The quarter-finals for the Western Conference are now complete, and as we sit back now to watch the second round, many people will be asking “Who are these teams?” It will be a new experience to watch the Predators, Kings, Blues and Predators battle to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. The usual suspects like the Red Wings, Canucks, Sharks, and Blackhawks are all out in the first round. This is not normal, what will it be like to not be watching the Red Wings or Blackhawks battling into the Conference finals? It might be kind of nice? It will be all new! I am excited to see new blood taking over the reigns in the Western Conference. The second round is going to be very interesting. The two series in the second round both look to be very tight checking, goaltender battles. If you like low scoring, defensive battles, the Western Conference semi-finals will be very entertaining.
The Los Angeles Kings advanced to the second round by upsetting the President Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks. This is new territory for the Kings in recent history, but the Kings have advanced out of the second round twelve times. The only time they advanced to the third round was in 1992-1993 when they ended up advancing to the Stanley Cup finals. They ended up losing to the Canadiens. The Kings joined the National Hockey League in 1967, and since then, they have made the playoffs twenty four times. They have only won one division championship, and that was in 1990-1991. The recent playoff success for the Kings has been very limited. Los Angeles has qualified for the playoffs the last two years, but success has not been the result. Last season the Kings were ousted in the first round by the Canucks in six games, and the year before that they were beaten by the Sharks in six games. This year the Kings actually struggled during the regular season. They started out very slowly and ended up bringing in Darryl Sutter to replace Terry Murray. The Kings responded by winning enough games to sneak into the eighth, and final playoff spot. The bright spot of the season were the goaltending of Jonathan Quick. The Kings now move in to the semi-finals, and hope the great play of Quick continues. They also hope for offensive input from Richards, Carter and Kopitar.
The St. Louis Blues have forgotten what it is like to make the playoffs, much less advance to the second round. The Blues have only made the playoffs once since the 2003-2004 NHL season. That was a quick four game first round exit, at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks in 2008-2009. Prior to that year the Blues were regular playoff performers. Since entering the league in 1967 the Blues have made the playoffs thirty six times. This strong playoff success featured eight division titles, which also included this season. The Stanley Cup has never been raised by the Blues. This just may be the year. Just like the Kings, the Blues started out very slow. They then decided to fire Davis Payne, and bring in Ken Hitchcock. The season then began to turn around with a long winning streak. By the end of the season the Blues were competing for the Presidents Trophy. The Blues look to ride the great goaltending of Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak to advance to the Conference Finals.
The Phoenix Coyotes are not new to the playoffs, but advancing to the second round is unchartered territories. The Coyotes are playing in their third straight playoff appearance. In the two previous seasons they were eliminated in the first round by the Detroit Red Wings. This year they matched up against a new opponent in the Chicago Blackhawks. The series went six games, that featured overtimes in the first five games. The Coyotes advanced thanks to the stellar goaltending of Mike Smith. The Coyotes have not had much playoff success since moving from Winnipeg in 1996. They have never one a Stanley Cup, and this season was the first time they have won a division championship. The road was not easy, and the Coyotes did not solidify the division championship until the last week of the season. The Coyotes are coached by Dave Tippett, and look for captain Shane Doan to lead them past the Predators in the second round.
Last season the Nashville Predators advanced to the conference semi-finals for the first time ever. It resulted in a loss to the Vancouver Canucks in six games. This was a huge stepping stone for the Predators who entered the league in 1998. The Predators have made the playoffs in seven of the eight seasons in the league, this is very impressive, but they have lacked what it takes to advance. The Predators have been lead every season by coach Barry Trotz. Over the years Trotz has continued to build this team from the goaltender out. Is it complete now? They are set in net with Rinne, and the defensive core is second to none. The one question is who will lead the offense? I guess we will see in the second round if this building process is complete. The Predators will look to continue the stingy defense, and look for timely goals from the likes of Fisher and Radulov to advance.
The Western Conference semi-finals will have a totally new look. Not one of the teams have won a Stanley Cup. The games look to be low scoring defensive battles, but it is exciting to see what looks to be a changing of the guards taking place in the west.