With the start of the playoffs just hours away, here are some predictions on what will happen in the Western Conference quarterfinals these next two weeks.
Anaheim (4) vs. Nashville (5)
Season Series: Predators 3-1-0
Nashville isn't that great at generating offense but they are excellent at preventing other teams from doing so. The Predators finished the regular season second best in goals-against of 194, averaging 2.32 goals against a game.
A huge chunk of this feat lays in the hands of Pekka Rinne. Rinne finished the regular season with a save percentage of .930, good for second among the leagues netminders and finished third in goals-against with 2.12.
Anaheim's goal tending situation isn't as stable as they would like it to be. Former Predator, Dan Ellis, will start for Anaheim as Jonas Hiller is out for now due to vertigo like symptoms. Ellis has been decent in net for the Ducks, playing in just 13 games he has a 2.39 goals against average and .917 save percentage .
The Predators defense, and defensive style of play, is the other chunk of being one of the leagues hardest team to score on.
Having the leagues best defensive pairing of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the Preds have proven to be a team no one wants to play because of the frustration they undergo of not being able to score easily against Nashville.
Offense on the other had is where Nashville falters, finishing the season in twenty-first in goals-for with 219. The Predators have just two players to score 20 or more goals, Sergei Kostitsyn (23g) and Patric Hornqvist (21g), and only two players to reach the 50 point plateua, Kostitsyn (23g, 27a) and Martin Erat (17g, 33a).
Anaheim, however, has the offensive guns, especially with Corey Perry, but lack the strong defense Nashville proudly boasts.
Perry established a total 98 points (50g, 48a) in the season, and lead the league in goals. The Ducks also have four other players with 50 plus points on their active roster. Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Lubomir Visnovsky.
Keep in mind though, that the Ducks have only beat the Predators one time this season, and it was just by one goal. The Predators have beat the Ducks by a score of 4-1 in all the other match ups, except the last one (which would have ended with a 5-1 score) where the Ducks almost came back to tie things up.
But that didn't happen because they Ducks are better than us, it happened because we started playing sloppy and pretty much scored the goals for the Ducks ourselves. It won't happen in the playoffs. Trust me.
Anaheim will try and keep Kostitsyn, Hornqvist, and Cody Franson as they have all three scored four points or more while playing against the Ducks in the regular season. Hornqvist ended up with seven points (3g, 4a) against Anaheim while four points were earned by both Franson (1g, 3a) and Kostitsyn (3g, 1a).
Weber and Suter will have to keep Anaheim's first line in check and continue to play the stellar defensive game they have all season to beat the Ducks.
This shouldn't be a problem though, as the Ducks defensive game isn't that strong, and it will ultimately be the reason for their downfall in the first round. Plus, Nashville wants to get past the first round, and this will be the year they do so. And they will do it fast.
Expect the beast to awaken in the playoffs and utterly destroy the Ducks with his offensive skills he's been holding back on since that crazy comeback in Buffalo.
Prediction: Predators in 6
Vancouver (1) vs. Chicago (8)
Season Series: Canucks 2-1-1
The already bitter rivalry between the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks will grow to a new height this year when the clubs face each other in the first round of the playoffs.
The Blackhawks have eliminated the Canucks from the playoffs for the past two years and have done so in six games each year. Chicago will definitely go to Vancouver with aims of upsetting the number one team in the league for the third straight year.
However, number one Vancouver is a better team this year and will look to tear apart the 'Hawks struggling defense.
If standings determined who would win in each round of the playoffs, then the number one seeded Vancouver Canucks would have no problem eliminating the eighth seeded Chicago Blackhawks (the team that was uncertain if they would even make the playoffs Sunday afternoon).
The Canucks finished the regular season with 117 points and also has two of the league’s top five point scorers in their lineup. Daniel and Henrick Sedin finished the season with 104 and 94 points respectively, with Daniel winning the Art Ross Trophy this year.
The 'Nucks also have Roberto Luongo in net., who finished second in goals-against-average with 2.11, so Chicago must keep that in mind and think of a strategy to get pucks passed him.
The defending Stanley Cup champions finished the regular season barely clinching the eighth seed with 97 points, but finished third best in the league with a goals-per-game average of 3.07.
