their top line will be in tough against (what I feel is) the league’s top shutdown pair in Weber and Suter. This means that their supporting cast and their powerplay will have to be razor sharp to compensate.
How The Predators Win: It’s been long-forgotten now that in game 5 against the Blackhawks last season the Predators were literally seconds away from coming home with a 3-2 series lead. This team had the Blawkhawks absolutely suffocated for the first half of their series and they’ll need to follow through for a full seven games to advance to the second round for the first time in franchise history. Pekka Rinne will give them a chance every night and the pairing of Weber and Suter should be able to hold the Ducks top line at bay 5 on 5. Discipline and commitment to their defensive system are the largest factors in the Preds chances of success. Also, both Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa play prominent roles on the Ducks blueline, and experienced forwards like Mike Fisher and Steve Sullivan should be able to force errors by putting pressure on these young defensemen.
Prediction: Predators in 7.
Written by Matthew Cutler for Athletes Angle.