2011 NHL Playoffs: Predictions for Each Quarterfinal Series in the West
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It's been an incredible season for the eighth playoff bound teams in the Western Conference, and predictions that it would go down to the wire have been dead on.
Following the disappointing exit from the playoffs for the Dallas Stars, we now know who will be vying to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup finals.
It promises to be an explosive quarterfinals in the West, with almost every matchup rich with storylines and past history.
A look back at how dynamic and unstable the Western Conference standings have been all season provides the perfect blueprint for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
From the eighth-seeded defending champion to the stories of redemption in California, it’s been a wild season.
In one of the most tightly contested conferences in recent memory, these eight teams are ready to kickoff their postseason dreams.
So without further ado, here are the complete predictions for each quarterfinal series in the Western Conference this year.
(4) Anaheim Ducks vs. (5) Nashville Predators
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In what might be the most underappreciated matchup in the entire NHL quarterfinals, this series promises to be a thrilling one. With both of these teams playing a mean, physical brand of playoff hockey, it’s going to be an all-out war between these two clubs.
Anaheim has rallied against decimating injuries and an inconsistent defense to enter the playoffs with one of the hottest lines in all of hockey. Corey Perry has been an unstoppable force in the Ducks’ second half surge, leading the NHL in scoring with 50 goals.
With goaltender Jonas Hiller still suffering from vertigo like symptoms, the load lands directly on the shoulders of the Ducks top line. Built for the playoffs, the line of Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan can dominate a series and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The great thing about the Ducks’ top line is also their main problem, as the scoring and playmaking ability drop off precipitously from there. Still, though, the top line is a formidable one that loves playing the puck around the net and along the boards and can play with a nasty streak.
The problem is they'll be facing a deeper, faster and far more defensively responsible hockey team in the Nashville Predators.
The Predators will be looking to erase some painful playoff memories, as they are still seeking their first playoff series victory. Without the top line star power that the Anaheim ducks boast, the Predators play a team game committed to playing in their zone moving outward.
Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are one of the league's best defensive pairs and will take on the enormous task of shutting down the Ducks top line.
And if anyone can do it, it’s Pekka Rinne, who has quietly put together one of the best performances this season. The big man is currently third in goals-against-average and second in save percentage and will not give the Ducks’ shooters much to look at.
Can Sergei Kostitsyn continue to be a factor as the checking becomes tighter and space becomes more limited in the playoffs?
This is a Nasvhille team that took the Blackhawks to the brink in Game Five before allowing a back-breaking shorthanded goal that opened the door to a Chicago comeback.
The Ducks are a nice collection of comeback stories and remarkable performances, but are clearly outclassed and outgunned against the Predators.
Prediction: Nashville in six
(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes
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In one of the more intriguing matchups in the first round of this year's Western Conference quarterfinals, these two teams tangle again after last year's epic seven-game series.
Anytime you talk about the Detroit Red Wings of course, you can talk about their depth, the goaltending of Jimmy Howard or the ageless Nicklas Lidstrom.
In this series, however, the play of Detroit's big three will dictate the outcome against the Phoenix Coyotes. Against a Phoenix special teams unit near the bottom of the league, the big three for the Detroit Red Wings could feast in this series.
Zetterberg has been the Wings’ best player when healthy, with 80 points in 80 games, but how healthy is he exactly? Johan Franzen is leading the team in goals, and what else can you say about Datsyuk, who was seemingly everywhere in the season finale against Chicago?
Ilya Bryzgalov stood on his head in the series a year ago, where the Coyotes ground down the Red Wings before being blown out in Game 7. Lacking top notch firepower, the coyotes will need Bryzgalov to play his best to win against a much healthier Red Wing team than a year ago.
Coach Dave Tippett has his work cut out for him, and the team must limit mistakes, stay out of the box and improve in the faceoff circle to frustrate the Red Wings.
