2011 NHL Playoff Preview – Western Conference

Here are our Western Conference predictions.

No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks


Vancouver stormed out of the gate and never looked back.  This years President’s Trophy winners have drawn comparisons to last year’s Capitals team but that’s not any reason to look for an early exit for the Canucks. The Blackhawks might come into the playoffs as defending Stanley Cup Champions but they won’t repeat. Even though the Blackhawks core from last year is intact they weren’t able to replace the role players they lost in the offseason. A lack of consistency in net will hurt the Hawks and Vancouver’s offensive talent will overpower Chicago.

Prediction: Vancouver Canucks in four.


Headline Matchup: Vancouver’s Sheer Awesomeness vs. Chicago’s History against Vancouver

If I were a Canucks fan I would be of two minds right now. I would be dreading this series because the Blackhawks have bounced the Canucks from the postseason the last two years. However, I would be excited to finally take it to a team that had terrorized Vancouver for what seems like an eternity. I know President Cup winners have not fared well in the postseason recently (see Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks), but it is hard not to see the Canucks coming out on top. They lead the league in pretty much every offensive category and have two players in the top five for points, left winger Daniel Sedin and his brother center Henrik. They also have goalie Roberto Luongo, who has only been outdone this year by the probable Vezina trophy winner Tim Thomas.

Chicago is good but they are missing two key parts from their championship run last year. Those parts are defenseman Dustin Byfuglien who was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers and goalie Antti Niemi who is now a part of the San Jose Sharks. Without those two pieces it is hard to see a world where the Blackhawks succeed.

Ready for a bold pick?

Prediction: Vancouver Canucks in a sweep 4-0.

No. 2 San Jose Sharks vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Kings


Will this be San Jose’s year? That’s been the question asked for the last three or four years. This year might actually be it. They were closer then ever last year and now that they have added goaltender Antti Niemi, the Sharks have a strong chance to win the West.

The Kings have two talented goaltenders in Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier, and both will help keep them in this series. But while center/left wing Anze Kopitar has been out, LA hasn’t been able to find the back of the net. If they can’t score, they’re in trouble.

Prediction: San Jose Sharks in 6.


Headline Matchup: Sharks’ “choke” label vs. King’s injuries

It’s hard not to feel a little bad for the LA Kings. By losing center/forward Anze Kopitar the Kings lost their only chance to try and match the San Jose firepower. Jonathan Quick is a good goaltender, but he will have to become a wall to make up for the lack of offensive strength that ails the Kings.

San Jose wingers Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, and center Joe Thornton will simply overwhelm the Kings with an unstoppable force of scoring.

Prediction: San Jose Sharks in 5 games

No. 3 Detroit Red Wings vs. No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes


The Red Wings are an NHL playoff staple and you just assume they’ll be there every year. Despite a ton of injuries the Red Wings have managed to find ways to win all season. Their biggest concern is goaltending. Jimmy Howard has been hit or miss all year and his backup Joey MacDonald hasn’t faired much better.

The addition of center Eric Belanger has been huge for the Coyotes this year. The Coyotes have another year together and although goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has struggled at times this year I still like him over Jimmy Howard.

Prediction: In this rematch of last year’s series I’m taking the Phoenix Coyotes  in seven.


Headline Matchup: Red Wings’ postseason experience vs. Ilya Bryzgalov

This is round two (in boxing terms) of the postseason series from last year. Last year the Coyotes took the Wings to a Game 7 on the shoulders of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. During the offseason Phoenix added veteran forward Ray Whitney to help out right winger Shane Doan. The addition of that offensive presence may give the Coyotes the push they need to get past the Red Wings.  They will also be helped by the injury  to Detroit center Henrik Zetterberg and the Red Wings’ suspect goaltending.

However, the Red Wings have the ultimate trump card, and that is their unequaled postseason experience. Detroit has managed to keep a core that went to consecutive Stanley Cup finals and were just barely stopped from becoming repeat cup winners. That core includes center Pavel Datsyuk, defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, and forward Johan Franzen.

Prediction: Detroit Red Wings in 7

No. 4 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 5 Nashville Predators


I like Nashville and I want to see them win a series. I think Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne is one of the best young goaltenders playing right now. Shea Weber is a great defenseman with a rocket shot. But Nashville doesn’t have a prayer against the Ducks. Anaheim has emerged as one of the stronger teams in the West with right wingers Corey Perry and Teemu Selänne finding their shot right as the playoffs begin. Goalie Jonas Hiller is out and its questionable whether the Ducks can go deep in the playoffs without him. But, Ray Emery and Dan Ellis should perform well enough in net to get Anaheim past Nashville.

Prediction: Anaheim Ducks in six.


Headline Matchup: Anaheim’s Offense vs. Nashville’s Defense

This series is a tough call. The Ducks have the awe-inspiring top line that includes Rocket Richard winner right winger Corey Perry. The Predators’ defense consisting of blueliners Shea Weber and Ryan Sutter, and goalie Pekka Rinne is as formidable as any. The tie-breaker in my opinion is if Jonas Hiller plays in net for the Ducks. If you add his ability to shut down anyone on any night up to the best first line in the NHL it shifts the balance in the Ducks’ favor. If goalie Ray Emery gets the call for Anaheim I can see Nashville getting out with the win. Either way, this series is going to be a war.

Prediction: Anaheim Ducks in 7

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