I am now one-for-five in my playoff predictions so far and albeit that my wallet has taken a beating so far this post-season (the Hockey Dekely does not endorse gambling), I’m actually quite pleased. I’ve always been an underdog fan – and these playoffs are delivering on all fronts of suspense and entertainment.
Last night, the Phoenix Coyotes eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks in game six. This is the first time that the Coyotes will play in a second-round playoff series. Although they finished higher in the standings, the ‘Yotes finished the season with less points than the Blackhawks and were seen as the underdog in the series.
Another upset was the elimination of the Detroit Red Wings by the Nashville Predators. Nashville ended with more points that the Red Wings but were still considered an underdog against the dynasty team with the stellar home record.
Let’s not forget the eighth seeded Los Angeles Kings booting out the President’s Trophy winners and last year Stanley Cup finalists, the Vancouver Canucks, in only five games.
Rounding out the Western conference semi-final match-ups is the one, and only, team that was expected to make it: the St. Louis Blues. Making predictions for the first-round of the NHL playoffs was hard enough, and putting money on choosing winners for the second-round is not something I should do – but I will, and here they are:
Phoenix Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
The main thing to look for in both match-ups of the Western semis is the goaltending battles. Some could argue that the firepower Mike Smith is about to face in the Coyotes’ net coming from the Predators will be overbearing. But after coming out of the Chicago series with a .950 save percentage, I don’t think the Phoenix fans have much to worry about – even if Radulov steps up his game.
The real concern for ‘Yotes fans is their offense. They ain’t playin’ ‘gainst no Corey Crawford. There is now an equally, if not more, talented goalie at the other end of the ice in Pekka Rinne.
The firepower from the point coming from the Predators is far more impressive than the blue line shots that came from the Hawks. Shea Weber on the point for a powerplay is bad news for any team – especially for a team who blocks so many shots.
The prediction here is that the Coyotes will be caught playing so much defense, and not getting shots, that all the Preds have to do is score one goal. Nashville pieced together a playoff-ready beast at the trade deadline and are now just showing it off. They have speed, power, goaltending, and, most importantly, the confidence. Sure, the Coyotes are coming in with confidence, but I don’t see that lasting past game one, when the Nashville Preds grind the hope out of them.
All in all, I see another five-game series happening in Nashville’s favour.
St. Louis Blues vs. Los Angeles Kings
As mentioned earlier, this is another battle of the goalies. Jonathan Quick of the Kings is one of the few franchise goalies left. The team has an immense amount of confidence in their keeper. That confidence only increased when he remained the integral part of the team’s success when eliminating the Vancouver Canucks. He is simply an incredible athlete.
Staring him down with be one half of the goaltending duo that ruled the NHL’s regular season: Brian Elliott. The advantage of not having to deal with both Elliott AND Halak is an advantage for the Kings, but not a huge one as Elliott proved to be more than enough in sending the San Jose Sharks packing in round one in only five games.
The main factor here is the offense – the Kings have more. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, and the bunch highly outweigh the offensive threat that will be returned by the Blues. This is exactly why having Elliott in net is crucial for the Blues to have any success. If Elliott gets the Blue through this round against the highly skilled offensive team that is the Kings, he will easily become a candidate for the Conn Smythe.
Unfortunately, he probably won’t. With the above points in mind, my prediction is a series win for the Kings. Dare I say they pull off the series sweep that they botched against the Canucks? I just may dare indeed.
These playoffs have, so far, been incredible in every sense of the word. Three of the last four teams to win the Stanley Cup have now been eliminated in the first-round, with the Bruins hanging on by a thread. Put your money down on my predictions at your own risk. Playoff hockey – is there anything better? (No.)