Need some clarification for our (occasionally) ridiculous choices in our brackets? Well, we'd hate to leave you hanging. So, Weagz, Forsberg's Foot, and I want to give you a better sense of the matchups for this opening round and why we think they'll break the way we chose. For the second installment, the Western Conference:
Matteau the Magic Wrap-Around "does" the 1 v. 8 Matchup
#1 San Jose Sharks (51-20-11) versus #8 Colorado Avalanche (43-30-9)
San Jose has probably been the most "blah" #1 team in the NHL this year, lacking an explosive offensive season on the part of any of its players, or an unbelievable performance by its number one goaltender (sorry, Nabby, but it's still the Dead Puck Era). What the Sharks have lost in explosiveness they've gained in all-around play, boasting some of the league's most underrated defensive forwards (Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Manny Malhotra) in addition to a largely stay-at-home defensive corps. Unlike previous years, this team won't be relying on its offense to stay strong through the playoffs; hard-working, gritty players like Scott Nichol and Torrey Mitchell will carve out success, if they have to.
Colorado is a wild-card team, a group that has surprised as much as the Coyotes, and carries with them many of the weapons that made them so dangerous during the regular season. But it's where Colorado differs from Phoenix that should come back to bite them. Built around it's extremely youthful core, Colorado dealt with boom-or-bust performances all year, played out in front of the relatively steady work of Craig Anderson. Their current struggles (3-5-2 in their last 10 games) have exposed the fragility of a team that has exceeded everyone's expectations. Anderson has also been shaky, and at this time of year you need to play well in at least four games out of seven if you want to advance.
I'm picking San Jose to reverse their playoff curse, 4 games to Colorado's 2.
Weagz "does" the 2 v. 7 Matchup
#2 Chicago Blackhawks (52-22-8) versus #7 Nashville Predators (47-29-6)
Chicago isn’t a hard team to figure out. They are filled with stars and some goalie I’ve never heard of.
Chicago is fast and they are relentless. They are the third-highest scoring team in the league, lead by young point-machines Patrick Kane (30-58-88) and Jonathan Toews (25-43-68) up front and supported in the back by the steady Duncan Keith (14-55-69). With all of that firepower, plus Brian Campbell on the point, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp up front, the Powerplay has underachieved this year, finishing in the middle of the league. While the powerplay is a mystery (although I am confident with all of that talent, they will get it going), the team is near the top of the league in Penalty Kill and Antti Niemi has been blazing hot. Will he stay hot in the playoffs? Will he crumble under the pressure? Will the Chicago Powerplay get it going?
Nashville is a middle-of-the-road team. They are 18th in goal scoring, and 14th in goals allowed. They do most of their damage 5-on-5 as both of their special teams are in the bottom-third of the league. When you consider the Predator’s prospects, you think of the exciting Shea Weber (16-27-43) blasting shots from the point Pekka Rinne (32W, 2.53GAA, .911 Sv %) doing the yeoman’s work in the pipes. Nashville doesn’t have a lot to excite people, but they get the job done. They find a way to win and they are gritty. Don’t sleep on the Preds, they seem to slip under the radar every year and find themselves still playing meaningful hockey in late April.
I’m rolling the dice on the Blackhawks. If they don’t get their PP worked out, Nashville has got just enough to give them fits and to hang around. If Rinne steals one in Chicago, this series will get very interesting. That said, I don’t think Rinne steals one and I think Chicago comes out with their skates on fire and dominates this series they are just too fast—too much firepower. Hawks in 4.
