Yesterday we dealt with the Eastern Conference , and for a camp full of drunks, jokesters, and people who can barely take anything seriously…it went surprisingly well.
Radar: Speak for yourself.
BT: What do you mean?
Hawkeye: Frank took Radar’s bear. Said it wasn’t “army regulation.”
BJ: I don’t think Frank’s head is “army regulation.”
BT: Really? So what did you guys do?
Hawkeye: We made him breakfast. Using his uniform.
BJ: At least one meal in this place will be “army regulation.”
BT: Well…on that charming note, on to the picks…
1. San Jose Sharks vs. 8. Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche have had a season that no one expected.
After finishing last year as the bottom seed in the Western Conference and third worst in the league, the Avs reshaped their roster and their future.
Longtime captain and All Star Joe Sakic decided that he’d take the entire winter to play with his snow blower rather than just the time he took off with a back injury, while the game of musical chairs in the crease continued post-Patrick Roy with a new addition.
Craig Anderson got his first opportunity to start on a consistent basis coming from Florida, and five first-year players played at least 30 games for a team that threatened for a Western Conference crown over the first three months of the season.
So by all accounts, this season is a success for a team in the rebuilding stages.
However, the first-year magic may not be enough against the powerful Sharks.
San Jose had three players surpass the 80-point plateau. Colorado had three players surpass the 50-point mark. Coming into the playoffs, the Sharks are 8-1-1 in their last 10, while the Avalanche have won just eight of their last 21 games.
Also, despite Anderson’s success this year (38 wins, a 2.64 goals-against average, and a .916 save percentage), Evgeni Nabokov just won 40 games for the third straight season, setting a career high in save percentage (.922) and landing in the top 10 in goals-against average (2.43).
While everyone looks at the Sharks as a perennial playoff flop, this matchup should be far easier on them than last year’s first-round meeting with the Anaheim Ducks.
The key word being "should."
Hawkeye: The playoffs aren’t hell. Playoff hockey is playoff hockey. Hell is hell. And you know what? The playoffs are worse.
Mulcahy: How do you figure, Hawkeye?
Hawkeye: Well…who goes to hell?
Mulcahy: Well..sinners do.
Hawkeye: Exactly. But in the playoffs, fans of a first-place team can have their lives ruined by a star player not living up to his expectations. They waste an entire year hoping and praying for something to happen, and it never does, leaving for a long, drudging summer.
Give me hell. Both have golf, but at least it’s warm all year round down there.
Season Series: San Jose won 2-1-1-0, Colorado outscored San Jose 14-13
BT Says: Sharks in four
M*A*S*H Predicts: Avalanche in seven
2. Chicago Blackhawks vs. 7. Nashville Predators
Anytime the Preds are in the playoffs (which has been five out of the past six seasons), I find them to be an intriguing pick—if only because they’ve got nothing to lose because no one expects them to be there.
This year they’ll be lucky to get an ounce of credit going up against the Blackhawks, and it’s not only because of that dynamic offense.
The ‘Hawks are just one of four teams to rank in the top 10 in goals per game and goals allowed per game in this year's playoffs.
Despite the prowess at both ends of the ice, this series may simply come down to how Nashville’s defense handles Chicago’s forwards.
Looking at a lineup that features Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa as its key players, it’s hard to list off defenses I’d feel confident deploying against them.
Nashville has one of those defenses.
While the Preds have a few defenders with good size on the back end, they have one of the most mobile defenses adept at moving the puck in the league.
Everybody knows about Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but holding on to Dan Hamhuis at the trade deadline and the strong play of Cody Franson have given the Preds great depth.
That defense has to step up though, as it’s hard to project Steve Sullivan, Patric Hornqvist, J.P. Dumont, and Jason Arnott keeping pace with Chicago in a run-and-gun series.
In addition, the Preds have to be careful to not get into penalty trouble (something they’ve done well all year). They’re the owners of the third-worst penalty-kill in the league, and whether you play a team that’s 16th (Chicago) or sixth on the power play in the first round, you can’t get beaten by your own special teams.
Hawkeye: You know Radar, I think you may want to ride Chicago during the playoffs.
Radar: And why’s that, Cap’n Pierce?
BJ: He sees a lot in common between you and Patrick Kane.
Hawkeye: Yup. And you both see a lot in common too. Like…
BJ: Being able to see eye-to-eye with a doggy door—
Hawkeye: Have a bird's eye view of the underside of picnic tables—
BJ: Klinger’s garter belt—
Radar: Hey guys…that’s no fun.
