Breaking Down the NHL Western Conference Playoffs - Round One
Exciting match-ups dot the slate as the NHL embarks on its long, hard journey to crown a Stanley Cup winner
As the Quarterfinal Round of the NHL Playoffs kick into gear, Western Conference Hockey Fans are presented with four excellent match-ups, each of which are sprinkled with sub-plots and intrigue.
Can the Chicago Blackhawks follow-up on their sensational regular season under the heavy burden of high expectations and represent the West as many of the experts expect them to?
On the topic of high expectations, can the Vancouver Canucks, who for the last few years have been forced to carry the mantle of prohibitive favorite into the Post Season, go on play for the Cup now that they no longer have the bulls-eye focused on their Orca-clad sweaters?
Are the skilled yet physical Anaheim Ducks capable of representing the West in the Stanley Cup Finals on the heels of an outstanding season in their own right?
Will the defending Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings forge a legitimate defense of last year's Cup Victory or are the St. Louis Blues and their proverbial hot-goalie Billy Elliot heading into the post-season on too big of a roll?
We'll begin to find answers to these and many other questions in Round 1 of the Playoffs, so let's break down the match-ups and see who will live to play into Round 2.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild: After a rather blase regular season on the heels of the splashy offseason signings that brought Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to the Twin Cities, the Wild draw a Blackhawks Team that tasted defeat a mere 7 times during the Regular Season. Led by the mercurial Patrick Sharpe and future Hart Trophy Winner Jonathan Toews, the Hawks have enough to slip past Minny but the Wild have the talent to make Chicago roll up these sleeves and work for it. Blackhawks in 6.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Detroit Red Wings: The 2nd Seeded Anaheim Ducks draw a Detroit Team that needed to rattle off their last 4 Games just to secure their invite to the Playoffs for an unheard of 22nd straight season. The Winged Wheel have star power galore, but the Quacks can see their star power and raise them toughness, girt and a physical style that Detroit will have a very difficult time matching up with. Look for Anaheim to cruise in this spot, as they send notice to the NHL that they might very well be the team to beat in the West. Ducks in 5.
Vancouver Canucks vs. San Jose Sharks: Goaltending is the word of the day in this match-up. The Sharks have it in spades in the form of Antti Niemi while Vancouver has more question marks between the pipes than the Riddler has on his willow green leotard. Couple that with a seemingly unhealthy Ryan Kesler and the curiously rapid decline of the Sedin Twins and it'll be the Sharks who move on while the 'Nucks are left to wonder if in fact their Stanley Cup Window has been unceremoniously slammed shut. Sharks in 6.
St. Louis Blues vs. Los Angeles Kings: In what should amount to your classic evenly matched 4 vs. 5 quarterfinals series, the 1st goal in these games will be as critical as obscenely expensive and uncomfortable shoes are to a woman. Goaltending is a given in this Series with Jonathan Quick and Billy Elliot looking to go kick save for kick save and if you enjoy 2-1 hockey games and the prospect of overtime periods that extend longer than an Allman Brothers guitar solo, you're Series has arrived. After a severe case of ealry season rink-rust, the Blues appear to be rounding into form having won 6 of their last 7 heading into the post-season. The Kings on the other hand have been up and down the elevator shaft all season, never finding their rhythm on the heels of their first ever Stanley Cup Season. I look for the Blues to keep on rolling in an airtight, lengthy and drama laden series. Blues in 7.