This is why the NHL Playoffs are so great.
The last four Stanley Cup champions (Bruins, Blackhawks, Penguins and Red Wings) were all ousted in Round 1 while the Eastern Conference (Penguins) and the Western Conference (Canucks) favorites here in Las Vegas were also sent packing.
And there were an unbelievable 16 overtimes in 48 games, with the road teams (11-5) dominating and disposing of the home team in unusually quick fashion.
Odds-underdogs also won half of the eight first-round matchups (27-19-2 against the point spread in the 48 games) and teams like the Predators, Blues, Coyotes, and Kings finally showed their fans that they are now capable of beating the big boys, although in the Western Conference they must all play each other in Round 2.
So, welcome to the hockey postseason, brother, where it’s eat or be eaten.
Here are previews and series odds for the two Western Conference semifinal matchups which start tonight in The Valley of the Sun—on ice, in the desert of all places.
WESTERN SEMIS SERIES PRICE: Predators -170, Coyotes +150
The second round of the 2012 NHL Playoffs begins on Friday night at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale with the Phoenix Coyotes hosting the Nashville Predators (-105, 5u) in Game 1 of this series (NBSN/ TSN, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
The Coyotes advanced by defeating the Blackhawks (4-2) while the Predators took out the Red Wings (4-1) to get to this point, to the surprise of NHL fans as well as Chicagoans and Detroiters.
The season series saw the road teams go 4-0, with the Coyotes winning both meetings in Nashville and the Predators winning both skates in Phoenix.
On offense, the Coyotes' scoring leaders in Round 1 were Antoine Vermette and Keith Yandle who each scored five points while the Predators' top scorer was Alexander Radulov, who also had five points.
The big story in this series, as it usually is in the playoffs, will be the play of the goaltenders.
Phoenix netminder Michael Smith was phenomenal against the Blackhawks and put his name on the hockey map with his play. And for Nashville, the bionic man Pekka Rinne continued his dream season in eliminating the Red Wings.
Goals should be few and far between in this series, and betting the unders if they are set at 5, as in the opener, is recommended.
I said the Predators are a team to watch and one who could make the Stanley Cup Finals in my first-round preview here and I’m going to stick with my guns, although it won’t be easy in likely low-scoring games.
And whereas Phoenix beat Chicago in Round 1, Nashville defeated a tougher Detroit side in less games, so I give them the edge in this series and the nod to make the Western Conference Finals.
Who will advance to the Western Conference Finals?
SERIES PREDICTION: Predators 4-1
WESTERN SEMIS SERIES PRICE: Blues -165, Kings +145
The city that gave us Budweiser is the site of Saturday night’s Game 1 of this Western Conference semifinal series (NBCSN, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT) between two more surprise teams, the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings.
The Blues defeated the Sharks (4-1) to advance while the Kings took out the top-seeded Canucks (4-1), also taking just five games to do so.
St. Louis (-155 favorites in opener, 4.5) will have its work cut out for it against Los Angeles which went 3-1 against the Blues (9-3 goals) with goaltender Jonathan Quick notching two shutouts.
Andy McDonald (eight points) led the Blues in scoring in Round 1 while Dustin Brown was the Kings leading scorer (five points).
Like the Coyotes-Predators series, this semifinal should be low-scoring, with St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott and Los Angeles netminder Quick both being the key players to watch.
This series could go the full seven games and if the Blues can continue to be productive on the power play as they were in Round 1, the Kings may see their dreams of making the Stanley Cup Finals go up in smoke.
St. Louis is as good as it's been in a very long time and feels and can make a run at the Holy Grail of hockey but will have to be at their best against a Kings team who dominated Vancouver thanks in large part to Quick.
Despite the Kings dominating the regular season series, I think the Blues will find a way to win in seven games, but in all actuality, this baby is a toss-up.
SERIES PREDICTION: Blues 4-3
ODDS: LVH SuperBook
For the Eastern Conference semifinals odds preview, click this link.
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