The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally here. After a shortened season due to the lockout, the Western Conference first round matchups are all set. The Presidents’ Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks clinched the #1 seed and home ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It will not be an easy road for Chicago as the West is very deep this year and you can make a strong case for 6 of the 8 teams in the West making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Here are the matchups along with my predictions.
#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #8 Minnesota Wild
Minnesota won their final game of the regular season just to clinch a playoff berth and has the unenviable task of taking on the best team in the league. The Chicago Blackhawks have a ton of depth and too much offense for the offensively challenged Wild.
Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks in 5
#2 Anaheim Ducks vs. #7 Detroit Red Wings
The Ducks had an excellent regular season finishing with the third highest total points in the NHL (66) while the Red Wings won their final 4 games of the regular season just to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This series is going to tell us a lot about the Anaheim Ducks. Will they allow the crafty veterans of the Detroit Red Wings to get under their skin and force them to take bad penalties or will they rely on their speed and talent in their attempt to advance to the second round? Even though these teams had vastly different regular seasons, I think this series goes the distance because of the Red Wings playoff experience and advantage in goal. In the end, I think the Ducks do just enough to edge out the Wings.
Prediction: Anaheim Ducks in 7
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 San Jose Sharks
This is a another great first round matchup that features two teams that started out the year with visions of winning the Cup. The Sharks have had a history of playoff failures and unfortunately they are facing a team that was in the Stanley Cup Finals just two seasons ago. The Canucks are deeper and more talented on offense, defense, and in goal. Look for the Sedin twins to have a big series as the Canucks add to the Sharks playoff woes.
Prediction: Vancouver Canucks in 6
#4 St. Louis Blues vs. #5 Los Angeles Kings
This is the best and most exciting first round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. These two teams could have very well met in the Western Conference Finals but are facing each other in round one. The 2012 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings stumbled out of the gate during the regular season but turned it around and had a strong finish to qualify as the #5 seed. The Blues were strong and consistent all year long and have a great mix of speed, size, and grit. This series might go down as one of the best Stanley Cup Playoff series in recent memory. I will be tuned in for every second of it.
Prediction: St. Louis Blues in 7