Jason Kurylo: Early Western Conference Playoff Predictions
In all, the Canucks regular season has been a damned good one. Despite a less-than stellar campaign from Roberto Luongo and long-term injuries to Daniel Sedin, Kevin Bieksa, Pavol Demitra, and Willie Mitchell, our boys have performed well. Henrk Sedin leads the scoring race, as just the fourth Canuck to crack the century mark. Mikael Samuelsson, Alexandre Burrows and Ryan Kesler are all having career years, and Mason Raymond has chipped in for 20-plus goals for good measure.
So what do the playoffs hold? Why should we self-appointed pundits wait for the end of the season? I’m completely willing to stick my neck out there before the match-ups are even finalized.
Here are a few predictions on the Western Conference match-ups based on what we see right now, T-minus six games before the second season begins:
(1) San Jose Sharks vs (8) LA Kings
You heard it here first: the Kings will finish up as the eighth seed in the West. San Jose should walk through the upstart Kings, especially considering the Sharks recent winning streak. The Kings, on the other hand, have lost four straight and seven of their last ten games. Sure, LA has Ryan Smyth to stir up some emotion in the room, but this is just a too-young team that’s flagging after an impossibly fast start. San Jose, on the other hand, has woken up from their post-Olympic nap, and look dangerous. This is a healthy, hungry team that wants to ditch their rep as playoff chokers. Dont be surprised if Joe Thornton plays an angrier game after sitting out a couple to rest the shoulder he injured in this weekends win over the Canucks.
Preediction: Sharks in five.
(2) Chicago Blackhawks vs (7) Colorado Avalanche
The Avs haven’t exactly been tearing it up themselves, but they wont stumble quite enough to let the sad-sack Flames catch them, and theyll take advantage of their five remaining home dates to skip past the Kings. Steve Duchene is a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, and Paul Stastny is a scoring threat from anywhere, but these guys just wont be able to skate with Chicago. The Hawks cant be happy to be without Brian Campbell on the back end, but this is a team full of speed and swagger. Last years run to the conference final was considered a fluke these kids didn’t know what they were doing this years club has their eyes on Lord Stanley
Prediction: Chicago in five.
(3) Vancouver Canucks vs (6) Nashville Predators
The Predators are putting together quite the late-season run in Smashville, and, interestingly this team looks a lot like the Canucks. Oh, they don’t have a 100-point man like we do in fact, not a single player is over 50 points. But this is a team that scores by committee, something we’ve been privy to here in Vancouver. They play well on the road. There is no dominant top line; everyone on this Preds squad chips in. The defence corps for Vancouver will have to keep their wits about them. Nashville has ten players with ten goals or more; we have nine. The lingering concussion symptoms for Willie Mitchell put the Canucks D under the spotlight, something that literally bit the teams back end in last years heartbreaking second-round loss to the Hawks. And goaltending? Since the Olympic break, Pekka Rinne leads Roberto Luongo in goals against average, save percentage and shutouts. To paraphrase Alain Vigneault, however, if Luongo is the Canucks biggest worry heading into the playoffs, they’ll be all right. Sure, Bobby Lou’s GAA hasn’t been what it should be. Yeah, he let in a few weak goals against Edmonton. But hey, this is Roberto Luongo here, and that was Edmonton; its not like were still being subjected to Dan Cloutier in the #1 position. If the Sedins score, great. If not, no worries, for the first time in a while, we’ve got other guys who will.
Prediction: Vancouver in six.
(4) Phoenix Coyotes vs (5) Detroit Red Wings
Hockey fans are shaking their heads over both of these teams. With the off-season legal circus over Jim Balsillie trying to move the Yotes to southern Ontario, was there even a single hockey expert who picked them to top 100 points? They’re played over their heads all season, and there’s no reason to think they wont continue to do so. Oh, wait there’s the small matter of that other team on the ice. Detroit, just three weeks ago, flirted with tenth spot in the West. Its taken a Herculean effort by coach Mike Babcock to shape this veteran Red Wing squad for another run at Lord Stanley. And goaltending? Ilya Bryzgalov has none other than Wayne Gretzky trumpeting his name for Hart Trophy consideration. Jimmy Howard just won a spectacular goaltending duel with Rinne in Nashville one where both goalies played shutout hockey for 65 minutes, and Detroit finally won it in the 11th round of the shootout. Detroit, like San Jose, is healthy and hungry. Detroit, unlike San Jose, has been a Cup finalist the past two years these guys know how to win.
Prediction: Detroit in four.