NHL Playoff Predictions: How Red Wings, Rest of Western Conference Will Finish

Matthew FairburnCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2011

NHL Playoff Predictions: How Red Wings, Rest of Western Conference Will Finish

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    The NHL Western Conference Playoff race is among the tightest in recent history.

    Every team in the conference, besides the Edmonton Oilers, has a realistic shot at the playoffs. Just seven points separates the eight place Chicago Blackhawks from the 14th place Columbus Blue Jackets.

    After the two elite teams, Vancouver and Detroit, the rest of the playoff picture is pretty muddled. 

    Thus is the beauty of the National Hockey League. The playoff race in the Western Conference this season will be more dramatic than any other playoff race in sports.

    Keep reading for the projected playoff seedings for the Western Conference.

    And for Eastern Conference playoff predictions check out Matt Hunter's article.

1. Vancouver Canucks

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    The Canucks are the best team in the NHL and will finish the season with the top seed in the Western Conference.

    They possess tons of fire power up front with the Sedins and Kesler, and may have another weapon with the emergence of Cody Hodgson.

    Vancouver is banged up on the blue line but will only get healthier as the stretch run approaches.

    The most underrated aspect of this team is the play of Roberto Luongo. He could be having the best season of his career and he seems poised to carry this team through the playoffs.

    It is tough to make an argument against the Canucks at this point in the season considering the fact that they are seven points ahead of the second place Red Wings.

2. Detroit Red Wings

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    The Western Conference's second elite team is the Detroit Red Wings.

    Analysts always want to write off the Red Wings because of their age, but the veteran players continue to produce.

    When the Wings get Pavel Datsyuk back, they will be a force in the playoffs. Detroit is easily one of the three favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

3. Dallas Stars

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    The Pacific Division is the most competitive division in all of hockey right now. 

    Each team in the division could sneak up on the Stars and win the title to claim the third seed in the conference.

    There is no team in the Pacific more consistent than the Dallas Stars however. The only concern is that Kari Lehtonen will get worn down due to his extensive action thus far.

    For now, the Stars have the edge on the rest of the Pacific.

4. Nashville Predators

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    The Nashville Predators are one of the most well coached and disciplined teams in the National Hockey League. They keep themselves in hockey games on a nightly basis without standing defense and an elite goaltender, Pekka Rinne.

    The Predators don't have the offense to catch the Wings, but they have the defense to hold off the rest of the West for the four seed.

5. Los Angeles Kings

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    The Kings have certainly underachieved up until this point in the season. Their inconsistent play has left them on the outside looking in at the playoff picture at the midway point of the season.

    Anze Kopitar and company have too much talent to not earn a spot in the postseason. The Kings just need to hope they can get hot at the right time.

    Also, don't count the Kings out of the race for the Pacific Division crown.

6. Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Blackhawks have had a let down season after their Stanley Cup Championship but have enough pieces in place to make the postseason.

    Chicago has a sold group of battle tested veteran players who know what it takes to win.

    When it comes down to crunch time, the Blackhawks will find a way into the tournament.

7. San Jose Sharks

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    San Jose has quietly put together a solid season. The Sharks could definitely be a dark horse in the Western Conference given their experience and talent both up front and on the back end.

    One area of concern for San Jose lies at the goaltender positon. Anti Niemi has been underwhelming this season and it remains to be seen if they have the goaltending to contend down the stretch and into the playoffs.

8. Anaheim Ducks

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    The eighth seed in the Western Conference will come down to the Coyotes, Avalanche, and the Ducks. 

    The Ducks have the best top line in hockey when Ryan Getzlaf is healthy. In addition, Anaheim has Jonas Hiller, one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, to make up for their defensive shortcomings.

    When it comes down to it, the team with the best goalie always has the edge, so the Ducks take the final spot.

Why Not Us?

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    There are a handful of other contenders in the Western Conference, so here's a breakdown of why each of them is on the outside looking in.

    Colorado Avalanche - While the Avalanche have one of the most prolific scoring attacks in the league, they struggle to keep the puck out of their own net. If they could acquire a defenseman at the deadline it could be enough to push them over the top.

    Phoenix Coyotes - The polar opposite of the Avalanche, the Coyotes have a playoff ready defense but can't muster enough of a scoring attack to compete with the elite teams.

    Minnesota Wild - The Wild have not been able to string together enough consistency to make a playoff push. Martin Havlat is the only legitimate scoring threat the Wild have on their roster.

    Calgary Flames - The Calgary Flames have strung together some wins recently but they have been average all season.