It's that time of year again, hockey fans. The 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs are just days away from opening, so that means it's time for playoff predictions.
We'll start with the Western Conference where it is literally wide-open. Any of the eight teams (maybe with the exception of Nashville) have a legitimate shot at winning the West and representing the conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
So, without further ado, here are my picks for the 2008 Western Conference.
1 Detroit Red Wings vs. 8 Nashville Predators
Season Series: Detroit: 5-3-0.
Goaltending: Dominik Hasek (27-10-3) vs. Dan Ellis (23-10-3)
The Red Wings didn't completely manhandle the Predators this season, which will gave the Preds hope as they enter the first round as heavy underdogs.
This will be the third time these Central Division rivals have clashed in the opening round of the playoffs, and this time around it doesn't look as if Nashville will be able to match Detroit's fire power.
The Wings have gotten some of their key players back from injury, and have two playoff proven goaltenders with Stanley Cup rings.
Prediction: Red Wings in six.
2 San Jose Sharks vs. 7 Calgary Flames
Season Series: Calgary: 3-1-0.
Goaltending: Evgeni Nabokov (46-21-8) vs. Miikka Kiprusoff (39-26-10)
The Sharks enter the post-season as the hottest team in the Western Conference, having lost just two regulation games in the last month. The addition of Brian Campbell has paid off huge, as he has provided improved defensive play and sparked an offense that was dormant for much of the season.
The Flames struggled down the stretch, but are still built for playoff success and coach Mike Keenan knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. Goaltending will be extremely even and the series may be decided by who can get more out of there secondary scoring. Calgary has a balanced attack, but it's hard to pick against the wave San Jose has been riding.
Prediction: San Jose in seven.
3 Minnesota Wild vs. 6 Colorado Avalanche
Season Series: Minnesota: 5-2-1.
Goaltending: Niklas Backstrom (33-13-8) vs. Jose Theodore (28-21-3)
Is there any team structured better to win playoff hockey than the Minnesota Wild? With their potent combination of goaltending, checking and team defense, it doesn't appear that they will go down easily.
However, the Avalanche finished the season strong, winning four of their last five games and gaining points in all five. When healthy, the Avalanche have one of the most potent offenses in the game, and the trade deadline acquisition of Adam Foote will bolster the defensive corps.
The biggest question mark remains in net, where fans will wonder whether they can get the Jose Theodore who stole playoff series for the Canadiens in 2002 and 2004, or the Jose Theodore who performed miserably last season causing the Avalanche to miss the playoffs.
Prediction: Avalanche in seven.
4 Anaheim Ducks vs. 5 Dallas Stars
Season Series: Dallas: 5-3-0.
Goaltending: J-S Giguere (35-17-6) vs. Marty Turco (32-21-6)
The Anaheim Ducks are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and now they're getting healthy. The improved roster, which includes Todd Bertuzzi, Mathieu Schnieder and Doug Weight, just got captain Chris Pronger back from suspension and you can bet he is rested and ready to go.
Corey Perry is nearing a return as well, and Giguere is returning to form in net. The team dropped five games to the Stars this season but most were at the beginning of the year before the returns of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne.
The Stars made a splash at the deadline, acquiring Brad Richards, but they did struggle in their last 10-15 games, causing many to believe they still don't have what it takes to succeed in the post-season.
Prediction: Ducks in five.
While the rest of the playoffs are contingent on these picks being right, I am going to attempt to predict the rest of the western conference bracket for the next three rounds. So, according to my picks, round two should break down as follows:
1 Detroit vs. 6 Colorado
Another classic Red Wings-Avalanche match-up in the second round would be fantastic news for hockey fans. Both teams seem to be getting in the spirit by re-acquiring members of those teams from earlier in the decade, such as Darren McCarty for Detroit and Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg for Colorado. Maybe the Wings will start Chris Osgood in the second round for old times' sake. It will be an extremely close series, but the Wings talent and experience will probably be the deciding factor.
Wings in seven.
2 San Jose vs. 4 Anaheim
The latest installment of the battle of California will certainly be a dandy. The Sharks hot streak will meet the Ducks resurgence head on in what may end up being one of the best playoff Series in recent memory.
In the end, I think the Ducks are too experienced to bow out in the second round, while it will be tough seeing the Sharks fall early again. The Sharks just still don't have the secondary scoring to impress me, not when matched up against the deep Ducks squad.
Ducks in six.
Round 3: 1 Detroit vs. 4 Anaheim
I've been saying all year that I think the Ducks have what it takes to repeat as champs. The Wings will provide another tough draw for them, but I think the 2008 Ducks are stronger than the 2007 Ducks were, and those Ducks were good enough to beat the Wings, so I see no reason why they shouldn't be able to do it again. It should be another fantastic series in the unpredictable Western Conference.
Ducks in seven.
The NHL has done a nice job creating parity throughout the league, but I think that parity is more restricted to the middle of the pack clubs. At the end of the day, the powerhouses are still the powerhouses in the Western Conference, but as is the norm in playoff hockey, anything can happen.
Your thoughts and comments, as always, are appreciated.