The Blackhawks are going to have to work hard against the Canucks power-play, which were the leagues best with a success rate of 24.3%. The ‘Hawks sit twenty-fifth in the league on the penalty-kill . This will more than likely be the reason why the Blackhawks fall to the Canucks this year.
With the Canucks losing only five of their last 20 games in the regular season, it would be quite a surprise to see them fall to the 'Hawks for a third straight time.
With the Sedin twins, Luongo's astounding play, being over-all best in almost every stat this year, and the anger of being knocked out by Chicago for two consecutive years, I see the Canucks sweeping this series.
Prediction: Canucks in 4
San Jose (2) vs. Los Angeles (7)
Season series: Sharks 3-1-2
San Jose will face fellow Pacific Division team Los Angeles in the first round, marking the first time either team have met in the post season.
Los Angeles is coming into the series after losing their top scorer down the stretch, Anze Kopitar. Kopitar had 73 points (25g, 48a), but saw his season end with a broken ankle on March 26.
Justin Williams (22g, 35a) may also be out for the Kings after he dislocated his shoulder four weeks ago, but there's a chance he will be able to play.
Even with Kopitar and Williams (maybe) out, the Kings still have dangerous players that could pose a threat to San Jose. Dustin Brown , Ryan Smyth and Dustin Penner will look to carry Los Angeles to victory in the quarter finals.
Sharks goal scorers are all healthy though, which is probably bad news for the Kings.
Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski will be the players to watch on the Sharks. Marleau finished the season as San Jose's top scorer with 73 points (37g, 36a) followed closely by Thornton with 70 points ( 21g, 49a) and Pavelski with 66 points (20g, 46a).
Also keep an eye out for Logan Coutre, Dany Heatley, Ryan Clowe and Devin Setoguchi as they each have contributed many points this year.
Despite losing key scorers, the Kings special teams may be at an advantage in this series.
Where the Sharks shine with the man advantage, finishing second on the power-play averaging 23.5% , the Kings shine on the penalty kill, ending the season in fourth with a success rate of 85.6%.
So the Sharks are going to work extra hard to generate goals on the PP.
L.A. slacked on their power-play chances this season ending twenty-first in the league, but San Jose finished twenty-fourth on the penalty-kill, which could be an advantage for the Kings struggling power-play.
A battle of the goal tenders will be another highlight of the series. Jonathon Quick had an impressive 35-22-3 record to close the season with and sits in sixth with a goals-against-average of 2.24.
Sharks netminder, Antti Niemi (the guy mostly responsible for winning the Stanley Cup last year for the Blackhawks), finished the season with a 35-18-6 record and comes into the post season winning eight of the Sharks last 10 games.
Prediction: Sharks in 5
Detroit (3) vs. Phoenix (6)
Season Series: Red Wings 2-1-1
The Coyotes travel to Detroit for a rematch of last years early exit. Luck will be on the Coyotes side, at least for the first couple of games, as the Wings top scorer, Henrick Zetterberg, is still day-to-day with a lower body injury.
Phoenix has something to prove against the Red Wings after being knocked out of the first round last year in Game 7. Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Lauri Korpikoski, Lee Stempniak and Ray Whitney will have to play solid in front of Ilya Bryzgalov if they plan to defeat Detroit.
Doan is the only player to score 20 goals making Bryzgalov the main reason why the Coyotes even made it to the playoffs, wracking up an outstanding 36-20-10 record.
The 'Yotes will also have to stay out of the box if they want to put the Red Wings in their place this year. They finished twenty-sixth on the penalty-kill and will have to do much better in the playoffs after Detroit finished fifth on the power-play.
With the return of Pavel Datsyuk and the possibility of Zetterberg being cleared to play soon, the Coyotes must play the best hockey they have ever played in order to win.
Who to watch on Detroit:
Johan Fra... really, who that reads this even cares about who to watch on the Red Wings? We hate Detroit here.
But as much as I hate to say this, I think Detroit will ultimately knock out Phoenix, though it won't be an easy task with Bryzgalov between the pipes.
Prediction: Red Wings in 7
Don't forget to tune in to 102.9 the Buzz or TSN to catch all of the Predators action tonight at 9:30 PM.