Earlier today, we gave you our Eastern Conference quarterfinals predictions. Those were considerably easier to make picks for, given the fact that there is a clear and present hierarchy among the conference's playoff teams.
The Western Conference? Not so much. You could make an argument that any of the eight teams left standing could go on a long playoff run. Now you know why this article took so much longer to produce. Anyway, here are Tonight's Healthy Scratches Western Conference Quarterfinals picks:
|Western Conference Quarterfinals
|1) Vancouver vs. 8) Los Angeles|
|2) St. Louis vs. 7) San Jose|
|3) Phoenix vs. 6) Chicago|
|4) Nashville vs. 5) Detroit|
Well that sure is embarrassing. Don't worry, we won't try to pass this off as some misguided "great minds think alike" routine. As we did with the Eastern Conference, here's a breakdown of each series:
1) Vancouver Canucks vs. 8) Los Angeles Kings
Much like we told you earlier in the Eastern Conference picks, with the Rangers being a steady performer throughout the regular season, the Canucks have been the most consistent team out west.
While fending off the Red Wings, Blues and Blackhawks for the no. 1 seed in the West for the better part of the regular season, the Canucks caught fire in the weeks leading up to the playoffs. Despite being without their leading goal scorer (and one half of twin magic) Daniel Sedin, who has been sidelined for the past nine games with a concussion, the Canucks were able to dominate through March and April.
Sporting an 8-1-1 record over their last 10 games, the Canucks took their normal place atop the West standings, clinching their second consecutive Presidents' Trophy.
The Kings, on the other hand, have been scratching and clawing their way just to even make it into the postseason. The Kings' success relies on the shoulders of netminder, Jonathan Quick.
Plain and simple, if not for Quick, the Kings would be battling for a lottery pick rather than the final playoff spot in the West. Los Angeles scored a dismal 188 goals throughout the regular season, a number so bad, only the Minnesota Wild had a worse tally (166) in the entire NHL. Their puttering offense has been better since the acquisition of Jeff Carter, however, as they've scored four or more goals nine times over the 19 games since his addition to the lineup--despite Carter only being responsible for six of them.
Luckily for the Kings, however, only the Blues are ahead of them as far as goals against are concerned. The Kings sport a magnificant 2.07 GA/G, thus keeping them in nearly every game, regardless of terrible their offense is playing.
Unfortunately, the guy(s) on the other side of the rink are also kinda good in net. Despite his problems during the postseason, Roberto Luongo is still one of the premier goaltenders in the League, and when he's off his game, backup Cory Schneider has proven he can be just as good--if not better--in replacement.
Frank believes that Jonathan Quick the Kings have an outside shot of stealing the series in seven, but it's highly unlikely.
PREDICTION: Canucks in five.
2) St. Louis Blues vs. 7) San Jose Sharks
This is probably the easiest series in the West to call. Prior the beginning of the season, the overwhelming prediction while looking at this series on paper would have been Sharks in four.
That was until Ken Hitchcock came to town.
Remember all that "Quick is the only reason the Kings are relevant" talk we were spewing a few lines earlier? Well, the Blues tandem of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak are the only ones standing in his way.
After a complete strategic overhaul behind the bench back in November, the Blues have dominated its opponents in the defensive zone. Yielding a sickening 155 goals over the course of the regular season, which is good enough for a minuscule 1.89 GA/G, the Blues have made their presence felt in the West.
The Sharks on the other hand? Not so much.
If not for a blessing in disguise from the schedule makers, the Sharks could easily be kicking back a few beverages with the Anaheim Ducks, watching the rest of the Pacific Division battle in the postseason.
Taking advantage of back-to-back, home-and-home series against the Stars and Kings to close out the regular season, the Sharks launched themselves into the playoff picture, sweeping each series.
We're afraid that's where the boat ride ends, however. The Sharks do most of their damage with the man advantage, which just happens to be something the Blues are pretty good at defending. With their penalty kill (which ranks seventh in the league) and stifling 5-on-5 play, the Sharks will be hard-pressed to get quality chances at the Blues' netminders.
And let's face it, the Sharks bread and butter is in the offensive zone. Their penalty kill ranks only behind Columbus for worst in the league, and their goals against depends on whether Antti Niemi is battling Ilya Bryzgalov for "Most Consistently Inconsistent Goaltender of the Night." This one won't be close.
PREDICTION: Blues in four.
3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. 6) Chicago Blackhawks
Sure, the Blackhawks are the underdogs in this series. Right.
