How The West Will Be Won

Phoenix-Chicago

Strengths: Both the Blackhawks and Coyotes are playoff tested teams. Chicago clearly has more Cup experience based on their 2010 win but their special teams have been shaky and their goaltending is unsettled at best. Can they get past the Coyotes like this?

The Coyotes have the 8th ranked penalty kill and their goaltender Mike Smith is the team’s best at it. He’s having a career year and he can clearly steal this series from the Blackhawks if he plays his best hockey.

The proposed “super line” of captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa should prove to be too much for the Coyotes to handle. Now add Patrick Sharp, who led the team in goals and you would think the Hawks are set. The Coyotes can’t match the Blackhawks goal output that’s for sure. They do have a pretty balanced attacked led by Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan.

Weaknesses: The Blackhawks have the 21st ranked power play but you have to believe that will improve in the playoffs. Right? Oddly enough Phoenix has the 29th power play so advantage Hawks. The Hawks PK is ranked 27th, again not what you want heading into the playoffs. The Coyotes lack of pure snipers is alarming.

X-Factor: The key to this series for the Blackhawks is goaltender Corey Crawford. He has to step up and show Ray Emery and the coaching staff that he’s the man. If he doesn’t do that it will be a long series and Chicago could be on the losing side of the ledger. Oliver-Ekman-Larsson is a real X-factor for the Coyotes. He could be the Duncan Keith of their team and that could add some instant offense if he continues his rise to prominence at the age of 20. Lauri Korpikoski is also Phoenix’s answer to Chicago’s Dave Bolland. He needs to get a shortie or two to change the tide of this series.

Prediction: Hawks in 6.

Nashville–Detroit

Nashville is the team that’s gone “all in” and Detroit is that aging team with one more Cup run left in them. Detroit has Hall of Famers on this team.

Strengths: Even though Detroit’s PK Is ranked 18th Pavel Datsyuk is still one of the top penalty killers in the league and he can make a difference in the playoffs in all facets of the game (as we’ve all heard before). Detroit also has Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler to help put the puck in the net. Barry Trotz has a defensive-savvy team so having a top-ten team on the PK is expected at this point. Nashville also has the top ranked power play in the league. Shea Weber has 10 PPG and Patric Hornqvist has 8.

Weaknesses: Detroit’s power play is ranked 22nd in the league but with injuries to goaltender Jimmy Howard and Nicklas Lidstrom (his 70 game total lowest since 1996!) I feel those statistics are skewed.

X-Factor: Nashville has to use Paul Gaustad to win face-offs and Alexander Radulov has to score more goals then he will help give up with his weakened defensive play. If Howard plays a solid series the Red Wings win. If Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne plays lights out (like he’s done all year) Detroit goes home limping.

Prediction: Red Wings in 7.

I previewed both of these games on our show “Off The Post” have a listen here:
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/cardboardconnectionradio/2012/04/09/off-the...

St. Louis-San Jose
Vancouver – Kings

photo by del Tufo.