NHL Playoff Predictions: Western Conference Simulations, Post-Deadline Edition
A lot has changed since I first predicted Western Conference playoff matchups back in January.
The Western Conference is extremely competitive, and it's hard to tell from day to day who will make the playoffs and in what position. In fact, just one point separates the 11th seed (the Minnesota Wild) from the eighth seed (the Dallas Stars). Only the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers are truly out of the playoff race.
With a little less than a week removed from the NHL Trade Deadline, let's see where the Western Conference stands if the playoffs were starting today.
*All statistics used in this piece are as of the end of games on Friday, March 4 (statistics from today's games were not factored in).
Alison Myers is a Pittsburgh Penguins and NHL Featured Columnist. You may contact her by e-mail at Alison.Myers@mail.com or follow her on Twitter at AlisonM_BR.
The Top Eight Seeds
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. San Jose Sharks
4. Chicago Blackhawks
5. Calgary Flames
6. Los Angeles Kings
7. Phoenix Coyotes
8. Dallas Stars
1) Vancouver Canucks vs. 8) Dallas Stars
Vancouver is fourth in the NHL with 3.18 goals scored per game. Their offense is led by Daniel Sedin, who is currently the NHL's leading scorer with 79 points. He is also second in the league with 13 power play goals and fourth with 32 goals.
Ryan Kesler is the team's goal scoring lead, with 33 tallies on the season. He is third on Vancouver with 58 points.
Dallas is 17th in the league with 2.69 goals per game. They are led by Brad Richards, who has 63 points this year. However, the Stars have been without their leading scorer since February 13.
Loui Eriksson is second on the Stars in scoring with 60 points, and Brenden Morrow's 25 goals lead the team. Morrow is fourth on Dallas with 44 points this year.
The Canucks give up 2.29 goals per game, the third lowest total in the NHL.
Their defensive unit is led by Christian Ehrhoff, who has 38 points on the season. Kevin Bieksa is the team leader in plus/minus with plus-26, which is second in the league.
Vancouver's team plus/minus rating of plus-33 is ranked third in the league.
Dallas gives up 2.77 goals a game (16th in the league). Their lone pickup before the trade deadline, Alex Goligoski, leads the defensive unit with 35 points and also has the highest plus/minus rating (plus-23).
Dallas is the only team in the NHL with an even plus/minus rating (16th).
Roberto Luongo is the Canucks' franchise goalie and is in his fifth season with the team. This year, he is 29-13-7 in 49 games and is fourth in the NHL in wins. His .925 save percentage and 2.23 GAA are also ranked fourth among NHL goaltenders.
Kari Lehtonen was traded to the Stars last season and is in his first full campaign with the team. He is 26-18-7 in 51 games with a .915 save percentage and 2.62 GAA.
Vancouver power play: 24.3 percent (second in NHL)
Dallas power play: 18.4 percent (11th in NHL)
Vancouver penalty kill: 86 percent (second in NHL)
Dallas penalty kill: 78.9 percent (24th)
Prediction: Vancouver over Dallas, and it's likely not even close. Goaltending is the only area in which the Stars can come close to the Canucks, but Luongo is more playoff-tested than Lehtonen.
2) Detroit Red Wings vs. 7) Phoenix Coyotes
Detroit is first in the NHL with 3.25 goals scored per game. They are led by Henrik Zetterberg, who has 69 points this year and is second in the league with 51 assists.
Johan Franzen leads Detroit with 26 goals and is fourth on the Wings with 46 points.
Meanwhile, Phoenix scores 2.77 goals per game (12th in the NHL). They are led by Keith Yandle, who has 54 points and also leads all Coyotes defensemen in scoring. Radim Vrbata and Taylor Pyatt have 16 goals apiece for the team goal scoring lead.
Detroit is ranked 18th with 2.86 goals surrendered per game. Nicklas Lidstrom, a multiple Norris Trophy winner, leads the Wings' defensemen with 52 points.
Brian Rafalski leads the team with a plus-14 rating, and Detroit's team plus/minus rating of plus-13 is ranked eighth in the NHL.
Phoenix is 17th with 2.82 goals scored against them each game. Adrian Aucoin has a plus-19 rating to lead the Coyotes, while the team has a plus-12 rating (ninth in the NHL).
Chris Osgood, who has won three Stanley Cups with Detroit, has not played since January 4. He is on the injured reserve with a nagging groin injury. Before he went down, he was 5-3-2 in 11 games with a .903 save percentage and 2.77 GAA.
Osgood has been replaced by Jimmy Howard, who signed a two-year extension with the team on deadline day. Howard is first in the NHL with 31 wins, boasting an overall record of 31-12-4 with a .908 save percentage and 2.80 GAA.
Ilya Bryzgalov is 27-17-7 in 53 games, and his wins total is ninth in the league. He has a .918 save percentage and 2.58 GAA.
Detroit power play: 21.4 percent (fifth)
Phoenix power play: 16.5 percent (22nd)
Detroit penalty kill: 81.9 percent (17th)
Phoenix penalty kill: 78 percent (27th)
Prediction: Detroit over Phoenix. Although Howard does not have a lot of playoff experience, he will be backed by a team who has been there and done that. Lidstrom and Co. are too talented to go out this early.
