Time to take a look at the Western Conference match ups and my fearless predictions for the battles out West.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS (1) vs LOS ANGELES KINGS (8)
The Canucks claimed the President's Trophy for the second year in a row, and their team looks solid from top to bottom. If the Canucks have a question going into the playoffs, it has to be, surprisingly, the play of Roberto Luongo in net. Luongo needs to start strong and not be looking over his shoulder at Cory Schneider, who is sitting on the bench waiting to take over the crease if Luongo falters. The Canucks may not have the services of Daniel Sedin for a part of this series as he recovers from a concussion. His return bolsters the Canucks chances. The Kings have struggled to score this season, and if they can get Jeff Carter back from an ankle injury, could improve their chances in this series. The Kings have an abundance of talent, but it has not excelled this season. If the Kings can get timely scoring and use their size, they could present some problems for the Canucks. Jonathan Quick will carry the hopes of the Kings in net, and he is capable of stealing some some games. This series presents the best chance for a first round upset, and I think the Kings will challenge the Canucks.
MY PICK: CANUCKS IN 7
St LOUIS BLUES (2) vs SAN JOSE SHARKS (7)
The Blues were in contention for the President's trophy until the last few games of the season; the Sharks had to scramble to get into the playoffs. On paper, this looks like the Blues should be able to handle the Sharks fairly easily. The game is played on the ice, however, and I think this series will be tougher for the Blues than most imagine. This year, the Blues were 4-0 against the Sharks. Look back over the past several seasons, though, and the Sharks were 18-3-3 against the Blues. The Sharks size up front will give the Blues some problems, and I expect every game in this series to be a physical contest. The Sharks wily veterans will present a challenge for the younger Blues. That being said, the Blues forwards will put immense pressure on the Sharks D, and eventually should prevail. For the Sharks to have a chance in this series, Antii Niemi is going to have to play better than he did in their regular season games, and the Sharks are going to have to do a good job of protecting him against the pressure the Blues forwards will bring. The Blues most likely will not have Brian Elliott because of an upper body injury, so they will rely on Jaroslav Halak to carry the load. He will.
MY PREDICTION: BLUES IN 6
PHOENIX COYOTES (3) vs CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (6)
This series will be a very interesting series, as the Coyotes will present match up problems for the Hawks. In my view, this series will hinge on two factors: how well the Hawks second and third D pairings play against the dangerous forwards of the Coyotes; and how well Corey Crawford plays in net for the Hawks. It is no secret that the Hawks have questions in goal, and if the Coyotes light up Crawford early, then his fragile confidence will be shattered and Ray Emery will get his chance in goal. I am not sure that either netminder inspires confidence in the skaters in front of them. Chicago is potent offensively, and it will fall to Mike Smith to continue his outstanding play in net if the Coyotes are going to capture this series. I think he will. Dave Tippett, coach of the Coyotes, will have his team ready to play, and Tippett could be the X factor in this series. Look for Tippett to have his team ready to play a tough series and handle the ups and downs that will inevitably occur.
MY PREDICTION: COYOTES IN 7
NASHVILLE PREDATORS (4) vs DETROIT RED WINGS (5)
You can read my preview of this series here.
MY PICK: NASHVILLE IN 5