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Welcome to the first round of the playoffs. Yes, it’s true, the Oilers won’t be there for them for a sixth consecutive year, but try to wash that memory out of your mind until at least Tuesday when we huddle around the warm glow of the televisions to witness another chapter in “the rebuild”.
It’s time for the first round. Under the guise of our expert analysis, picking winners should be a snap.
Today, we focus on the Western Conference match-ups. What’s behind the curtain?
VANCOUVER (1) vs. LOS ANGELES (8)
Not going to make any friends on this pick. Vancouver isn’t one of my favourite teams in the world, it’s true, but I have a hard time picking against them versus a team that struggled score goals in the midpoint of the season. As much as it’s possible to see Roberto Luongo blow a tire and yield a seven goal performance, I’m just not sold that it’ll happen so early in the playoffs. The Kings are going to rely heavily on Vezina candidate Jonathan Quick, who finished the season with ten shutouts and a sparkling .929 SV%, but Vancouver (as we know) has three solid lines that they can just roll. Add two healthy Sedin twins to the mix and an average to good Luongo, and I’ve got a tough time picking against Vancouver in round 1.
WHY THERE COULD BE AN UPSET:
Like last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, if physical play can get under the skin of Vancouver and the Kings can score a quick couple of goals, things could get turned upside down quickly for the Canucks. Goaltender Roberto Luongo has shown that if he allows a couple of softies early on that his night can take a wrong turn in a hurry. I’ll allow for one bad game in this series, but I don’t think it’s enough to turn the tide.
Vancouver over LA, 6 games.
ST LOUIS (2) vs. SAN JOSE (7)
The St. Louis Blues are really real this year. By that, I mean that you can see that they’re leading the Central over teams like Detroit and Chicago. If this season’s a fluke, it’s a pretty convincing one. The Blues have eight (8) players that have scored 30 points or more, and the goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott (9 shutouts, .940 SV%) and Jaroslav Halak (6 shutouts, .926 SV%) has been as hot as any in the league. This year is San Jose’s first in five to not win the Pacific Division, but they’re still getting offence from sources you’d think. What’s keeping San Jose from winning this series? I’m not sold on Antti Niemi being able to take this club through this series, and I haven’t seen enough of Thomas Griess to think he’s any more able. Niemi finished with a .915 SV% and six bagels, but St. Louis has thrown up 35 or 40 shots a number of occasions this year. Gotta go with the Blues in this one.
WHY THERE COULD BE AN UPSET:
Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau all had more than 60 points in scoring this year. The Sharks will need to rely heavily on all four of these players in order to disrupt St. Louis’ seamless goaltending. If the Sharks can split in St. Louis, they have reason to believe they can take the next two in San Jose, having finished with a home record of 26-12-3 this season. Goaltender Antti Niemi will have to pull several rabbits out of several chapeaus in this series. Niemi was the man between the pipes for Chicago’s Cup in 2010, but ‘pedigree’ will only get you so far, am I right?
St. Louis over San Jose in five games.
Shake your money makers and head over to the next page for Phoenix/Chicago and Nashville /Detroit