Vancouver Canucks (1) vs Chicago Blackhawks (8) *** Series to Watch ***
Key Matchup: Henrik Sedin (Canucks) vs Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks)
Both players are the first line center, the engine that drives the offense on the power play, and also the captain for their respective teams.
Prediction: Canucks in six games
The Blackhawks got worse, and the Canucks got better, after their meetings in the previous two playoffs, both Blackhawks wins. This series should be the most entertaining series in the West during the first round, as both teams play a highly skilled game, and also happen to hate each other.
San Jose Sharks (2) vs LA Kings (7)
Key Matchup: Dany Heatley (Sharks) vs Ryan Smyth (Kings)
Both wingers are Team Canada veterans, and while Heatley is more valuable during the regular season, Smyth finds another gear in big games, and Heatley starts thinking about golf.
Prediction: Kings in six games
The young Kings got a taste of the playoffs last year, and this year they don't want to go home early. They added playoff experience in Dustin Penner and Willie Mitchell as well. Expect the Battle for California to get nasty, and when the games get nasty, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Heatley tend to fade rather than pushing back.
Detroit Red Wings (3) vs Phoenix Coyotes (6)
Key Matchup: Thomas Holmstrom (Red Wings) vs Ilya Bryzgalov (Coyotes)
The Coyotes need Bryzgalov to be airtight to win, and who better to get him off his game than the best crease crasher in the NHL?
Prediction: Red Wings in six games
The Coyotes will put up a spirited fight, but they just don't have the firepower to win a playoff series unless Bryzgalov can steal multiple games, and that isn't going to happen with Detroit's stable of crease crashers.
Anaheim Ducks (4) vs Nashville Predators (5)
Key Matchup: Corey Perry (Ducks) vs Shea Weber (Predators)
Can Weber shutdown his Olympic teammate?
Prediction: Ducks in five games
The Predators have the coaching, defence and goaltending to win in the playoffs, but they still don't have the firepower. Combine that with the Ducks having the best line in hockey (Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan) and also the ageless Finnish Flash (Teemu Selanne) and this isn't the Predators year.