Matteau the Magic Wrap-Around "does" the 3 v. 6 Matchup
#3 Vancouver Canucks (49-28-5) versus #6 Los Angeles Kings (46-27-9)
A mediocre team to begin the season, the Canucks came out roaring after Daniel Sedin returned from injury. The Sisters have not looked back, lifting the Canucks to the 3rd spot in the conference despite struggling to stay above .500 through the first 3 months. On paper, this is a stellar team, boasting the explosiveness of The Sisters coupled with the hard-as-nails goal scorers in Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows. Contributions from the back 6 are sparse, though Ehrhoff has quietly put together one of his best seasons. The big question marks include the fact that, despite all his regular season accomplishments, we are still not completely sold on Luongo as a "big-game" goaltender. Despite that melty-looking gold medal on his mantel, the Olympics did little to dispel the notion that we don't know what to expect out of him. A slow finish to the season and a crushing 8-3 loss to the Kings (with Luongo in for all 8) in early April makes this even more concerning.
I love the Kings, I have to admit. They have one of my favorite players (Dustin Brown) who I feel that I could have been in another life (gritty and annoying, throws hits even when it's not merited, cowlick), and a host of young veterans. Despite their young ages, guys like Kopitar, Brown, Quick, Doughty, Simmonds, Frolov, and Johnson have all had enough time in the league to become more than just rookies. Their energy can be smart and scary to even the best teams in the conference. I'm not sold that Quick is a solid goaltender, but he has played well all year and it is really hard to gauge who will emerge in the playoffs and who won't. On the flip side, Quick has played like a tired-out goaltender and might fall flat.
I'm going upset on this one, Kings in 5 games. It will need to be a fast series or the Canucks will rebound.
Weagz "does" the 4 v. 5 Matchup
#4 Phoenix Coyotes (50-25-7) versus #5 Detroit Red Wings (44-24-14)
Apparently Gary Bettman thinks the Phoenix Coyotes are the dream franchise and a model for the future NHL. Apparently, Gary Bettman thinks the best way to make money is to play in front of an empty stadium and to use the other owner’s money to lose more money. What a model—how this guy retains his job is beyond me. I once asked a Phoenix resident why nobody goes to the ‘Yotes games, I asked if it was ignorance or apathy—he replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” I really struggle to talk about the Phoenix Coyotes as anything more than disfunction. That said, they did win 50 games this year—hooray! I’m so happy! Look—this team is really simple—Ilya Bryzgalov (42W, 2.29GAA, .920 Sv%) is scary good and is on a very short list for the Vezina. Keith Yandle (12-29-41) is VERY underrated in the back. They don’t score many goals (24th in the league), but they sure as heck don’t give up many either (3rd in the league). It’s no surprise that their PP is near the bottom of the league and their PK is near the top.
Hmm… Apparently the Detroit Red Wings are in the playoffs this year—wow! There’s a shocker. Hockeytown will be jumping again—especially on the backs of a 13-1-2 finish, enough to storm to the five-seed after a brief, albeit interesting, flirtation with missing the playoffs. If memory serves me correctly, Chris OsBAD (7W, 3.02GAA, .888 Sv%) played in the one loss. They are decent on offense, 14th in the league and Jimmy Howard (37W, 2.26GAA, .924 Sv%) has shored up the defensive core, ahem… Nicklas Lidstrom (9-40-49) doesn’t hurt either, as they rank 7th in goals against. Detroit’s offense makes it money on special teams (9th on the PP, and 10th on the PK). A few of their players had less-than-stellar offensive years, like Henrik Zetterberg (23-47-70) and injury-ladened Tomas Holmstrom (25-20-45), but Pavel Datsyuk had another banner year (27-43-70). When push comes to shove, it’s April in Hockeytown, so expect the superstars (Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Lidstrom, Rafalski) to find their game and also expect no-name-guys like Cleary, Eaves, Filppula, Draper, and the rest of the group to also pitch in. Howard has shown he’s capable of being the guy—but things are always a little different in the playoffs.
The question is between the pipes for the Red Wings—the offense is going to find a way—just as it does every playoff run for Detroit, but it won’t matter if Howard is giving up a half-dozen goals a game. Oh that’s right, they are playing Phoenix, and he’s a lot better than that. Red Wings upset the Coyotes in 5 games. Suck it Bettman!
Matteau the Magic Wrap-Around "does" the closing statement