All kidding aside, with the exception of the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series, this might be the most entertaining series as far as thrilling moments are concerned. The Blackhawks make their living in the offensive zone, with the likes of Superma--er--Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and dangling their way up and down the ice. Jonathan Toews is also expected to rejoin the Hawks for Thursday's game one after missing over a month with a concussion.
The Coyotes, however, happen to have this Mike Smith guy in net, who has been brilliant all season long.
When Ilya Bryzgalov left the desert this past offseason for a much more lucrative pay day in Philadelphia, there were many concerns in net for the 'Yotes. Smith, who was once the main part of the package which sent Brad Richards to the Dallas Stars, had essentially played his way out of Tampa Bay prior to inking a two-year deal with the Coyotes this past offseason.
Thirty-eight wins and an NHL record for saves in a shutout (54) later, it appears as if the Coyotes need not be concerned with their netminder.
Smith's play down the final stretch of the regular season was the key factor in the Coyotes clinching the Pacific Division, let alone a playoff spot. Smith recorded three consecutive shutouts, allowing only two goals over the final five games of the season.
The Blackhawks, who could dazzle you silly with offensive production, have also been pathetic at times this season. It seems like ages ago that the Blackhawks, once the Western Conference leader, were sinking further and further down the standings, slipping in the powerhouse division that is the Central, losing nine games in a row.
But all that has changed, as the party in the Windy City has once again grabbed life.
This one will simply come down to the goaltending: Can Chicago figure out Mike Smith? Or will the play of struggling sophomore Corey Crawford be Chicago's demise?
PREDICTION: Blackhawks in seven.
4) Nashville Predators vs. 5) Detroit Red Wings
Ahh, finally! A Central Division matchup that we've all been waiting for. Easily the NHL's most powerful division--with the East's Atlantic as the only close competitor--the Central has produced four of the most dominant teams in the West. We've touched on the offensive-minded Blackhawks and the black-and-blue stifling defense of the Blues, but now it's time for these two division rivals to take to battle for what we can only hope to be a seven-game series.
In one of the harder series to predict, the Red Wings and Predators each bring a certain mystique to the table in their own way. On one hand, you have the Wings, the poster boys of postseason success, winning four Stanley Cups in its league-record 21 consecutive playoff appearances. Then there's Nashville, who has become the masterminds of making something out of nothing.
While nobody can touch the prowess the Motor City, squid sale-inducing Red Wings have acquired over the past two decades of hockey, the Predators have quietly always enlisted themselves into the playoff scene without much fanfare.
With the exception of the its first five years in the league after joining as an expansion team in the 1998-99 season, and one disappointing season in 2009, the Predators have been a consistent player in the postseason. Although they always seem to find themselves in the mix, they rarely ever do anything with it.
Over their six prior trips to the postseason, the Predators have been bounced in the first round on five occasions. The Red Wings, responsible for two of those oustings with a pair of 4-2 series victories in '03-04 and '07-08, will finally have a different route to the Stanley Cup this season.
In the past two seasons, the Red Wings successfully defeated the Coyotes in the first round, only to lose the Sharks in the second.
The difference between this year, and previous seasons, however, is the Predators willingness to go for it as far as the front office is concerned. No, we're not talking about the Calgary Flames-style "going for it," but rather a legitimate attempt to put together a serious run towards the Stanley Cup. In addition to adding key components such as Hal Gill and Andrei Kostitsyn from Montreal and Paul Gaustad from Buffalo at the trade deadline, Preds general manager David Poile made perhaps the biggest roster adjustment just a few weeks ago, bringing back superstar Alexander Radulov from the KHL.
Adding Radulov, who was arguably the greatest player outside of the NHL, instantly turned the Predators from a Cup contender, to a Cup favorite in the West.
With nearly identical records, Detroit (48-28-6) and Nashville (48-26-8) have an even more identical season-series.
In six contests this season, both Detroit and Nashville split the season series, 3-3, while compiling eerily similar stats. With Red Wings slightly outscoring the Predators, 16-14, over the course of the season, both teams traded 2-1 records at home.
With the home-ice advantage being the only major deciding factor, one has to give the Predators the slight edge in the series.
PREDICTION: Predators in seven.
Agree? Disagree? Think we're terrible at this? Tell us in the comments! We'll have our Western Conference predictions later this afternoon. Stick with Tonight's Healthy Scratches throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs for all your NHL info.