The Western Conference wasn't as much of a log jam as they use to be in seasons past. In fact the West was decided pretty early, with about 3 or 4 games left in the season. Not bad. From the previous year's conference winner that looked all but out of it pre-Olympic break to a team that surprised everyone owned by the league, the West is definitely wild.
Western Conference Quarter-Finals
#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Colorado Avalanche
Everyone thought the Avalanche were going now where this season. They lost Joe Sakic to retirement and the team basically blew up their roster going with youth with a few vets sprinkled in. Bottom line, they really were not suppose to do much this year. But Craig Anderson and rookie Matt Duchene made this team competitive and the Avs are sitting pretty in the playoffs. The Sharks will have a pretty motivated, feisty team on their hands.
San Jose defeats Colorado in 6 games.
#2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Nashville Predators
A Central Division showdown, the Preds made a run in what may be the toughest division to play in. Led by Patric Hornqvist, the Predators just fell two points shy in the standings of best Detroit for the first time in their franchise's history. They draw a tough opponent in Chicago, who are hungry for more after making it to the Western Conference Finals and fell to the Red Wings. If the Blackhawks get some consistent goaltending, Nashville shouldn't be a problem.
Chicago defeats Nashville in 5 games.
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 Los Angeles Kings
The Canucks are riding a heck of a season led by Art Ross Trophy winner Henrik Sedin. With gold medal winner Roberto Luongo in net, they look to be on paper a shoe in against a younger, less experienced team. But don't count out the Kings. They have a 24-14-3 record just on the road, while the Canucks have only managed 19 wins away from home. If Ryan Kesler plays like he did during the Olympics and the Kings fall into a slump or have injuries, Vancouver shouldn't have a problem. But I think they have a problem.
Los Angeles upsets Vancouver in 7 games.
#4 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
For a team that doesn't have an owner, the Coyotes are showing some gumption this season. They nearly made a successful run in their division by besting the Sharks, but they couldn't keep up with San Jose and instead settled on 4th in the Conference. Ilya Bryzgalov has been their savior in net for the 'Yotes and they made some important moves at the trade deadline to help with some injuries. They, however, drew a tough first round against Detroit. The Red Wings have been on a tear since the Olympic break. Two upsets in a row, wow.
Detroit upsets Phoenix in 6 games.
Western Conference Semi-Finals
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
I don't see the Sharks having much of a problem with the Kings. But stranger things have happened. Joe Thornton will be trying to shake the playoff monkey from his back and try to help the Sharks move along. Getting some good goaltending in Evgeni Nabokov doesn't hurt either. The Kings will have to rely on a lot of inexperienced players like goaltender Jonathan Quick to help them move to the next round. But the Sharks are just too talented for them.
San Jose defeats LA in 5 games
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings
Last year's Western Conference Final is this year's Semi-Final. The Hawks are a much more experienced team this time around and the Red Wings will have to lean pretty hard on rookie goaltender Jimmy Howard. It should be a wide open, high scoring affair between the two. If the Blackhawks don't get the consistent goaltending they need, they will be ending the post season prematurely.
Chicago defeats Detroit in 7 games.
Western Conference Final
San Jose Sharks vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Now this is a series to watch. The Sharks and Blackhawks will have to do with some pretty hefty travel in this series. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews against Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Danny Heatley. The names make it sound more like an All-Star game rather than a Western Final. The Blackhawks need to rely on their speed and scoring strengths, while the Sharks come in the bigger team and need to take up some space from the Hawks. Goaltending will be key again for both teams.
Chicago upsets San Jose in 6 games for the Western Conference crown.
Stanley Cup Final Fearless Prediction
Washington Capitals vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Two young teams going head to head and there is already drama between the two. Alex Ovechkin's little push from behind that sent Brian Campbell into the boards should be enough motivation for these two teams to be on less than civil terms. And with the Stanley Cup on the line as well. If you want scoring, you got it. Both teams can play a wide open, shoot-0ut style game. So defense will be key. If Campbell returns to the line up by then, he will be the Hawks rally cry. For the Capitals, they will have to depend on Tom Poti and Mike Green on the back end to keep the high powered Hawk offense at bay. Their goaltending will have to be spectacular for them to down an original six team and their franchise's first Stanley Cup. It all comes down to home ice advantage.
Washington defeats Chicago in 7 games for the Stanley Cup.
Okay, I know what you are thinking, "He is a blogger for the Capitals, of course he is going to pick them all the way!" Well, your right in some respects. I think the two best teams should meet in the finals, and right now those two teams happen to be Chicago and Washington, in my opinion.
For the Capitals, a lot of things have to go their way. They need the best out of Jose Theodore to make it to the Finals and they need goal support for their top line. If they can get both, they shouldn't have a problem getting to the Finals (as long as they don't play down to their competition in the early going).
I really like the Hawks coming out of the west. They surprised everyone last year by getting to the finals, but I don't think that was a fluke. They post some size and grit in their line up and if Cristobal Huet or Antti Niemi can get hot down the stretch, I don't see why they can't overcome the West.
If anything, I don't want to see another Pittsburgh/Detroit final. Nor really do other fans out side of Pittsburgh and Detroit. This predicted final would boost the NHL's image as the two have a history from the regular season and both are in good markets.