There were some very long, tough deliberations going into a few of this year’s opening round matchups. Its difficult to isolate a ‘Cinderella’ this year because every one of those teams have gaping holes; major issues.
If the Nashville Predators were facing almost any other team but the Ducks in the first round, I’d pick the Preds to finally solve the first-round victory equation. The Preds must jump all over Anaheim at Honda Center in games one and two to have a chance. Pekka Rinne is due for a coming out series and the Ducks will have to get by with Dan Ellis at least for the initial game or two. It will be a long series though and the Ducks have too much firepower to bet against. I’m already planning on regretting this, but…. Ducks in 7.
(1) Vancouver over (8) Chicago – 6 games
(2) San Jose over (7) Los Angeles – 5 games
(3) Detroit over (6) Phoenix – 7 games
(4) Anaheim over (5) Nashville – 7 games
The Canucks are deeper up front and their blue line will outperform the Blackhawks defensive six. Corey Crawford had to start the Blackhawks’ final 27 consecutive games out of necessity and showed signs of wear in the last week. If the Hawks do get under Roberto Luongo’s hair, the key to the series then becomes Alain Vigneault’s trigger finger. In Corey Schneider, Vigneault has possibly an equally as good goaltender to Luongo in the back up position. But if Vigneault waits too long to flip the card, the series’ tide could turn and it could be too late. The Hawks are 18-10-1-3 versus Western playoff teams and five of those losses overall came to Vancouver and San Jose. If they can somehow work their Van-magic again and pull past the Nucks, the Hawks could go on another run. But the Canucks are too deep; special teams are too good and they’re primed to take this series. In both previous Blackhawks’ postseasons, home ice in the first round was a pivotal factor and they don’t have it here. Canucks in 6.
Phoenix gave the Red Wings all they could handle last season and now have another chance to pull off the upset. The difference this year being Detroit has the home ice advantage. Detroit struggled down the stretch and will start the series without Henrik Zetterberg (knee). Jimmy Howard has been just ‘okay’ and he stares down the other end of the rink at Ilya Bryzgalov, who is capable of winning three or four games on his own. Phoenix relies on him and a balanced scoring attack. The Red Wings need Johan Franzen to get going again and guys like Lidstrom, Stuart, Rafalski and Kronwall must be better than they were in March and April. Home ice will be a major factor. Dave Tippett and Mike Babcock are two of the best coaches around. Experience edge goes to eventual series winner… Red Wings in 7.
San Jose were the league’s best team during the second-half of the season. Antti Niemi regained his 2010 playoff form and finds himself now behind another deep and top-end talent rich 2-seed. Los Angeles will be without top center Anze Kopitar. While Kopitar didn’t do much in the Kings’ opening-round loss to Vancouver last year, his absence is a stinger. The season-series between these two teams did split 3-3, but the Sharks needed a shootout to win two of those games. Jonathan Quick and Antti Niemi will wage an epic battle, so the games will be tight. Which is where Kopitar’s loss looms bigger at a position the team isn’t strong at. San Jose has two lines that can score every night and a third that will pitch in too. The Kings secondary scoring line is now its first and thus draws the top checking assignment. If LA is to win this series, they’ll have to do so with a string of 2-1, 1-0 type victories. They can pull it off once or twice, but the Sharks are too explosive to shut down four over seven…. Sharks in 5.
(1) Washington Capitals over (8) New York Rangers – 7 games
(2) Philadelphia Flyers over (7) Buffalo Sabres – 6 games
(3) Boston Bruins over (6) Montreal Canadiens – 5 games
(5) Tampa Bay Lightning over (4) Pittsburgh Penguins – 6 games