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The 8 eight teams that qualified in the Western Conference begin their quest on Wednesday and Thursday. They will battle hard to earn the right to be defeated by the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals (I hope). Step one: quarterfinals.1) Vancouver Canucks vs 8) Chicago Blackhawks

The ‘Hawks are the defending champs, and the team that has ended the ‘Nucks season 2 years in a row. That means absolutely nothing this time around.  Chicago got rid of many depth players, and barely squeaked into the playoffs. Meanwhile, Vancouver has star power at every position, and a ton of depth to back it all up. Winning the President’s Trophy during the regular season was no fluke. They are built way to good to get upset by Toews and Kane. Dustin Byfuglien was a major player in this matchup when he used to park himself in front of Roberto Luongo. He’s gone, and I don’t see anybody else replacing him.  Chicago will try to crash the net and rattle Luongo, and Vancouver will come right back with waves of talent. I see the Canucks dispatching Chicago in 5.

2) San Jose Sharks vs 7) Los Angeles Kings

The Sharks have been one of the best teams over the last few seasons, and have flopped in the playoffs each time. For a team as good as they have been, a single Western Conference Finals appearance is not a success, especially when it ends in  sweep. This year, they put together another excellent regular season, but didn’t get as much attention because of the tear that Vancouver was on. None of their players had their usual monster seasons, and so maybe expectations are lowered this year. Meanwhile, the Kings are one of their in-state rivals, made the playoffs last year after missing out for a few years. They won a pair of games before going quietly into the night. With both of their top scorers out, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, they’ll have to rely on defense and goaltending. Their coach is Terry Murray, who we know in Philadelphia very well.  He knows how to play defense very well, and he can get a lot of of his players. Still, I don’t see this team having enough to overcome a sleeping giant. Sharks in 5.

3) Detroit Red Wings vs 6) Phoenix Coyotes

This is a rematch from last years opening round that the Wings won in 7. Phoenix relies heavily on goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to keep them in games.  They like to keep scores very low, and don’t mind sitting on small leads. There’s no secret to their strategy, and yet, it works pretty well throughout most of the season. Detroit, as usual, oozes talent from every corner of it’s lineup. However, many of their players have spent time on the injury list this season. Still, they played well enough to finish with one of the top spots in the conference. That’s some damn good coaching. The relied heavily on offense, because their D was very porous this year, finishing 12th in the conference. Unless they can change something up and clamp up back there, it won’t be a very easy series for them again. Still, I see Detroit winning in 6 this year because Bryzgalov isn’t the same puck eating monster that he was last year.

4) Anaheim Ducks vs 5) Nashville Predators

This is one of the toughest series to predict, and it could go either way. The Preds are the same team every year: no significant offense stars, solid team defense, stud offensive defensemen, and sick goaltending.  Pekka Rinne gets my vote for MVP this season, for backstopping a team that doesn’t’ have incredible depth. Meanwhile, the Quack Attack has tons of big names sprinkled throughout the lineup, but not much depth to back them up. Jonas Hiller is a stud in net, but he’s had some injury concerns. Corey Perry secretly won the Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy with 50 goals this season. Selanna still hasn’t aged, and put up another excellent season. Getzlaf was hurt, and still managed a very good year. Bobby Ryan is still a little juggernaut, scoring 34 goals. It’s easy to gush over this team because of some of these names, but will that necessarily lead to victory? Nashville is always an underrated team, that comes to play every night, but still has no playoff success. I think they finally find a way to put it together and score the upset, Predators in 6.

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Tags: Anaheim Ducks Anze Kopitar Bobby Ryan Chicago Blackhawks Clarence Campbell Corey Perry Detroit Red Wings Dustin Byfuglien Ilya Bryzgalov Jonas Hiller Jonathan Toews Justin Williams Los Angeles Kings Nashville Predators Patrick Kane Pekka Rinne Philadelphia Flyers Phoenix Coyotes Picks Playoffs Predictions Roberto Luongo Ryan Getzlaf San Jose Sharks Stanley Cup Finals Teemu Selanne Terry Murray Vancouver Canucks Western Conference

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