I feel like this post should start with Kool Moe Dee slangin’ lyrical crack on the mic. The west was as wild as it gets with the last playoff spots not being known until the final moment, of the last of the NHL’s 1230 regular season games.
1: Vancouver Canucks vs 8: Los Angeles Kings
This is opening round show down isn’t going to be quite as volatile as the Flyers/Penguins match, but make no mistake about people will be hitting hard enough someone will be told go see the doctor before the series is over. The two teams were both in the bottom five in blocked shots this season, the Kings have slight PK advantage, and the Canucks hold title to a better powerplay. The Kings own a better defense and goaltender and the Canucks generated more overall offense.
The important part though is what’s happened in the last 45 days. The Kings added a top six forward to their team, and the Canucks had one sent off with a concussion, as well as losing defenseman Keith Ballard, and Zach Kassian’s physical element.
The skill edge outside the crease belongs to Vancouver, inside to the Kings, the will edge is something you can debate amongst yourselves.
2: St Louis Blues vs 7: San Jose Sharks
This series features two teams with a lot of contrasts. The Sharks haven’t failed to be a top four team in a while, the Blues haven’t won the division in quite some time. The Blues are getting contributions across the board from a solid cast of stars without any true superstars, and no one in the league has put more points on the board since October 8, 1997 than Joe Thornton, the Blues have just two twenty goal scorers, while the Sharks have three thirty goal men.
If the Blues get the goaltending they’ve gotten all year from their dynamic duo of Elliott and Halak they go on to round two, if they continue the funk that left the drifting into the playoffs going just 4-3-3 in their last ten things are unlikely to be sweet music.
3: Phoenix Coyotes vs 6: Chicago Blackhawks
First congrats to the Coyotes on winning their first franchise Pacific Division title. While the Nashville/Detroit series will get the hype, this one may have the heat. The Blackhawks have better talent a the top of their roster, but in the bottom half it’s not even close, the Coyotes are much better on their 3rd and 4th lines and lower defensive pairs. More importantly is the quality of goaltending isn’t even close. Mike Smith has had a Vezina worthy season, the guys in Chicago would be lucky to win top goaltender in the AHL.
The Coyotes proved they can win both home and on the road, the Blackhawks struggled on the road at times and finished just .500 on the road this season. Neither team has a powerplay worth mentioning, in fact it’s entirely possible we could see this series close without a single powerplay goal for either team, but the Coyotes have a much better penalty kill. Edge: Coyotes.
4: Nashville Predators vs 5: Detroit Red Wings
The biggest surprise to everyone outside Detroit this season is not that they finished outside the top four, but how much their goaltending helped them. Jimmy Howard bounced back in a big way after being flat last season, which is possibly they only reason they made it into the playoffs. I’m not sure when the last time the Detroit Red Wings entered the playoffs against a better powerplay, better penalty kill, better road record, than their own. Much like the St Louis vs San Jose series, you’ve got a younger team with the talent spread out vs a team with a handful of aging ringers.
With the Blue winning the division, and the Predators getting the last home ice slot, it looks like the guard in the central division is changing.