#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings
Canucks in 6. The Kings are the New York Rangers West. Both have Vezina candidates for goalies and both struggle to score at a high rates, even as they have some immensely talented forwards. The Canucks may be sans one Sedin twin, which further hampers their ability to sweep an opponent that just barely made it in the playoffs. Nonetheless, the Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy for most regular season points for a second straight year, displaying a perfect blend of special teams, goaltending, and offensive firepower. The only way the series goes the Kings’ way is if UMass alum Jonathan Quick elevates his game even higher and steals a few games by playing out of his mind.
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks
Sharks in 7. This is my upset pick. If the Rangers and Kings were akin, then so are the Sharks and the Capitals. The Sharks have made two consecutive Conference Finals, but have always floundered as the prohibitive favorite. The Blues have been the NHL’s darling this year, coming out of nowhere while riding the goaltending of Jarislav Halak and Brian Elliot to a second seed. But a lack of offensive talent and an inexperienced defensive corps will be the Blues’ undoing.
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks
Hawks in 6. This is the one series that could go to seven games, or one of the teams could sweep. The Hawks will win if Toews returns from a concussion and Corey Crawford plays admirably – both are HUGE ifs. The Coyotes, who are the higher seed, despite garnering four less points while playing in a less talented division, have relocation issues and a goalie who may be a byproduct of their defensive system, rather than being his own talent. There are just too many factors at play to be sure of who wins this one.
#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
Predators in 7. Just like the 4v5 matchup in the East, both teams could conceivably beat any other team, but their first round draw means one incredibly talented team will lose in the first round. The Preds won their first playoff series last year, and find themselves with added offensive talent in Radulov, Gaustad and Kostitsyn to complement their always stellar blue line anchored by Weber and Suter. The Wings are no slouches though; they have the experience to carry them through yet another postseason berth, their 21st straight. I can’t guarantee who will win this series, but I can guarantee that it will go the full seven games.
Mark Bruso can be reached for comment at email@example.com.