2012 NHL Playoffs Predictions: First Round Western Conference

The NHL’s Eastern Conference is always the easier conference to predict. The teams at the bottom are generally much weaker than those at the top. The West is the epitome of parity. The LA Kings, the 8th seed in the west, were the third seed in the West up until the last week of the season. The difference between the 11th place team in the conference and the 6th place team in the conference was marginal. This will be tough, but here are my predictions for the West.

I know most of you will disagree, but I am predicting quite a few upsets in the West. Here goes nothing..

(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) L.A. Kings
Many experts had the Kings penned as the Western conference champs, and the presidents trophy winners going into the season. Needless to say, the Kings underachieved. They fired their coach, they made some big trades, and now they have inched their way into the post season. All is not lost for the Kings. They face an uphill battle against the President’s trophy winning Canucks, but I think they match up well. Doughty, Penner and Richards all had subpar years for their standards, but should step it up.

Luongo and Quick are both in the discussion for top goalies in the NHL right now. Lets call that a draw. I think that Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards nullify one another. What does that leave us with? The Canucks have the superstar Sedin twins, although Daniel is coming off a concussion. I wonder what Mr. Sutter will be telling his defencemen to do when Daniel enters their blue line? If he isn’t healthy, the Canucks will have trouble scoring and this series could be short. I think that the Kings, with a healthy Anze Kopitar, are a way better than the team from last year that exited in the first round. If Jeff Carter is healthy and firing on all cylinders, the Kings take it in 6. I know its a big upset, but the Canucks from last year lost Ehrhoff, Daniel isn’t healthy, Booth is a disappearing act, and Cody Hodgson is already golfing with his Sabres teammates. The depth isn’t there and I don’t think Luongo has another lengthy run left in him.

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks
This series looks a lot like the Caps and the Bruins. You have the perennial presidents trophy candidate Sharks, who have underachieved all season, facing a big, mean and stingy Blues team which was rejuvenated by the arrival of Ken Hitchcock. I like the Blues a lot, but this isn’t their season. They are too young and inexperienced. Guys like Oshie, Berglund and Pietrangelo have plenty of amazing years ahead of them, they’ve just been unfortunate enough to get the worst first round match up in the West. The Sharks are the only team in the Playoffs that has been to the conference finals in the last two seasons, and are hungry for the Cup. In my opinion, they are even better than the squad from last year.

Gone is the frustrating and enigmatic Dany Heatley, and in came Martin Havlat, the slick playmaking speedster. Gone is Devin Setoguchi, insert Brent Burns to bolster the blue line and the powerplay. If Niemi can be a stud, the Sharks will make quick work of this young Blues team. The Sharks are just as big as the Blues, except they have big time players with more experience. Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner can’t carry a team like they used to, and the kids will falter under the spotlight of big game playoff hockey. Elliott and or Halak will keep the Blues in it, but I still say Thornton, Marleau, Boyle and the Sharks in 6.

(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
Poor Phoenix. Every year they defy expectations and make it to the playoffs. Every year, they lose in the first round. I expect this year to be no different. The last couple of seasons, the Coyotes have lost to the veteran Detroit Red Wings. This year, they will lose to the young and talented Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks are another team that people thought would contend for the Western conference crown. A combination of injuries and terrible goaltending have put the Hawks in the underdog role. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have been terribly inconsistent this season. Jonathan Toews was on his way to an MVP season when he got injured and missed considerable time.

The Coyotes are built around veteran savvy. Mike Smith had a Vezina caliber year and Ray Whitney continuously defies his age and puts up stellar numbers. Shane Doan is actually healthy and will be a rock, but that will not be enough. The Coyotes remind me of the Panthers, they have a solid but unspectacular top 6, and some good pieces on D, but don’t have the studs to pull them to the finish line. I expect that a healthy Toews will return and lead the Hawks past the Yotes in 6.

(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
Much like the Pens and Flyers in the east, this match up could easily go either way. I like the pieces that the Preds added at the deadline. Paul Gaustad, Alex Radulov, Andrei Kostitsyn and Hall Gill are all solid NHLers, but who pushes the Preds over the top? The Preds D is superb. They have the best Defensive pairing in the league with Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Behind them is a perennial Vezina candidate in Pekka Rinne, but after that, what do the Preds really have? Their forwards are mostly soft Europeans. I don’t see the Kostitsyn – Fisher line, or Patrik Hornqvist, David Legwand and Radulov punishing the savvy Red Wings defensemen and really testing Jimmy Howard.

This will undoubtedly be a stingy, low scoring series. The Red Wings are getting long in the tooth and have injuries of their own. Darren Helm is hurt, and who knows if Jimmy Howard and Nick Lidstrom are fully healthy. I love Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen always step it up for the playoffs. Not to mention Niklas Kronwall and Nick Lidstrom who may be a close second to Suter & Weber as the best pair of defenseman in the NHL. I just feel like the Wings are too old, and for the sake of picking a seeded favorite, I’ll say Nashville in 7. Don’t say I didn’t warn you if the Wings squeak by.

What do you guys think? Post your comments below. I’ll see you all in the 2nd round! Enjoy your playoff hockey folks, its the best time of the year!