Volume One of this article predicted the Eastern Conference. This one deals with the West and the Stanley Cup Finals.
San Jose Sharks over Colorado Avalanche in five games. The problems of the Sharks are well-documented, both this season and in playoffs past. But Colorado is also backing their way into the playoffs, lacks experience, and just does not have the talent to compete with a team as good as San Jose, who were eliminated in the first round last season for the first time since 2001.
Chicago Blackhawks over Nashville Predators in six games. Very similar to the Sharks problems, Chicago has struggled of late, losing seven of nine before blanking Minnesota Wednesday. But they have also battled injuries on their blueline during that span, and should be healthy with the exception of Brian Campbell by the time the playoffs start.
Meanwhile, Nashville has never won more than two playoff games in a season. Being a well-coached division rival with better goaltending, they should be able to match that at best against an otherwise vastly superior foe.
Vancouver Canucks over Los Angeles Kings in five games. If tonight's domination of the Canucks was any indication, the Kings may be coming out of their slump. They are a good team, with talented skaters and goaltending.
But they lack consistency because they are so young, and unlike Vancouver, the Kings do not have the experience to weather the storms of late April. Moreover, despite their talent, the Canucks have a slight edge in all three units and home ice advantage, and also should be at full strength before the series is over.
Detroit Red Wings over Phoenix Coyotes in five games. The Coyotes' effort this season is commendable, and Dave Tippett should be a runaway coach of the year. They play smart hockey and get the most out of their talent. But talent is something they lack, especially in comparison to the Red Wings.
Detroit will only miss out on home ice in the first round because of the injuries they suffered earlier in the year, and that will actually help some of their players be rested. They are seasoned two-time defending champions of the Western Conference, and have just one weakness: Jimmy Howard has not been in this pressure cooker before. However, the Wings have won with questions surrounding their goalies in the past.
Detroit Red Wings over San Jose Sharks in six games. This will be a familiar story for the Sharks, who will be disbanded after the season and forever labelled chokers. In this case, they will have run into a team that is better than its record and much more poised while having much less pressure because they are a lower seed.
Vancouver Canucks over Chicago Blackhawks in six games. The Canucks have better goaltending, and better goaltending wins when the skating talent is close. Things may be different if Campbell were expected back for the entire because he would make Chicago's blueline much better than Vancouver's, instead of incrementally better. Unfortunately, Chicago is not likely to have him back in the lineup until they are down three games to one, and he will not be up to the speed and intensity of his co-competitors.
Vancouver Canucks over Detroit Red Wings in seven games. A Detroit team relying on some key players over 35 who will start to run out of gas and a rookie goalie under intense pressure just will not have enough to also overcome Vancouver's home ice advantage. Having been through an NHL-record road trip, as well as achieving a bit more balance than years past, will have helped the Canucks finally obtain the mettle to win big in the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Penguins over Vancouver Canucks in six games. Pittsburgh has been this far before, and these Canucks have not. They are a bit deeper in both their forwards and defence than Vancouver.
The only disadvantage they have is in net, and while that is the most important position in hockey and Roberto Luongo is arguably the best in the world, Marc-Andre Fleury is no slouch. In fact, I believe he will outplay Luongo...
I will say again what I said in assessing the Sharks goaltending (and other) issues: Luongo will likely play five of the Canucks' next six games and hit the 70-games played wall. If he were to win the Stanley Cup, he would be the oldest goalie (by about five weeks over Martin Brodeur) to do so after playing 70 games in a season.
Luongo has Brodeur's endurance, but will have played four preseason, four Olympic, and 18 playoff games before entering the series. Martin played three more games in the 2002-03 regular season than Luongo is likely to, but one fewer post-season and no Olympic games. And he had a better team in front of him and faced fewer shots because of the Devils' trap.
Thus, Fleury has the enviable position of being almost six years younger, having played in maybe nine fewer combined games in the regular season, Olympics, and playoffs, and having more experience playing in games of this magnitude.
Sorry, Flyers fans and Crosby haters everywhere, but at 22 years old, he will have added to his list of unheard of accomplishments, captaining his team to two Stanley Cups and scoring the gold medal-winning goal in between. But I am sure people will still immaturely call him a whiner or credit his various teammates with his success.