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NHL Playoff Preview: West

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Yesterday (or this evening, depending on when you are reading this) I gave a breakdown/preview of the Eastern Conference of the NHL. Definitely some good match ups.  But if you twisted my arm and made me choose a conference with more exciting games, I think I would have to go with the West.  Here is my breakdown of the Western Conference.

Avalanche vs. Wild

If you were to take a poll of hockey fans at the start of the season, I highly doubt any of them would predict the Avalanche to win the Central.  The Avalanche are inexperienced with a rookie head coach, but they have great chemistry and have looked like a legitimate contender.  The real star on this team is the net minder, Semyon Varlamov.  He led the league in wins this season (41) setting a franchise record, and was third in the league in save percentage.  If that translates over to the playoffs, along with the possible return of Matt Duchene (a top 20 point guy), the Avs could be a tough out.  If the Wild are going to beat the Avs, it is going to be thanks to Ilya Bryzgalov.  In his last seven games, he has been 5-1-1 with two shutouts.  The Wild only had three 20 goal scorers this year, and struggle to put the puck in the net.  As if the lack of offense isn't enough of a problem, Bryzgalov has really struggled in the playoffs during his career, and until he shows that he can get it together I just can't trust him.

Prediction:  Avalanche in 5

Kings vs. Sharks

Last year these two met in the playoffs, and it was the best series of the entire playoffs.  They met 5 times this year, and although the Kings were 3-1-1, 4 of the 5 games were decided by one goal.  To the average fan, it would appear the window is closing for San Jose, as Marleau and Mighty Joe continue to get older, but the Sharks actually have quite a bit of young talent with Hertl, Pavelski and Couture.  They also have the deepest defensive core in the NHL, in my opinion.  But they do have one glaring weakness, and that's goalie.  You would think Niemi would be a strength considering his recent Vezina, but he has looked off as of late, and should be on a short leash.  The Kings have the opposite situation, as Jonathan Quick is one of the best goalies in the business, and has already won a Cup.  On the other hand, they only have one legit line, anchored by Anze Kopitar.  Not only does he lead the team in scoring, but he is a Selke contender.  I have high hopes that this series can repeat the magic of last season.

Pick:  Kings in 7

Blues v. Blackhawks

This is the series too watch if you are an NHL fan.  Two of the top teams in the NHL going at it.  I personally can't wait.  The Blues won the season series, going 3-2 versus the Blackhawks.  But the playoffs are a whole different beast, and the Blues are coming in with a couple red flags.  First, they ended the season atrociously.  They went winless their last 6 games, and only scored 5 goals.  Secondly, saying they are banged up is like saying Alaska is a bit nippy.  Backes, Oshie, Beglund and Tarasenko have all recently missed time, and who knows which, it any, will be back for the start of the series.  Chicago on the other hand is getting healthy at the right time, with Toews and Kane expected to be return for the start of the season.  When you put those two with Neal and Hossa, this is the best offense in hockey.  With all the banged up guys on the Blues, I have no idea which way this is going to go.  When in doubt, go with the better goalie/defense.

Pick:  Blues in 6

Ducks vs. Dallas

The Dallas Stars have made the playoffs for the first time in 6 years, and seem to really be on the rise.  They have two of the best young players in hockey between Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, both of whom were in the top 10 in points.  The problem for them is they are running into the Ducks, who have Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, two of the best goal scorers in the league.  In fact, if Sidney Crosby wasn't in the league I feel pretty confident saying that Getzlaf would be the MVP.  Although Dallas has a bright future, this isn't the year for them.  Anaheim is the best team in the West, maybe in all of hockey.  This one should be over quick.

Pick:  Ducks in 5

Hope you all enjoy my picks, and enjoy the playoffs


Big Country 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 

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