10 April 2012
(1) Vancouver Vs (8) Los Angeles Kings
I really like Vancouver as a team. The Sedins are great players, as is Ryan Kesler. They have a very strong 6-7 man deep defense, and a goaltending duo that rivals any in the NHL. Vancouver was the best team all season, and a worthy winner of the President's Trophy. They are no paper tigers as their Corsi Close was a very good .530. Their defense may be the most underappreciated in the game. Hamuis, Bieksa, Salo, & Edler is a very solid unit. Havin Ballard, Grangiani & Rome rounding it out isn't so bad either.
The problem is, things may have conspired against them. I think the Kings are just about the worst possible opponent for Vancouver to face, especially in their beat up state. (Daniel Sedin is hurt, which is a major blow)
The Kings have been red hot since fleecing the Columbus Blue Jackets out of Jeff Carter. Since the trade deadline their ESCorsi is a ridiculous ~.575. (I believe that is best in the league, FWIW) Meanwhile, Vancouver's is a very respectable ~.540. One of Vancouver's biggest advantages is always their goaltending, but Jonathon Quick certainly counters any advantage there.
The Canucks are battling injuries, incluiding to one of their best players, they have the added pressure of Vancouver and the ridiculous Luongo-Schneider situation (which, by the way is ridiculous). And they are playin an opponent that used the trade deadline wisely and became very formidable.
If there was a true upset, this is the one to be had. Kings over Canucks in 6.
(2) St Louis Blues vs (7) San Jose Sharks
Another series where there is no advantage to a great regular season, as St Louis pulls a very touch opponant in San Jose. Both of these teams are teams that no one could figure out this season. St Louis rode their goaltending to a great record, but they played very good hockey too. Their ESCorsi tied is a league-elite .540, so it wasn't just their goaltending.
Alex Pietrangelo created some Norris buzz (although he likely won't win it), but his development into an elite blue liner was a big reason the Blues felt comfortable trading away Erik Johnson. Although Chris Stewart hasn't worked out all that well this season, Kevin Shattenkirk chipped in another 43 points for the Blues. David Backes is a darkhorse for the Selke, and TJ Oshie, after missing practice and being suspended for a few games last season, quietly put together a solid campaign.
But the Sharks will be no pushover. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, & Patrick Marleau will be their normal selves. And the Sharks finally have MAtin Havlat back. Dan Boyle anchors a defense that includes the solid Brent Burns and Mar-Eduard Vlasic. That said, with all that talent, the Sharks have not been able to put ot together this season. Their ESCorsi is ~.510, and since the trade deadline it hasn't gotten better (or worse). I can't figure out why, but the Sharks are an above average team this season, but nothing more.
So I think St. Louis is the better team, and while anything's possible, I don't think it's likely that Niemi is going to steal a series.
Blues in 5
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs (6) Chicago Blackhawks
How in the world did Phoenix win their division? Mike Smith, and a little bit of luck. Frankly, I don't think Phoenix is a very good team. They got a very improbable 77-point season out of Ray Whitney, and an even more improbable season out of Smith, who may get a Vezina nomination. Shane Doan had 60 points, and Keith Yandle is still a very very good hockey player. But other than that, I just don't know how these guys did it (it helps that they won their division with less than 100 points). Their < .500 Corsi is easily the lowest in the western conference.
Meanwhile, Chicago was 4th in the guantlet that was the Central. Don't let that #6 seed fool you, this is a very good hockey team. They had a ~.535 ESCorsi on the season. They played a good chunk of those games without their captain and best player, Jonathon Toews. They still have a very very talented core in Toews, Hossa (who had 77 points himself) Kane, Sharp, Keith & Seabrook. Their biggest weakness is goaltending, where Crawford is probably the worst goalie still playing in the conference.
So I think it's more likely that Smith will steal a series than Niemi (And Crawford could blow one), I think Chicago is going to dominate this one.
Blackhawks in 4
(4) Nashville Predators vs (5) Detroit Red Wings
Nashville had an ok group of skaters, defying and ESCorsi of ~.470 (weakest of the playoffs). Obviously a big reason they are able to overcome their skaters is the somehow still underappreciated Pekke Rinne. Obviously, Weber & Suter are possibly the best 1-2 defensive tandem in the NHL, & The predators have some talent up front, with Erat, Fisher, athe Kostitsyn bros, and David Legwand.
Meanwhile the Red Wings are the Red Wings. Another season of ESCorsi in the ~.540 range. Another season of Lidstrom, Zetterberg, and Datsyuk holding onto the puck toying with their opponents. Valteri Filpulla actually also had a very nice unheralded season, and a defensive corps that is 5 deep with Lidstrom, Stuart, Kronwall, Quincey, and Ian White, along with Jonathon Ericsson gives them a defense every bit as deep as the Canucks, and maybe even a bit deeper. Jonathon Franzen has picked up for the ghost of Thomas Holmstrom.
I think the bigest question for this series is: How big an impact will Alexander Radulov have? It's impossible to predict with numbers, because the sample size is too small. He was the best pickup the team could have made, but is it enough to turn their, frankly, average group of skaters into a goroup that can hold their own with the Red Wings
Unfortunately, I don't think he'll be enough. Rinne has as good a chance as anyone to steal a series, but I think Detroit is the better team
Red Wings in 6
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