Keith Yandle has been a huge part of the Coyotes this year, ranking third in scoring among defenseman with 59 points; he’ll need to be the difference again vs Detroit.
Yandle and Jovanovski take on the difficult assignment of shutting down the silky dynamic game of Pavel Datsyuk and moving the big frame of Tomas Holmstrom out of the crease.
The Coyotes pushed the Red Wings to seven games a year ago after losing Shane Doan, and armed with more experience, are ready for the challenge Detroit represents this year.
With a team chock full of wily veterans such as Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata and a healthy Shane Doan leading the way, and Bryzgalov backing them up, the Coyotes will finally get over the hump against Detroit.
Prediction : Phoenix in Seven
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings
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After struggling out of the gate, the San Jose Sharks captured their fourth straight division title and look to improve upon last year's Western Conference final appearance.
Antti Niemi was selected as team MVP, and you can't find much fault in his selection, having posted a 25-4-4 record since Jan 15th.
Patrick Marleau has rebounded from an early season funk and has been clutch in several situations late this year. Joe Thornton is committed to the system of play that head coach Todd McLellan has implemented, and it’s paying off for San Jose.
What's the difference for the Sharks, the naysayers may ask? Well, it's not the top three for the Sharks; it's the next three that will do you in, with Clowe, Couture and Setoguchi red-hot headed into the playoffs.
The Sharks are enjoying one of their deepest teams ever, with seven skaters netting 20 goals or more. The Mitchell-Pavelski-Wellwood line has been remarkably efficient, combining for 39 points in the last 13 games, not bad for the third line.
One question mark the team must address is its leaky penalty kill unit, currently seventh worst in the NHL and operating at a tepid 79.6 rate.
The Kings, on the other hand, enter the playoffs as banged up as anybody, missing their star Anze Kopitar. The Kings have the size, defense and style of play to go far into the playoffs but without Kopitar, don't possess the firepower to beat the sharks.
Jonathan Quick has been very good this season, but will need to be outstanding against a the depth of the San Jose Sharks.
Dustin Brown, Ryan Smyth and newly acquired Dustin Penner will need to elevate their games to give San Jose a run for its money. Even with the injuries, it's tough to score against LA, as their 2.39 goals against average can attest to.
Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty are two of the youngest and brightest defenseman the NHL, but can't be on the ice against all of the three dangerous Shark lines.
Prediction: Sharks in Five
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks
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The Canucks have been superb this year and have led the Western Conference for most of the way in the regular season. Ryan Kesler is in the midst of his finest performance, scoring 41 goals, 26 of them at even strength, to accompany his always steady two-way play. The Sedin twins have been as dominant as ever, and this Vancouver squad is as deep as they come in the West.
Roberto Luongo has been one of the NHL's best goalies for some time now, and although he owns a dubious .500 record in the playoffs, the Canucks are clearly the favorites in the West.
With the city of Vancouver expecting (or is it demanding?) a Stanley Cup finals appearance, Luongo will need to be the difference in the series and win in the playoffs for a change.
For the Blackhawks, however, any aspirations of the Stanley Cup repeat will run through the very core of Jonathan Toews. After the off-season purge that saw the Blackhawks lose most of their Stanley Cup winning depth, another Conn Smythe performance is needed from No. 19.
The young captain has stepped up and carried his team in the second half of the season, and the Blackhawks will need more of his clutch play to get out of the first round. Patrick Sharp is one of the best underrated players in all of the NHL, and the top six skaters still rank among the league’s best.
While the core of the stellar Chicago Blackhawk defense remains, the Blackhawks depth just isn’t the same. One of the team’s strengths a year ago, the offseason purge has made it the team’s Achilles Heel.
Against the best goals-against, and the league’s best special teams unit and along with one of the deepest teams in the West, Chicago just won’t have enough manpower.
And that’s the reason why the Vancouver Canucks finally slay the dragon and defeat the Blackhawks in five.
Prediction : Vancouver in Five