NHL Playoff Predictions 2011: Western Conference First Round

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIApril 12, 2011

The winner of the Western Conference will earn the Campbell Trophy
The winner of the Western Conference will earn the Campbell TrophyJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The NHL's Western Conference playoff race was one of the most competitive in years. Two points separate the fourth and eighth seeds, and two teams were within three points of making the playoffs.

Will the playoffs be as competitive?

There are many familiar matchups in the first round. Two played each other last spring and another is a set of division rivals.

Familiarity breeds contempt, but that is mostly among fans. Athletes know that understanding your opponent gives you confidence facing them, and that usually favours the underdog.

But it all comes down to execution, and the team with the best personnel (players and coaches) usually wins. With that in mind, here are the first round predictions in the West:



Vancouver Canucks over Chicago Blackhawks in six

The Canucks topped the league in virtually every category: goals scored, goals allowed, power play, penalty kill, and not surprisingly, record. They have arguably the game's best forwards and goalie.

That being said, Chicago is confident against the Canucks (2-2 this season, two straight times eliminating them from the playoffs).

Moreover, the fact that it has been over a week since Vancouver played a game that mattered should allow the Hawks to steal one of the first two, and they are too good to lose three in a row after that.



San Jose Sharks over Los Angeles Kings in six

See Sports Haze Bay Area for a full preview of this series.



Detroit Red Wings over Phoenix Coyotes in five

The Red Wings are good for laying an occasional egg, and Ilya Bryzgalov is bound to steal at least one game.

But there is no guarantee the former will even happen in the series, nor that if it does, it will not coincide with the latter.

On the ice, the Wings have the experience and talent the Coyotes lack, with four line-depth that includes four or five skaters better than anyone Phoenix has.

If the Coyotes have any coaching advantage, it is minimal; having the edge in net takes you only so far.



Nashville Predators over Anaheim Ducks in seven

This is an upset pick. While the Preds have the advantage in net and may have an equal blueline, they have nowhere near the forward depth or top-line talent the Ducks have.

But ultimately, this is their best chance at a first-ever opening round win, and Barry Trotz knows how to coach them to it.

Plus, as good as Randy Carlyle is on the bench, unless Jonas Hiller comes back, he will have to trust either Ray Emery or former Predator Dan Ellis in net; this is a far more marked advantage than Phoenix has in this position.