NHL Playoff Schedule 2012: Lower Seeds That Will Pull the 1st-Round Upset

Scott Semmler@@ScottSemmler22Analyst IIApril 7, 2012

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 22:  Joe Thornton #19 and Martin Havlat #9 of the San Jose Sharks congratulate Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks after the Sharks beat the Boston Bruins at HP Pavilion at San Jose on March 22, 2012 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Looking at the first-round match-ups heading into the 2012 NHL Playoffs, you would be hard-pressed to find a series that will be an easy sweep for any one opponent.

Especially in the Western Conference, this may be one of the most competitive years of the playoffs we have seen in a while, with every matchup garnering some much-needed good play for either team to claim the series and move on to the next one.

It is sure to be a wild next few weeks for the NHL, as these competitive match-ups are sure to make for some great hockey and exciting games.


San Jose Sharks

It was not known until just recently if the Sharks would make the playoffs, but now that they are in and playing great hockey, we can be sure to see some competitive play out of them in the playoffs. 

The Sharks will be matched up against the St. Louis Blues, who have had the Sharks' number throughout this season. The Blues simply swept the four-game series from the Sharks this season and pose a big matchup problem for San Jose.

The Sharks will still need to improve a very weary penalty kill, but if they can continue their hot play into the playoffs, they may be able to catch a Blues team that has little playoff experience by surprise.


Los Angeles Kings

The Kings are arguably playing the best hockey of their season in nearly every aspect of their game. They are sure to be a difficult opponent for their first-round opponent, even though they are coming off two losses to the Sharks to end the season.

What makes Los Angeles Kings a difficult team to play is the fact that they play defense and lots of it. They are fourth in the NHL in penalty kill percentage at 87 percent and are second in the NHL in goals against with 2.1 goals allowed per game. They also boast arguably the best young goalie in Jonathan Quick, who should prove to be a challenge in himself one things get going in the NHL Playoffs.

Their offense is nothing to scoff at, either, as the team is one of the more well-rounded squads in all of hockey. The fact that they are playing at the top of their game right now should be scary for the Canucks, who they will play in the first round of the NHL Playoffs.


New Jersey Devils

The Devils will be matched up with the Florida Panthers when things get going in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and the Devils are sure to be the favorite entering the series based on the two teams' point totals. The Devils currently have 102 points, and the Panthers have 92 points.

Like the Kings, what makes the Devils scary is their ability to play defense. With their penalty kill being the best in the NHL, it will be hard to get any special teams momentum out of them. All the Panthers' offense will have to be with an equal amount of players on the ice.

They are also a red-hot team right now, as they are winner of their last six games. If Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias can give this offense some boost, we should be able to see the Devils handily defeat the Panthers and head into the second round of the NHL Playoffs.