I may never recapture the magic of the 2012 2ITB Playoff Predictions. Specifically, the magic of my 5-for-8 first round in which the Blues, Penguins and Bruins fell as teams I chose to advance. Regardless of that fact I will offer my thoughts on each round of the playoffs just as I have in previous years. Beginning with the Western Conference.
#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #8 Minnesota Wild
Minnesota snuck in just ahead of #Lumbus for the eighth spot in the west and their prize is to face the Presidents Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks. Congratulations. Minnesota has a nice little roster and can certainly give teams fits, especially if their guns start firing. However Chicago is about three players short of being an All-Star team and have a pretty impressive makeup for a long playoff run.
Why Chicago will win: Depth and talent. Simply put the Blackhawks have one of the most impressive rosters I’ve seen this side of my NHL 99 team that had Steve Yzerman playing in a third line role. When you have players like Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on your second line, you have a very impressive roster. There is a reason the Hawks rattled off that “unbeaten” streak earlier in the year. Their fans just have to hope that magic is still in the room.
Why Minnesota will win: The Wild, on paper, have the edge in goal. I think there could be some contention in Chicago over whether Ray Emery or Corey Crawford should start (especially if one of them falters). Nik Backstrom is a great keeper and could definitely give the Hawks headaches if he stands on his head. Minnesota will need to avoid certain matchups to fully take advantage of the talent they have as compared to the near limitless depth of the Blackhawks.
Outcome: Blackhawks in five
#2 Anaheim Ducks vs. #7 Detroit Red Wings
Detroit was in the group of teams floating near the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race as the season drew to a close. They managed to keep their playoff streak alive and now go into a series against a Ducks club which kept pace with the Blackhawks for a good portion of the year. Ultimately I think this series could be decided by goaltending. Specifically, Anaheim’s goaltending.
Why Anaheim will win: The Ducks were a powerhouse for most of the season but there has been some dissension in net. Viktor Fasth came on strong and has all but taken the crease from Jonas Hiller. When I see a team with a question mark in net I often worry about consistency over a playoff year. What helps the Ducks here is their top-end talent. Their big guns will be very difficult to contain and they’re depth isn’t anything to sneeze at.
Why Detroit will win: There is a reason the Wings have been to the playoffs every year since the first Bush was in office. This is a model franchise with great talent. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are still elite players and the Wings have gotten great goaltending from Jimmy Howard. If Howard gives the Wings the proper stability and the Ducks crease tandem is shaky, this series could swing in the Wings’ direction.
Outcome: Wings in 7
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 San Jose Sharks
Even though I enjoy watching the Canucks, this series may be one that I care about the least. Vancouver has a solid roster and has gotten the job done all season. San Jose is simply a team I have no opinion on. They’re a club going through a bit of a turnaround and this lower seed is a decent representation of that. While certainly talented, I think their time as a contender is on the way down.
Why Vancouver will win: Even with Cory Schneider hung up with some injury issues, Roberto Luongo is waiting in the wings and you shouldn’t forget that he was the guy who carried them Canucks to the Finals two years ago. Away from the crease this is a very talented roster and they proved their worth over the course of this season. I feel like they should be considered a strong favorite.
Why San Jose will win: This team still has boatloads of talent. It just happens to be aged talent. While the Sharks have an impressive, young core coming up and preparing to take over, they’re wagon is still hitched to the Thornton, Marleau and Boyle horses. Or are they the wagon? Wait, it has to be your butcher. Regardless, I like the Sharks roster, I just don’t like it against the Canucks this time around.
Outcome: Canucks in 5
#4 Los Angeles Kings vs. #5 St. Louis Blues
A rematch of last year’s second round sweep by the Kings and it is a series that I expect to be vastly different. As a fan of the Kings (going back prior to last year) I will ultimately be pulling for them to advance. However, as a fan of Buffalo’s draft picks I am hoping the Blues advance and the fifth obtained for Jordan Leopold becomes a fourth this year. Wishful thinking, I know.
Why Los Angeles Will win: The Kings are a damn good hockey team, as referenced by the big shiny trophy they won last season. While their goaltending has been substandard this season, their offense appears to have kicked to another gear. If they can get anywhere close to the stellar goaltending they got last year (from Quick or Bernier), this team could go for another run.
Why St. Louis will win: Defense, defense, defense. This is a team that thrives on stifling chances and limiting even a faint thought of a scoring opportunity. They need to. Despite allowing a very low number of shots, the Blues received questionable goaltending all year. If Jaro “China Doll” Halak can get in top form, this is a good team. The same goes for the enigma that is Brian Elliott.
Outcome: Kings in 7