The Eastern side was yesterday, today it's the West. It's semantics, folks.
(1) SAN JOSE SHARKS vs (8) COLORADO AVALANCHE
Look at that, the Sharks are at the top of the Western charts again and they will have plenty of pressure on them. Aside from Joe Thornton and Evgeni Nabokov being under the microscope, I'm sure the likes of Todd McLellan and Doug Wilson are under pressure as well. If the Sharks are going to fall in the first or second round, odds are the latter two are going to be gone; no questions asked. If Dany Heatley is the missing piece, he will have to show it this round or it was all for not. The time to break their curse is now for the Sharks or else they're screwed.
The Avalanche could be the worst thing for the Sharks to see in the opening round. Let's be honest, the team is full of young talent and they really have nothing to lose because I don't think many had high hopes for the Avs this year. Craig Anderson will be the guy that will probably make the Avs have the upset special. While Matt Duchene will be the go-to guy, they'll need a complete effort in order to keep their magical season alive.
PREDICTION: Sharks in six. While the Avs will probably put a scare into the Sharks, the Sharks up and down are far superior than the Avalanche. The urgency for the Sharks is going to be there and you can bet they won't rest on their laurels if they got up.
(2) CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS vs. (7) NASHVILLE PREDATORS
The Hawks are back at it after last year's run to the Conference finals, they look like they have the fire-power again. Granted, the albatross of Marian Hossa and unsure goaltending situation will be the focal points. Whether Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi get the confidence boost to help the team get to the finals again, it remains to be see if they'd be able to carry the load and if the other could pick-up the pieces should they falter. Luckily, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will lead the way in terms of getting the offense kicked up another notch.
The Predators will take their Scandinavian duo of Pekka Rinne and Patric Hornqvist as their top dogs, with Steve Sullivan there to bring the North American side of things. However, with only Sullivan and Hornqvist over 50 points, you have to think Rinne will be tested time and time again and could get shell-shocked. The defense will be tested by the Hawks every shift and they could be outmatched just due to sheer volume.
PREDICTION: Hawks in five. As much as I like Rinne, I don't think the Preds have the firepower to even test the durability and reliability of the Hawks goaltending. Plus, the Hawks know how to get through the first round and are battle tested, even as a young team.
(3) VANCOUVER CANUCKS vs. (6) LOS ANGELES KINGS
There's a lot to be said about Henrik Sedin winning the Art Ross Trophy after the Canucks had the onus of a defensive team. With Roberto Luongo behind everyone, then obviously offense took a backseat. Yet, the offense was something a little more turned up, obviously, but we'll see what happens when the second season comes along. The Luongo factor is there, but the fact Luongo has not been to his best in the past few weeks, you can bet he'll be on top of his game in order to keep the Canadian Cup hopes alive.
The Kings are back in the playoffs after a decent hiatus with their young squad. Jonathan Quick has been amazing, but like Luongo-- the last few weeks have been very disappointing, though I'm sure his mind was elsewhere with the birth of his child. Anze Kopitar should be a huge factor, but will probably be shutdown by the Canucks defense since they know to key onto him.
PREDICTION: Canucks in six. The Kings could win games at home, but the experience from the Canucks from years past and Luongo turning into Olympic Luongo will overtake the Kings youth. Whether or not Hank Sedin can really keep the point production going will be another subplot, but should be the means of offense for the Canucks.
(4) PHOENIX COYOTES vs. (5) DETROIT RED WINGS
Off-ice turmoil aside, the hiring of Dave Tippett and emergence of Ilya Bryzgalov really is the story on the ice. The fact the team dynamic is scoring by committee shows how valuable both of these guys are this season and how they have home-ice advantage. While you need a hot goalie for the playoffs, whether or not Bryzgalov can be that kind of goalie will show in the first game. The scoring will need to pick up in droves if the Coyotes hope to have success.
The Red Wings are finally healthy and that's scary. The fact many were worried if they would get in or not in the first half of the season to now saying they're a big threat should be the story in the West. Jimmy Howard has been spectacular, but his lack of playoff experience could be a downfall. While Chris Osgood's knowledge is at his disposal, this is Howard's team now and Osgood will be along for the ride. Especially since Ozzy hasn't been the most reliable this year.
PREDICTION: Red Wings in five. The story of the Coyotes is a great one for the team trying to be sold, the fact the Red Wings are firing on 95% should have the advantage given to Detroit. Plus, you have to figure it'll be a home-ice advantage away from home-ice with the following the Wings have, especially in Arizona. It may not be pretty in this one.
That's that. While I didn't do many upsets, the fact is....it's all unpredictable and craziness in the end. I'll see you in Round Two after I get less than 50% right.