(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks
Vancouver has been cruising all season, and has been in first place since about Christmas. They're loaded, they're rested, and they're ready to finally make that long Cup-winning run.
Standing in their way is their old nemesis, the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. Gutted by salary cap constrictions which saw them jettison almost a dozen players from last year's championship team, the Hawks have struggled all season, needing a choke job by the Dallas Stars to even reach the postseason. They seem ripe for the picking...a speedbump on the way out of the parking lot for the juggernaut Canucks. But you cannot discount Chicago so easily. They score a TON of goals, and they'll play without fear, having knocked Vancouver out of the playoff the last two seasons. In the end, though, I think the third matchup will finally go the Canucks way, and the Blackhawks championship reign will end on home ice. Canucks in six.
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings
Pity the poor Kings...they really seemed to be on the precipice of great things early this season. Hell, I was buying them as a contender in the West. But they've been bitten and bitten bad by the injury bug the last few weeks...you can't help but think they'll struggle to score with Anze Kopitar out of the lineup. Take it from this Pens fan...if you're pinning your hopes on Alexei Ponikarovsky to turn it up in the playoffs, you're going to end up disappointed.
The Sharks...what can you say about the Sharks? They're there every year, close but not quite. They took a big step in 2010, though...They actually kinda met expectations, despite being swept in the Western Conference final. Dumping veteran
(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes
The Red Wings did themselves a HUGE favor on the season's final day, beating Chicago to avoid a first round matchup with Nashville, who I think were due for an upset against their Central Division rival. Instead, it'll be Phoenix with revenge on their minds, having lost a hard-fought series to Detroit last spring. As was the case last year, I'd LOVE to pick the Coyotes, just to thumb my nose at the entitled, easily offended Red Wing fanbase and the massive persecution complex they share that bombed-out Detroit rowhouse with, but I just can't bring myself to do it. Let's never speak of this again. Wings in seven.
(4) Anaheim Ducks vs. (5) Nashville Predators
You heard it here first (okay, fiftieth): This is the year the Preds finally get off the schnied and win a playoff series. Yes, the Ducks are hot, scoring goals at a torrid pace, but the Predators have been strong and steady all year. This'll be a fun one to watch, with Nashville coming out on top and advancing to round two. I'd bet my buddy Davis' beloved mustard sweater on it. Predators in six.
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