Thirty teams started the season, but only sixteen remain as the quest for Lord Stanley’s mug begins on Wednesday night.
There were some pretty good battles for playoff spots and playoff position, including a shootout on the final day of the regular season to determine which of the two teams participating would play beyond that day – but the matchups are now set and it’s time to get down to business!
Here’s a quick preview of each series, starting with the Western Conference:
(1) San Jose vs. (8) Colorado
This is a pivotal year for the San Jose Sharks – I felt bad for them last season when they drew the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs, because I knew that would be a tough test for them, and it wound up being too much. The Sharks are one of the best regular season teams of the last five years, but they’ve never been able to translate that into postseason success. They have a pretty favorable pairing this year though against the eighth seeded Avalanche, with whom they split their season series 2-2. The benefit the Avs have is that they’ve been playing in playoff mode for a couple of weeks now, but it will take a monster effort from goalie Craig Anderson to keep his team in this one. The leadership core of the Sharks has something to prove this year, and beating Colorado is the first step. I say Anderson will have to be big for the Avalanche, well it’s just as important for Evgeni Nabokov to be in top form, as he’s had some off-days since a disappointing Olympics.
My Prediction: Sharks in six
Wednesday, April 14 at San Jose, 10:30 p.m. CBC
Friday, April 16 at San Jose, 10:30 p.m. CBC
Sunday, April 18 at Colorado, 9:30 p.m. CBC
Tuesday, April 20 at Colorado, 10:00 p.m. CBC
*Thursday, April 22 at San Jose, 10:30 p.m. CBC
*Saturday, April 24 at Colorado, TBD CBC
*Monday, April 26 at San Jose, TBD CBC
(2) Chicago vs. (7) Nashville
The Chicago Blackhawks are coming off another great season as they continue to mature as a team and you know they’ll be hoping to take it a step further this spring. The Nashville Predators are a team that is deceptively deep up front though and a gritty team that can grind you down over the course of a seven game series. These two teams know each other very well, meeting up six times this season, with the Hawks winning four of those matchups. Chicago is a young team with a lot of firepower, but they’ve also got some experienced playoff guys like two-time Stanley Cup winner John Madden and Marian Hossa, who has played in the last two finals (though escaped without a ring). One area where they could be exposed is between the pipes, but most of the time their goaltending is okay. I think the Predators will try to shut this one down by playing a gritty, defensive type game, which I think they are capable of doing…but I don’t see them winning this series.
My Prediction: Hawks in five
Friday, April 16 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m. TSN2
Sunday, April 18 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m. TSN
Tuesday, April 20 at Nashville, 9:00 p.m. TSN
Thursday, April 22 at Nashville, 8:30 p.m. TSN2
*Saturday, April 24 at Chicago, 3:00 p.m. TSN
*Monday, April 26 at Nashville, TBD TSN
*Wednesday, April 28 at Chicago, TBD TSN
(3) Vancouver vs. (6) Los Angeles
The last time these two teams met in the regular season, the Kings lit Roberto Luongo up for eight goals on 29 shots in an 8-3 win, avoiding the season series sweep at the hands of the Canucks. That game will give the LA shooters all the confidence in the world that they can punish the world-class net minder, which could be a factor in this series. Luongo is prone to games like that every now and again, including a 7-4 loss to Chicago in the playoffs last year. Overall though, the Canucks are a strong team and it’ll be tough for the Kings to contain the Sedin twins and guys like Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler. Vancouver wound up scoring the second most goals this season behind only Washington, but the Kings were in that top ten as well, so this could be a high-scoring series. This one could come down to goaltending and believe it or not, Jonathan Quick and Roberto Luongo have pretty even stats.
My Prediction: Kings in seven
Thursday, April 15 at Vancouver, 10:00 p.m. CBC
Saturday, April 17 at Vancouver, 10:00 p.m. CBC
Monday, April 19 at Los Angeles, 10:00 p.m. CBC
Wednesday, April 21 at Los Angeles, 10:00 p.m. CBC
*Friday, April 23 at Vancouver, 10:00 p.m. CBC
*Sunday, April 25 at Los Angeles, TBD CBC
*Tuesday, April 27 at Vancouver, TBD CBC
(4) Phoenix vs. (5) Detroit
There was a time this season when it looked like the Detroit Red Wings might miss the playoffs for the first time in a long time – but a 16-3-2 record since the Olympic break ensured that didn’t happen. Like the Edmonton Oilers, the Red Wings had some pretty substantial injury issues this season and it took until the final 20-some games for them to have a full lineup – but when they got a full team back, they really turned it on. On the other side of the coin, the Phoenix Coyotes have been probably the biggest surprise in the NHL this season, putting up 50 wins and 107 points, challenging the Sharks for the Pacific Division title. A big part of their success was solid goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov and a solid group of forwards that they added to at the trade deadline. For example, Lee Stempniak had 14 goals and 18 points in 18 games since the trade deadline. Back to the Wings though – they’ve got everyone firing on all cylinders and rookie Jimmy Howard has played great between the pipes. This will be a great series that could go the distance. The difference for the Wings this year is that they’re on the other end of the standings and have been battling for weeks now, which means they’ll have a different mindset coming into these playoffs.
My Prediction: Detroit in six
Wednesday, April 14 at Phoenix, 10:00 p.m. TSN
Friday, April 16 at Phoenix, 10:00 p.m. TSN
Sunday, April 18 at Detroit, 3:00 p.m. TSN
Tuesday, April 20 at Detroit, 6:30 p.m. TSN
*Friday, April 23 at Phoenix, 10:00 p.m. TSN
*Sunday, April 25 at Detroit, 2:00 p.m. TSN
*Tuesday, April 27 at Phoenix, TBD TSN