Hawkeye: I tell you what. I’ll pay you 17 cents to forget about it, OK?
Season Series: Chicago won 4-2-0-0, Chicago outscored Nashville 15-12
BT says: Chicago in six
M*A*S*H predicts: Chicago in seven
3. Vancouver Canucks vs. 6. Los Angeles Kings
The L.A. Kings joined the class of sentimental favorites making the playoffs this year, but like their brethren, they are in tough.
Vancouver is the proud owner of this season’s Art Ross Winner after Henrik Sedin had a career-high 112 points. On top of that the second half of the Canucks' dynamic duo would have had 108 points if it hadn’t been for a broken foot.
The Canucks also got offensive help from 30-goal scorers Mikael Samuelsson and Alex Burrows, and 20-goal scorers Mason Raymond and Ryan Kessler, while Los Angeles’ premier offensive threat, Anze Kopitar, took home his first 80-point campaign, finishing strong with 10 points in his last 11 games.
Los Angeles is fortunate enough to own the best defenseman in this series. In fact, Drew Doughty may be the best defenseman in most series after he put the finishing touches on a 59-point sophomore season in which he averaged 25 minutes a game.
However, that’s not to discredit the rest of the Kings' defensive core. While Jack Johnson can help Doughty move the puck out of their own end, Sean O’Donnell is a solid yet unspectacular veteran leader who can kill penalties and really push his defense.
The real key to this series, though, may be Los Angeles’ physical play.
Dustin Brown came in second in the league with 287 hits, while Matt Greene had the third-most hits amongst defensemen with 238, and even Doughty was in on the hit parade with 157.
If Vancouver can’t handle the Kings’ size and getting knocked around—Andrew Alberts and Tanner Glass were the only two Canucks in the top 60 for hits; the Kings had four—then the advantage in net may not be enough for them in this series.
Frank: Guys…why don’t you like Vancouver?
Hawkeye: Well….I think they’re weak on defense—
BJ: But they score like the dickens.
Hawkeye: Yes, but they’re sometimes slow on the up-take.
BJ: There are also those times they miss the up-take.
Hawkeye: That’s right. They’re also cheap—
BJ: Running off of select talent—
Hawkeye: They whine—
BJ: They like funny colours—
Hawkeye: And I’m reminded of a ferret.
Burns: You think their mascot looks like a ferret?
BJ: No, Frank. That last one was about you.
Hawkeye: In fact, all of those things were about you. We like them. We like them a lot.
BJ: You think Luongo drinks martinis?
Season Series: Vancouver won 3-1-0-0, Vancouver outscored Los Angeles 12-11
BT says: Kings in seven.
M*A*S*H predicts: Canucks in six.
4. Phoenix Coyotes vs. 5. Detroit Red Wings
I feel bad for the Phoenix Coyotes. Not because of their offseason turmoil, the fact that they were just six points away from winning the division, or even the fact they have to play the Detroit Red Wings.
I feel bad for them because no one is giving them a chance.
In net, I’d think that the advantage would have to go to Ilya Bryzgalov. Both Bryzgalov and Jimmy Howard had outstanding seasons, but Bryzgalov has playoff experience.
His line: 16 games played, a 9-5 record with a 1.68 goals-against average, and a .937 save percentage. Not bad. And if history has taught us anything, it’s that the Red Wings can be put out by a hot goalie (*COUGH* J.S. GIGUERE).
That being said, they are in tough.
The Wings have lost only five games in regulation since February. In fact, if you lost two fingers in Korea, you could count how many games the Wings have lost over the last two months.
Frank: Hey!! Have some respect for the army!
BT: Now you’re getting on me, Burns?
Frank: You bet I am. How dare you. Good men lost those fingers fighting for this country.
Hawkeye: And if you were a better surgeon, Frank, you probably could have put them back on.
Frank: Take that back Pierce!
Hawkeye: I will Frank. As soon as they revoke your medical license!
Frank: I cannot believe the…the nerve…of you two. Not respecting the veterans.
BJ: Actually Frank, we do respect the veterans.
BT: The veterans on the Red Wings.
Hawkeye: Well…you might. I just disrespect Burnsy over there.
BT: Fair enough.
Season Series: Detroit won 2-0-2-0, Detroit outscored Phoenix 13-11
BT says: Detroit in six.
M*A*S*H predicts: Phoenix in seven.
Keep track of BT on Twitter at Bryanthiel_88 . Also, you can e-mail any questions or comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to check out all of Bryan's previous work in his archives , and over at Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game!