Check out my Eastern Conference predictions here.
The first round of the Western Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs will be nothing short of spectacular. We’ll see matchups that, in terms of talent, would be legitimate Conference Finals battles. It will be interesting to see how the new playoff format will impact the Quest for the Cup, but if the regular season gave us any indication, the playoffs will be better than ever. As for predictions, here’s what I’ve got.
(#1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (WC #2) Dallas Stars: Ducks in 5
The Ducks enter the playoffs as the top seed in the Western Conference, riding a four game winning streak (tied for best among playoff teams), and falling just a point short of the President’s Trophy. Dallas represents the opposite end of the spectrum, as they lost four of their last seven games and squeaked by Phoenix for the last playoff spot in the West. Both of these teams are successful because of their offense, which gives the Stars a fighting chance in this series. Dallas has a slight edge in net, as Kari Lehtonen has outperformed Jonas Hiller this season, but so too has backup Frederik Anderson. Beyond that, Anaheim is a much, much deeper team than Dallas, both offensively and defensively. Anaheim will overpower the Stars and this series will be over in five games.
(#1) Colorado Avalanche vs. (WC #1) Minnesota Wild: Avalanche in 5
This series was the closest I came to predicting a clean sweep in the first round. Colorado was dominant in Patrick Roy’s first season at the helm. They were the last team in the NHL to suffer their first loss of the regular season and never really looked back. The Wild had an underwhelming season, especially when you consider the elite talent that fills out the top end of their roster. Minnesota caught lightning in a bottle when they acquired Ilya Bryzgalov at the Trade Deadline, but Colorado has an elite goalie of their own in Semyon Varlamov. Ultimately, this series will come down to the youth and energy of the Avalanche and the veteran leadership and experience of the Wild, and after an 82 game season, youth wins out. Minnesota will muster a win, but not much more than that.
(#2) St. Louis Blues vs (#3) Chicago Blackhawks: Blackhawks in 7
After an impressive campaign in the regular season, St. Louis ran into some bad luck at the wrong time. With the series ready to get underway on Thursday night, St. Louis is in danger of being without the services of TJ Oshie, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Brenden Morrow, and Vladimir Tarasenko for Game 1. Chicago, on the other hand, is expecting their injured stars back for Game 1, as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews re-join the team. Chicago’s title defense won’t be easy, as the Blues are a physical hockey team that excels in every facet of the game. Unfortunately for St. Louis, if the injury bug lingers on too long, they won’t be able to keep pace with the high power Blackhawks. In a seven game series, a lucky bounce could make or break your chances, so the Blues could sneak by the Blackhawks, but it’s hard to bet against the defending champs in the first round against a banged up team.
(#2) San Jose Sharks vs (#3) Los Angeles Kings: Kings in 7
On paper, San Jose should win this series. Overall, they are a stronger team, with superior depth, specifically on defense. That said, the Kings have been here before and know how to get the job done, while the Sharks seem to find a new way to bow out of the postseason every year. For San Jose to move on, they will need their horses to carry them at both ends. For the Kings, the key to success will be a balanced attack, coupled with a solid performance from Jonathan Quick. If the Kings rely too heavily on their top line or top defense pair, this series will quickly tip in the favor of the Sharks. Either way, this series will be a battle for seven games, with the 2012 Stanley Cup Champs coming out on top.
Be sure to check back later for my Eastern Conference Predictions and let me know what you think in the comments or on twitter @kirkvance.
Update: Check out my Eastern Conference predictions here.