3) San Jose Sharks vs. 6) Los Angeles Kings
San Jose is 13th in the NHL with 2.74 goals scored per game. They are led by captain Joe Thornton, who has 54 points this year.
Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture are the team's goal scoring leaders with 25 goals apiece. Couture is second among NHL rookies with 44 points on the season.
The Kings are 18th with 2.69 goals scored per game. Anze Kopitar is the scoring leader with 63 points this year, and newcomer Dustin Penner and Dustin Brown each have 21 goals for the team goal scoring lead.
Edge: Slight edge to San Jose
The Sharks give up 2.49 goals per game (ninth in the NHL). Dan Boyle leads the Sharks' defensemen with 37 points, while Couture leads the team with a plus-17 rating. San Jose's overall plus-two rating is 15th in the NHL.
The Kings are fourth in the league with 2.41 goals surrendered per game. Jack Johnson leads all Kings defensemen with 40 points, and Kopitar has a team leading plus/minus rating of plus-22. Los Angeles has an overall plus/minus rating of plus-14, which is seventh in the NHL.
Edge: Los Angeles
Antti Niemi, who recently signed a four-year extension with the Sharks, is 25-15-3 in 44 games. He has a .920 save percentage and 2.37 GAA to go along with five shutouts. He was the goaltender for the Chicago Blackhawks when they captured the 2010 Stanley Cup.
Jonathan Quick is 28-16-2 in 47 games this year and is sixth in the league in wins. He has a .917 save percentage and 2.23 GAA and is ranked fourth in both categories. His six shutouts are ranked fourth in the NHL.
Edge: Small edge to San Jose for carrying a Stanley Cup winner
San Jose power play: 22.4 percent (third)
Los Angeles power play: 17.5 percent (15th)
San Jose penalty kill: 81.4 percent (18th)
Los Angeles penalty kill: 84 percent (seventh)
Prediction: It's a very close series, but the win will go to the Kings. The acquisition of Dustin Penner will pay off for Los Angeles.
4) Chicago Blackhawks vs. 5) Calgary Flames
Chicago is third in the NHL with 3.20 goals scored per game. Team captain Jonathan Toews is the leading scorer with 64 points, and 2011 NHL All-Star Game MVP Patrick Sharp leads the Hawks with 33 goals this year.
Calgary's 2.94 goals per game is ranked sixth. Captain Jarome Iginla leads the team in scoring with 65 points and 29 goals.
The Blackhawks give up 2.69 goals per game (13th in the NHL). Brent Seabrook leads all defensemen with 36 points, and Brian Campbell has a team high plus-25 rating. The team's plus-25 rating is ranked fourth in the league.
Calgary is 15th in the league with 2.76 goals against per game. Anton Babchuk leads Flames' defensemen with 32 points, and Brendan Morrison is the leader in plus/minus rating with a plus-13. They are sixth in the league with a team plus-six rating.
Corey Crawford has emerged as the starter in Chicago even though Marty Turco was signed to have that position. Crawford is 25-12-3 with a .920 save percentage and a 2.17 GAA. Leading up to today's game, he had won his last five starts.
Mikka Kiprusoff has been the Flames' go-to guy for the last several years, playing in at least 70 games each year. He is 30-20-5 in 58 games and is second among goaltenders in wins. He also has six shutouts and a .908 save percentage and 2.56 GAA.
Chicago power play: 24.4 percent (first)
Calgary power play: 181. percent (13th)
Chicago penalty kill: 78.1 percent (26th)
Calgary penalty kill: 82.4 percent (15th)
Prediction: Chicago over Calgary. The outcome of the 2009 Western Conference Quarterfinals will repeat itself here. Kiprusoff will again be too worn out from the regular season, and Chicago will not go out easily after scratching and clawing their way to the fourth seed.
The Remaining Teams
Here is who would be left after the Western Conference Quarterfinals simulation:
1) Vancouver Canucks
2) Detroit Red Wings
4) Chicago Blackhawks
6) Los Angeles Kings
Western Conference Semifinals Matchups
1) Vancouver Canucks vs. 6) Los Angeles Kings
Prediction: Vancouver over Los Angeles. In a re-match of the 2010 Western Conference Quarterfinals, Luongo and the Canucks' special teams, which are ranked near the top of the league, will give them a ticket to the Western Conference Finals.
2) Detroit Red Wings vs. 4) Chicago Blackhawks
Prediction: Chicago over Detroit. This will be a close series, but ultimately, Chicago will get back at Detroit for eliminating them in the 2009 Western Conference Finals. Chicago's slightly steadier defensive play will be a key in the victory.
Western Conference Finals
1) Vancouver Canucks vs. 4) Chicago Blackhawks
Prediction: Vancouver over Chicago. The Canucks finally exorcise their playoff demons against Chicago, who has eliminated them in the past two playoffs. Corey Crawford's lack of playoff experience will catch up to him.