(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks
Regular Season Series: Tied 2-2
Why Vancouver Will Win: Boy, do they ever want this win. After getting embarassed two years in a row by the Hawks, Luongo weeping, and the weight of the number one seed crushing them, Vancouver has to win. If they can't knock off the Hawks with all of their firepower, their defense, and their phenomenal goaltending...then there's a problem beyond scientific explanation. The fact is that top to bottom, Vancouver are the superior team.
Why Chicago Will Win: Chicago are no slouches and for the most part, the team that won it all is still there. Mostly. They're definitely missing the secondary scoring they gave up, but Jonathan Toews was enough to will this team into the playoffs. Can he get it done in the playoffs? Last year he did. With an award winning performance, of course.
Who Will Win: As a Detroit Red Wings fan, this series delights me because either way, one of these teams has to go home empty handed. I believe Chicago will push Vancouver beyond their limits and the series will go the distance. However, Vancouver is just too good to lose to Chicago....I think.
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings
Regular Season Series: Tied 3-3
Why San Jose Will Win: San Jose boasts a bevy of brutes at forward who can score and push around other teams. That, and goalie Anti Niemi is looking strong going into the playoffs. I still believe Niemi to be counterfeit but he is a strength of the Sharks and his regular season push at the end can't be denied. This team is just as deep as last year when they cruised to the Conference Finals.
Why Los Angeles Will Win: Much love to the Los Angeles Kings, but they can't win this series without Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. If you take the top two centers off of any team, they will flounder. As much as I want to praise Jon Quick for being a brick wall in goal, he is going to have to be better than a brick wall to pull this off. Maybe a couple of forwards will step up...I'm looking at you Dustin Penner and Ryan Smyth. I have a good feeling about Wayne Simmonds and Dustin Brown, but the rest of those forwards need to step up.
Who Will Win: Sharks in 5. Again, not to diss how LA played all year, but they won't be able to compete with San Jose. There's too much scoring depth on San Jose and as much as I respect Drew Doughty on defense and Jon Quick in nets for LA...they're screwed without their two best players. Period.
(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes
Season Series: Series Tied 2-2
Why Detroit Will Win: Enter my homerism. Detroit is in a phase where few pundits give them the respect they have earned over the past 20 years. They take for granted that they are in the hunt every year. This year is no different, with arguably the deepest lineup at forward in the league. Oh, plus a Nick Lidstrom. And Johan Franzen, who just likes to score a LOT in the playoffs. The big mark on Detroit is Jimmy Howard, who had a so-so season after a Calder worthy rookie campaign.
Why Phoenix Will Win: Enter my knowledge of what it takes to beat Detroit. 60 minutes of the most boring trap hockey you will ever see. If Phoenix can completely avoid any special team scenario at all (they were bottom 10 in both PP and PK) and Bryzgalov maintain a .940 save percentage or better, they can do it. They don't have the scoring to keep up with Detroit, but there's something to be said about their incredibly gritty forwards that back up Shane Doan.
Who Will Win: This series will be among the most boring of the first round match-ups because the only way I see Phoenix competing against Detroit is by playing the stingiest trap style possible. Again, no penalties called at all, Detroit being held to less than 30 quality shots, dumping and chasing...this is how you beat Detroit. Will it happen? No. With or without Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit wins in 6.
(4) Anaheim Ducks vs. (5) Nashville Predators
Season Series: Nashville won 3-1
Why Anaheim Will Win: The explosive offense is very intimidating. Corey Perry could just as easily continue his torrid pace and Teemu Selanne is an ageless wonder. The team has some outstanding scoring combinations and that can get you far in the playoffs if just one or two are clicking. Their goaltending could be iffy depending on what Dan Ellis, Ray Emery, and Jonas Hiller show up to play.
Why Nashville Will Win: For the same reasons Phoenix could beat Detroit, Nashville could beat Anaheim by playing a tight defensive effort and getting phenomenal goaltending to overcompensate for their lack of talent. Pekka Rinne will have to stand on his head and someone on Nashville will have to score. I get that their systems are not designed for high scoring affairs but it's not like Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are going to abandon their stalwart defensive efforts to put the puck in the net for you.
Who Will Win: Again, this series will go the distance because Nashville can and will grind Anaheim to death. That said, Anaheim has the edge in scoring and that will be the difference. So let's all sit back and watch Anaheim win in 7 games of overtime trap hockey. Game on!