Here's what's gonna happen in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs...thanks to the NHL Network, a couple weeks worth of free Center Ice previews, and teams like the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets being in the mix instead of the boring old Stars, Avs and Oilers, I've actually watched a good amount of Western Conference games this season!
(1) San Jose Sharks vs. (8) Anaheim Ducks
The Sharks enter the playoffs as the best team in the regular season, primed for another long playoff run. Seems like we've heard all this before, only to see San Jose collapse early on. This looks like the year they finally turn it around and make it to the finals. 'Course, I said the same thing last year. And the year before that. Sharks in five.
(2) Detroit Red Wings vs. (7) Columbus Blue Jackets
My hatred for the Red Wings has not lessened one bit since they won the Stanley Cup at Mellon Arena last June. If anything, it has increased. They're the one team I can't watch, as they fill my heart with too much hate. The thought of Marian Hossa touching the Stanley Cup makes me vomit in my mouth.
On the other hand, here are the Columbus Blue Jackets. Hailing from my home state of Ohio, I've wanted to love them...but it's been hard to muster much enthusiasm for the Jackets during their first decade, as they've generally been mediocre to terrible. But here they are, in their first playoffs, facing a very familiar foe with whom they faced with pluck and valor all season. Could a first round upset be in the cards? I want to think so, but common sense prevails. I've never made a prediction that I more wanted to be wrong. Red Wings in five.
(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) St. Louis Blues
The Blues are a pretty amazing story, having moved from 15th to 6th place in the Western Conference since mid-January. The Canucks lured Mats Sundin out of semi-retirement solely for moments such as this. That said, I'll be surprised if I watch even one period of this series. Canucks in seven, 'cause I feel like I need to pick at least one Canadian team!
(4) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (5) Calgary Flames
As thrilled as I am to see Chicago back in the postseason, this is the one I've been going back and forth on the most. It seems like the Blackhawks' series to win; the Flames are tanking a bit, and Chicago is surging. Still, there's this nagging feeling that Calgary is going to play up to its potential and steal this one.
One thing's for sure: you couldn't hope for a better looking series, as these teams have two of the sharpest sets of duds in the NHL.Blackhawks in seven.