The West is the best, it's also the deepest. 88 points got Philly and Montreal playoff spots in the East. Out West, it gets you tied for 11th with Dallas.
#1 SAN JOSE SHARKS vs. #8 COLORADO AVALANCHE
The Sharks won the Western Conference's regular season again, and hope to have better results than last year. And they will. Colorado has been slipping - like a slow avalanche - since the Olympic break. They were 8-10-3 down that stretch. They were 35-20-6 before the stretch. They're young and exuberant, but also inexperienced and rough around the edges. They score a lot of goals, but they allow a lot. And San Jose has some scorers in Marleau (44 goals), Heatly (39 goals), and Thornton (69 assists).
Sharks in 5.
#2 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS vs. #7 NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Yes, Nashville has a team, and they've made the playoffs for the 5th time in franchise history. But they've never advanced beyond the 1st round. Philosophical question: if a city has a hockey team, and nobody in the city goes to the games, does the team exist? The Preds may have finished 7th in the Western Conference, but they were 26th in the NHL in attendance.
The Blackahwsk are a fun team to watch. They gained some experience in last year's playoffs, and they also gained Marian Hossa. They scored the 3rd most goals, and allowed the 5th fewest. They beat Nashville 4 out of 6. They have multiple threats in guys like Patrck Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Hossa, Kris Versteeg, and an arsenal of active defensemen. Nashville has 30 goal scorer Patric Hornqvist. That's about it.
Chicago in 4.
#3 VANCOUVER CANUCKS vs. #6 LOS ANGELES KINGS
Don't look past the Kings, an all-around steady team. Not too strong, but few glaring weaknesses. 7th in goals for, 10th in goals against. The playoffs are more about exposing an opponents' weakness, as opposed to implementing your own strengths. And the Kings just don't have many holes.
The Canucks have the NHL's points leader in Henrik Sedin (29 goals, 83 assists), his twin Daniel (29-56), Alex Burrows (35 goals), Mikael Samuelsson (30 goals) and then some. But goalie Roberto Luongo has seen better days. As much as I want to pick Vancouver, I have to pick the steady tortoise to defeat the hare.
Kings in 7.
#4 PHOENIX COYOTES vs. #5 DETROIT RED WINGS
Phoenix is another city unworthy of a hockey team. 3rd best record in the West, 4th best record in the League, and dead last 30th in attendance at 11,989. It's just a travesty that there's an NHL team in Arizona. But thankfully, they'll be eliminated by the surging Red Wings.
Detroit was 16-3-2 after the Olympic break, soaring to the 5th seed. It's as if the Hockey Gods are punishing the city of Phoenix for daring to posses the 4th seeded team in the Western Conference.
The Coyotes do have Ilya Bryzgalov, while the Red Wings have rookie Jimmy Howard. Bryzgalov has 16 career playoff starts under his belt (9-5, 1.68 GAA), Howard has 0. And that might turn this series on its head. We all know how far a hot goalie can take a team.
But I have difficulty removing my anti-Phoenix bias. I also have difficulty picking against a team that has Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Lidstrom, Holmstrom, Cleary, Draper, and Johan Franzen, whose return just so happened to coincide with Detroit's 16-3-2 run.
I'm picking Detroit in 7.